“There is a light!” is often sung at Mountain gatherings. And that light and other energy needs in our chapel, House of Peace and everywhere will soon be powered by the sun as we embark on installing solar power panels.

(“There Is A Light” by Cyprian Consiglio; used with permission)

“St. Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness,” writes Pope Francis in “Laudato Si.” This encyclical calls us to join with St. Francis in honoring the natural gifts around us, including our “sister,” the sun. Shifting to complete reliance on solar power has long been a part of the mission of Mt. Irenaeus, in keeping with Franciscan values (building on an early solar array atop the Other House). Our relationship with the sun is both practical and spiritual; to harness her power is to promote conservation of the earth and serve the greater good. We ‘save the environment’ not merely for the earth itself, but for all living creatures, especially the poor who often are the greatest victims of pollution and climate change.

In keeping with these Franciscan values, our Board of Trustees recently approved a project in conjunction with Solar Liberty to install solar panels that would eliminate any reliance on other forms of energy at the Mountain.

A recent virtual town hall meeting was held to discuss the economic, aesthetic and spiritual impact of solar power on the Mountain. The gathering included various members of the Mountain community, as well as Dean Stanfield, who represented Solar Liberty, the largest solar installer in New York state. Stanfield, a 1989 St. Bonaventure alumnus, became one of the earliest members of the “Students for the Mountain” group. The meeting was an opportunity to answer questions, address concerns and clarify the spiritual aspect of this project.

solar array rendering

3D rendering of solar arrays near our pond and Mountain Road.

To “live in relationship with the land” is part of the mission of Mt. Irenaeus. To see the earth as “companion and teacher,” and integrate respect and stewardship of the land with spiritual practice is central to our belief system, as Mike Fenn, executive director, reminded those present. The interrelationship between “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” as Pope Francis discusses in the aforementioned encyclical, was affirmed: environmental issues are a spiritual call to tend to God’s creation and serve the global community.

As Kevin Kriso, ofm, noted, by relying on solar power, we reduce the pollutants and harmful emissions that damage not only the earth, contributing to climate change, but ultimately harm the poor, who are often the ones most exposed to toxins. He added, this project can save far more than dollars. Energy would be reserved from spring to autumn, and used in the winter months, allowing for consistent energy use throughout the year. With the elimination of an electric bill, savings would be significant.

Virtual views showed the panels (18 rows, 3 high) could be located on a slope of land that would not prevent any potential expansion on the Mountain, nor disturb the current natural beauty that is in keeping with contemplative practice. Sarino Tropiano explained that landscaping could effectively integrate this contemporary structure with the natural environment. After a lengthy and thorough discussion, it was clear that this project is a positive affirmation of Franciscan values, and in keeping with “making all things new.”

This project will set an example for others of faith in practice. Dan Riley, ofm, sees this project as one of true economy, “care of the household;” presenting a life lived in harmony with nature, an example for others to follow, with sustainability and stewardship as companions to one another.

The Board has approved this project, contingent on finding friends to help support the cost of the solar panel installation. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in providing financial support, please contact any of the Brothers or Mike Fenn.