While students were not be able to gather and celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, continues its efforts to encourage the unity of the school’s Catholic identity and stewardship for creation.

“At Stone Ridge School, the goals of Sacred Heart education call on us to be increasingly aware, increasingly knowledgeable of social issues, so that we might be moved to act,” said Margaret Russell, Stone Ridge’s lower and middle school campus minister.

Inviting students and their families to honor nature and learn about environmental issues while at home, Russell said she sent a list of ideas for “creative, outdoor and service-oriented ideas,” to help the community celebrate Earth Day.

Catholics can be moved by the creation story in the book of Genesis “that demonstrates our call to be stewards of creation,” Russell said, adding that Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on ecology, “Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home,” also offers encouragement and renewed commitment to caring for the earth.

“All are called to these things in different ways as a result of our different gifts, but we are all called,” she said. “My hope is that we will hear, and follow, the call to care for creation.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and while this signifies moving forward in many ways, Russell said there is still much work to be done.

“Thirty years ago, I started an Environmental Club at my public elementary school in New Jersey,” she said. “It seemed like such an obvious thing, that we would care for the Earth and nature the way it cared for us… Now, it seems I am often having the same conversations, and yet I also know I am a contributor to many aspects of environmental harm, when I should be redoubling efforts to be an environmental steward.”

Joanna Caudle, an upper school science teacher and the department chair at Stone Ridge, said that currently with the coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, there is “greater momentum building than ever before to begin comprehensive steps to reverse climate change.”

“I recognize that the current shelter-in-place mandates are having huge impacts to our global economy and are not sustainable, but I think this 50th Earth Day, amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, may be the time when we as a planet realize how connected we are and how we are capable of doing so much when we work together,” Caudle said.

She noted that in Laudato Si ', Pope Francis addresses how everyone shares in responsibility for one another and for the world.

“I’m so thankful for Pope Francis’s strong stance on care for the environment in Laudato Si', ” Caudle said.

Last school year, Stone Ridge directed year-long efforts toward sharing information about addressing climate change with the students. Events culminated with Climate Change Focus Week last April, welcoming speakers to continue sharing ideas as well as a symposium where students presented their work.

“I’m very fortunate to be an educator of some amazing young women,” Caudle said. “They give me hope that we will be talking about a progressive and sustainable action plan for reversing climate change on future Earth Days… We at Stone Ridge are committed to working to educate our sources on the science behind climate change and fostering opportunities to take action and raise awareness.”

Caudle added that she hopes that the school can continue to work with others within the Archdiocese of Washington, bringing together what many different communities are already doing.

“Archbishop Gregory has given the green light to develop a Laudato Si ' action plan and that will be a great way to start pooling our collective resources and energy,” she said.