Gesu Catholic Church and School in Detroit won the Cool Congregations Renewable Role Model Award for their student-led collaborative effort to install solar on their building.
Gesu School was built in 1925 and since the beginning, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) were Gesu’s teachers, administrators, and pastoral ministers. When the Sisters renovated their own Motherhouse in Monroe, Michigan recently they recognized that sustainability was a moral mandate for the 21st century and achieved a LEED certified renovation for their building. Their success and leadership inspired Gesu to care for their environment as well.
When the middle school science teacher learned about the “My Solar School Contest” the staff and students formed the Solar Energy Club. The group toured solar facilities, spoke to experts and with the help of a Gesu alumna, created a video which they entered in the “My Solar School Contest”.
The video was a winner! Gesu was awarded 3rd place and a $500 prize. The students then showed the Vice Presidents of UAW-Ford National Programs Center their video at a school assembly and asked if UAW-Ford could provide funding for solar panels for the school. UAW-Ford agreed to fund this project and in June 2018, the panels were installed. The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, sponsor of the “My Solar School Contest,” awarded an additional $5,000 through its Solar Matching Grant Program. Michigan Interfaith Power & Light (MIIPL) added a grant through their Solar Faithful Grant Program.
With this funding Gesu installed a 24-kW solar system on the gym roof, reducing emissions by an annual average of 21 tons since January of 2019. The panels produce 17% of Gesu’s energy use during the school year and during summer the solar production powers the School & Church.
SolarEdge software enables the school to track and compare monthly generation of solar energy.
Gesu students eagerly researched and educated themselves on the benefits of solar energy and on other sustainability issues.
“Due to the burning of fossil fuels, harmful gases are released into the air. We discovered that air pollution is the third-leading cause of asthma. Solar is important because it cuts air pollution that causes asthma – 20% of Michigan citizens have asthma, 27% of Detroiters, and 40% of the Gesu School Solar Club!” – Rehema Klueg, 8th grader at Gesu.
Advocating for and developing the project created an exceptional educational experience where students gained knowledge in grant seeking, advocacy, and solar energy as well as other related issues.
“I especially appreciate this project because of all it has taught our students. Being a part of the contest and seeing their project become a reality is a life lesson,” said former Gesu principal, Christa Laurin.
“We are thrilled that our Gesu students seized the opportunity to learn about sustainability, environmental justice, and the care of creation, while at the same time advocating for community health. Having IPL’s recognition will continue to enhance their learning and deepen Gesu’s positive impact on the environment,” said Rev. Phil Cooke, SJ.
The Solar Energy Club is now the Science Club and they continue to work to educate the rest of the Gesu community on additional environmental issues.
Gesu is a welcoming, diverse, urban parish of modest means. They hosted an Michigan Interfaith Power & Light workshop in August 2018 for congregations interested in solar, and participated in a 2019 Detroit Office of Sustainability strategic planning practitioner workshop for faith-based groups.
For more information contact Anita Sevier, Sevier.email@example.com or 313-863-4677 x-020.