New institute aims to inspire action to help environment

Alison Robles, Editor-in-Chief

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The Sister Kathleen Deignan C.N.D. Institute of Earth and Spirit, a newfound initiative on campus, aims to promote the protection of the environment through education and spiritual teaching.

The namesake of the IES, Deignan has been a religious studies professor at Iona for 40 years and plans on retiring as a professor after this year, but she will maintain a role in the IES.

IES combines the initiatives of three other organizations that Deignan has had a hand in: the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona, the Iona Spirituality Center and the Thomas Merton Contemplative Initiative.

The Spirituality Center offers a space for open dialogue about spirituality and the role it plays in life and culture. The Thomas Berry Forum is inspired by the work of Catholic priest Berry, who focused his teachings on the ecological impact that human development has on the environment. The Thomas Merton Contemplative Initiative focuses on the work of Merton in critiquing society in the lens of social, cultural and spiritual concerns.

Deignan founded the Spirituality Center and also assisted in the founding of the Thomas Berry Forum and the Thomas Merton Initiative. After her retirement, Deignan had wanted to maintain the role of director for these institutes before Iona alum Christopher O’Connor was approached in supporting the foundation of the IES.

O’Connor was one of Deignan’s first three students, and it is his support that has allowed the three separate institutes to join together under the IES.

“We’re hoping that [the IES] is going to be a real gift to the college at this critical time,” Deignan said.

Br. Kevin Cawley, the executive director of the Thomas Berry Forum, is working closely with Deignan in organizing the IES. Deignan attributes their roles in the IES as important to the life of the institute in the long run.

“Our job, because we are the elders…is to take all of the training, all of the development that has been invested in us…and we now look to the next generation of leaders,” Deignan said. “That means campus faculty and staff leaders, and also student leaders.

Several students are also working with Deignan as student associates across a variety of majors, including environmental studies, education, political science and media and strategic communications.

Sophomore Promise Jimenez is one of Deignan’s student associates with the IEC. When she met with Deignan, they connected as alumni of the same high school.

“She told me about everything she was doing, and I was like, I want to be a part of it,” Jimenez said. “The Institute has just been growing and developing…now we’re focusing more on Earth and spirit…Like she said, it’s the young people that are able to make the change.”

For Deignan, it is critical that the IES fulfills its role for environmental education during a time when climate change is quickly affecting the world.

“It is urgent, it is a question of conscience, it is an existential question or an existential,” Deignan said. “We step up…At Iona we say, ‘Move the World’, and we want to move the world towards a peaceful and sustainable future for our planet.”

The Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute of Earth and Spirit will hold its official launch on Oct. 3 at noon under the gingko tree in the academic quad.