Intercom Feature Articles
S. Paula Gonzalez: A Prophetic Voice of Our Day
By Megan Moore, Communications student intern
Every year, The Cincinnati Enquirer recognizes 10 women for their contributions to the community through its Women of the Year program. This, the 47th year, Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Paula Gonzalez was named one of those 10 women.
According to its website, The Enquirer looks for “accomplished women who, through their volunteer work or current careers, have enhanced education, charities or philanthropy, and civic life in the Tristate.”
When Elizabeth “Buffy” Barkley, professor and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Mount St. Joseph University, read this criteria, S. Paula Gonzalez immediately came to mind. Buffy came to know S. Paula when she was a student at the then College of Mount St. Joseph; S. Paula was her biology professor. Reading the glowing nomination letter written by Buffy about S. Paula,
her admiration for her former professor is clear.
In the letter, Buffy stated: “Like Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity, S. Paula is ‘a citizen of the world.’ Her retreats, lectures and advocacy have taken her beyond the Cincinnati area, including trips to United Nations Earth Summits in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Johannesburg, South Africa. But she has also made a lasting impact on the Cincinnati area.”
Though she has retired from teaching biology, S. Paula has not retired from teaching about our Earth. Of the
1,800 talks she has given, the titles have included “Called to Transformation—Today’s Human Challenge,” “The Wonder of the Universe: Earth as Teacher,” and “From Arrogance to Reverence.”
Fellow Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Mary Bookser had this to say about her dear friend: “S. Paula has had an ever-deepening ecological spirituality since childhood. Her family grew vegetables, had chickens as well as fruit trees.This sustained them and they lived in gratitude for this help from God’s Earth.”
It was in 1981 that S. Paula’s passion for the Earth led to the building of La Casa del Sol, a 1,500-square-foot home built entirely from recycled materials and heated mainly by the sun. Ten years later, Sister worked to build EarthConnection, a transformed four-car garage, heated and cooled by a combination of active and passive solar strategies. S. Paula uses EarthConnection as a teaching tool for those who share Sister’s commitment to “living lightly on the Earth.”
“I’ve taught a lot of people in the past 60 years,” said S. Paula. “I hope to have taught that all of us are a part of this planet, which is in serious trouble.”
This is not Sister’s first honor. In 1998 S. Paula received the Ohio Alliance for the Environment Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Environmental Education. The Individual Contribution Over a Lifetime Award was presented to S. Paula during the alliance’s annual conference. In 2002 the alumni association of the College of Mount St. Joseph (now Mount St. Joseph University) awarded her the Alumni Career Achievement Award for her contributions to the progress of Earth awareness and promotion of the idea of the self-sufficient Earth.
“Before people were talking about the Earth and climate change, that was already part of [Paula’s] life and she did not give up. She is so aware of the beauty and the fragility of life as well as the interconnectedness,” Buffy explained.
S. Paula’s humble response to the title of Woman of the Year? “I was surprised, I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like this at all. It was a pleasant surprise, though.”
All of S. Paula’s efforts regarding education about the state of our Earth are not in vain. In June, Pope Francis released his encyclical, Laudato Si’, a call to conversation and action about our changing environment.
“The morning the encyclical came out, I was in a retreat in Emmitsburg, Maryland. I made sure to incorporate [the encyclical] into the reflection that I gave. I want people to know that we should be excited about this!” said S. Paula.
In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, S. Paula shared her enthusiasm about Pope Francis’ encyclical, addressing how we are shaping the future of our planet: “I’m exceedingly excited, and especially thrilled with all the background stuff the pope has included,” she told NCR, predicting that “he’s going to grab the attention of the global community, for sure. I think people will be really moved and motivated.”
William Lonneman of Mount St. Joseph University’s Environmental Action Committee who works side by side with S. Paula believes, “She is, without doubt, one of the major prophetic voices of our day urging people to change so that we might live sustainably in the years to come. She is based in deep science and spirituality, with an amazing practical streak that has been years ahead of its time for decades now. She has dedicated her life to teaching and prodding, relentlessly pushing people to face reality. She has the hopefulness of a true follower of Jesus; she sees what is happening and it is not pretty, but it does not defeat her.”
S. Paula is anything but defeated when looking towards the future of our Earth. “We need to have the humility to realize we have made mistakes and that we need to correct them. I know we can make these corrections. I am absolutely convinced. We are little but we are powerful.”
There is no better way to describe S. Paula herself. At nearly 83 years old, she, as Buffy Barkley said, “is such an energetic, driven woman. She won’t give up, she will never give up. She may slow down. But she won’t give up.”