College establishes The John Paul II Center for Theology & Environmental Studies

The College has established The John Paul II Center for Theology & Environmental Studies, which will honor the environmental legacy of Pope John Paul II by exploring the interface between theology and environmental studies through a variety of activities, including major lectures, conferences, research and new course offerings.

According to Saint Joseph's College theology professor Connie Lasher, who started the John Paul II Center at the Standish campus, the late Pope was an outdoorsman who loved hiking and skiing, a poet who contemplated nature's beauty, and a global leader who professed the urgency of environmental responsibility.

"People don't realize how much he wrote about the environment and how important it was to him," says Dr. Lasher. John Paul's 26-year papacy, which began at the height of the environmental movement in the 1970s, created a distinctive environmental legacy, she says.

"John Paul thought deeply about the question of the human relationship to nature," says Lasher. "His teachings represent the basis for development of a comprehensive, Catholic theology of ecological identity." Ecological identity, a concept borrowed from the field of environmental studies, refers to the ways in which humans understand themselves in relation to nature.

The John Paul II Center will provide a forum for cultural and interdisciplinary dialogue, develop new undergraduate and graduate courses, and eventually sponsor research sabbaticals, internships and artist-in-residence programs. Environmentally oriented centers at colleges and universities typically look at just one aspect, such as environmental ethics.

"The theological legacy of John Paul II demands a multidisciplinary approach," notes Lasher. "So, we're defining the focus broadly, in the sense that the contributions of writers, poets and artists are just as important to the field of environmental studies as ethics, science and policy."

Before Lasher received her Ph.D. in theology at Boston College, she earned a B.S. and M.S. in experiential education and environmental studies. She was a senior instructor and course director at Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine, which uses wilderness as a classroom for self-discovery and character formation.

September 26, 2006 Contact: Charmaine Daniels at (207) 893-7723 or e-mail cdaniels@sjcme.edu ">cdaniels@sjcme.edu