Lakewood, N.J., September 24, 2015—Energized by Georgian Court University’s strong commitment to sustainability and inspired by ‘Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’ plea for humankind to nourish the Earth – students involved with the Mercy Collegiate Society at GCU recently took their concern for clean energy to Capitol Hill.
Over three days, GCU students—along with their peers from six other colleges in the Conference for Mercy Higher Education—joined the Sisters of Mercy Justice Team in Silver Springs, Md., to hone their skills in legislative lobbying.
They also put their skills into practice, seeking and securing meetings with legislators and their aides to show their support for clean, sustainable energy; their efforts focused specifically on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Not an easy task
“It’s not a walk in the park, in terms of getting meetings with congressional leaders,” said Lisa Gravato, a junior psychology and religious studies major from Tuckerton. GCU faculty and staff, and sustainability experts among Sisters of Mercy prepared students for the difficulties they experienced on the Hill. Jeff Schaffer, director of GCU campus ministry, accompanied the group. He is set to travel with Ms. Gravato and 17 other students to participate in Mass when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia on Sept. 27.
“It amazed me that so many people can come together for the environment, a greater purpose than themselves,” Ms. Gravato said. “We have to learn and act. A lot of this work is selfless. It’s for the people who aren’t even born yet.”
Jeff Schaffer, director of GCU Campus Ministry, accompanied the group. He echoed Ms. Gravato, saying how “students were pretty much amazed at their first foray into the political process. Learning how to advocate for justice was eye-opening for them.”
Taking it to ‘The Hill’ for the good of the Earth
The experience, said Mr. Schaffer, allowed students to take everything they culled from their studies and experiences at GCU where examples of how to sustain the environment abound. The 156-acre campus, he noted, reflects the institution’s ongoing commitment to sustainability not only in its curriculum, but also in facilities management, business practices, waste reduction, recycling, land use and even in campus activities, including the students’ trip to Washington.
For Mercy Collegiate Society member Caelin McCallum, it was an unforgettable experience.
“All I can think about after leaving D.C. last month was how much Georgian Court has done towards sustainability, and how much more needs to done in order to achieve a sustainable future that my children and my children’s children can happily live in,” Caelin said. “Everything I have learned about Mercy and GCU’s core values are deeply embedded in the mission of Mercy advocacy, especially in the case of sustainability!”
Marianne Comfort of the Sisters of Mercy Institute’s justice team, who orchestrated the visit, said it was “really gratifying to have students come to the Institute and become involved in the issues. It was wonderful to see them grow and become more comfortable with legislative advocacy.”
The students came away from the experience looking forward to more legislative advocacy, Comfort said. “Even if the legislators had different opinions, they came away feeling, ‘I can do this!’”
Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and an historic, special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, Georgian Court expands possibility for more than 2,300 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 30+ undergraduate majors and more than 10 graduate programs. The main campus is located at 900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court also serves students at New Jersey Coastal Communiversity in Wall and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.