Springfield Dominican Sisters join movement to address climate change

Springfield Dominican Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, center, shows visitors around Jubilee Farm, the Dominican’s ecospirituality center, which is located on Springfield’s west side. (Photo contributed)

Climate Solution Movement takes the struggle for equity to Wall Street

SPRINGFIELD - The Dominican Sisters of Springfield have announced their participation in Dominican Sisters Climate Solution Movement, a strategic green investment initiative to address climate change and its effects on marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by global warming.

The Springfield Sisters made the announcement on the fifth anniversary of the publication of “Laudato Si’,” an encyclical written by Pope Francis that addresses consumerism, irresponsible development, environmental degradation and global warming.

Thus far, 16 Dominican Sisters’ congregations have committed $46.65 million to the initiative, in partnership with Morgan Stanley, to seed climate solutions funds that have attracted more than $130 million in capital investments.

“Dominicans have long been engaged in addressing issues related to poverty and Earth’s degradation,” the sisters said in a joint statement. “Today we are extending these efforts to Wall Street by proactively investing in marketplace climate solutions that we hope will have a catalyzing impact for the common good of people and planet.”

“We are bringing these resources to the marketplace to help address our deep concern about the integrity of God’s creation and the people most impacted by climate change,” said Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, the prioress general of the Springfield Dominican Sisters. “Although we initiated this effort well before the outbreak of COVID-19 - well before this long-overdue national awakening to race-related police violence - the global pandemic and the racial inequity it has exposed underscore the link between climate change, ecological degradation, and the health and well-being of people, especially those most vulnerable.”

Leaders of the participating congregations of Dominican Sisters, representing nearly 3,500 Catholic sisters from across the nation, are participating in this collaborative initiative in partnership with the Chicago office of Graystone Consulting Group, a women-led institutional consulting practice which is part of Morgan Stanley. The Dominicans’ anchor investments in this initiative have attracted additional investors, providing a pool of more than $130 million for investment in climate solutions that integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on water, sanitation, food security, energy, and related challenges facing economically impoverished communities.

The initiative, five years in the making, has attracted numerous investors. Séamus P. Finn, OMI, Chief of Faith Consistent Investing of the Oblate International Pastoral (OIP) Investment Trust, said, “The OIP Trust is excited by the opportunity to join the Dominican climate fund and was especially attracted by the insight and innovation that is at the core of the fund’s approach. The vision for the fund is grounded in the transformation of the current financial system and gives priority to people, planet, and sustainability.”

Lisa Zuckerman, Vice President of Treasury and Strategic Investing for CommonSpirit Health, said, “CommonSpirit Health is a long-standing socially responsible investor, and we are grateful for opportunities with like-minded investors that align with our values and create healthier communities. We seek strong social returns as well as financial returns. With its focus on climate change, the Dominican Climate Solutions Funds help address a pressing global health issue. When we can meet our financial goals, we are able to spread our healing mission to more people.”

Sister Rebecca Ann commented, “We are delighted that this integrated approach to climate investing has attracted other investors and investment managers, helping to scale this kind of approach to climate finance globally.”

The unusual partnership between US Dominican Sisters and a global Wall Street investment firm emerged from a commitment the Dominican Sisters made together in 2015 to develop an appropriate strategy to promote investment in climate solutions. The commitment, made prior to the Paris Climate Agreement, was the fruit of a yearlong faith-praxis cycle of study, contemplation, and action developed by the Earth Council of northeast Dominican congregations that had engaged Dominicans throughout the United States.

A Sisters’ Climate Finance Taskforce was formed, reaching out to more than three dozen financial institutions in search of a manager that would develop financial products addressing climate change and integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “We found that manager in the Graystone Consulting Group of Morgan Stanley,” said Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, a longtime corporate-responsibility advocate, who played a leading role on the taskforce and in forging the partnership. “This marks a new moment of collaboration in the world of finance. May this milestone spark a new movement of integrated climate solutions that are responsive to Pope Francis’ moral call to humanity in ‘Laudato Si’ to care for God’s creation and God’s people.”

On June 18, 2018, leaders of the 16 congregations gathered at the global headquarters of Morgan Stanley on Times Square to celebrate the inauguration of the initiative with their anchor commitments. The sisters were hosted by officers from Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing and Graystone Consulting Institutional Consultants Kristina Van Liew and Linda Stephans.

“Partnering with Morgan Stanley’s Graystone Consulting, we seek to identify models for faith-based organizations and other institutions and individuals to proactively invest in climate solutions that will help our world shift to a renewables-based economy while assisting the neediest communities around the globe,” Sister Rebecca Ann said. “We want to do all we can to protect Earth, our common home, and help safeguard the future for young people today and for generations to come.”

The sisters note that their integrated approach to climate finance echoes the call Pope Francis issued in “Laudato Si’” for “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.” The initiative is aligned with efforts that Catholic sisters around the world have undertaken for years to address issues related to poverty and ecological degradation. These include support for affordable housing and healthcare, education, micro enterprise, community development, as well as clean water, land conservation, renewable energy, Earth literacy programs, wetlands restoration, and advocacy for climate agreements and programs serving people with low incomes, among others.

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