Diocese of Davenport is a ‘Cool Congregation’

Barb Arland-Fye
Patrick Collins, kitchen staffer for the Diocese of Davenport, prepares seeds for planting in the diocesan garden in back of the bishop’s house on Chancery grounds in Davenport.
He will plant tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, leeks, and cantaloupe, among other produce in the 50-foot by 25-foot garden.

By Barb Arland-Fye=
The Catholic Messenger

Interfaith Power & Light is recognizing the Diocese of Davenport for its commitment to stewardship of God’s creation. The diocese is one of 125 “congregations” nationwide to earn honors as a “Cool Congregation” for 2024.

It is the second honor in less than a year for the Davenport Diocese’s efforts to model stewardship of God’s creation. In July 2023, Catholic Climate Covenant honored the diocese with an honorable mention for the first “U.S. Laudato Si’ Champion Awards” (Diocese Category).

The Cool Congregations Challenge is an annual national contest of Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) to recognize “Cool Congregations” becoming energy efficient and sustainable role models within their communities. IPL describes itself as a “nonprofit organization inspiring and mobilizing people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate.”


As a group, the 125 congregations has prevented 540 tons of carbon emissions annually, IPL reports. Sarah Paulos, IPL’s Community Engagement and Programs director, said the organization honored the Davenport Diocese in three categories:

  • Cool Planner — for the Vertis audit, Laudato Si’ planning, report and goals set by the diocese.
  • Energy Saver — for the recent installation of energy efficient lighting in the Chancery.
  • Sacred Grounds — for kitchen staff Patrick Collins’ kitchen gardens at the Chancery.

Diocesan Stewardship Director Jennifer Praet applied for the contest on behalf of the Chancery Gardens at the Diocese of Davenport, Paulos said. “They did not win an award, but their project is exemplary!”

“In his encyclical, Laudato Si’ of 2015, Pope Francis called for ‘care for our common home.’ On 9/1/2022, he urged action,” Praet wrote in her nomination letter. She referred to three college students with connections to the Diocese of Davenport, who requested a meeting with then-Bishop Thomas Zinkula. “They asked him to respond to the challenge of climate change and develop a plan to attain carbon neutrality in the diocese. Committing to action, the diocese developed a Laudato Si’ Action Plan with targets to reach the ultimate goal of net zero by 2050.”

Praet wrote that “care for the sacred grounds surrounding” the chancery complex was included “as part of that multi-pronged plan building an ethically sustained fruit, vegetable, herb and flower garden meeting the needs of the complex residents.”

Last fall, the diocesan Facilities Manager Rich Hatfield and co-worker David Houdyshell replaced 1,400 incandescent light bulbs with 1,400 energy efficient LEDs at diocesan headquarters. They anticipate not having to replace another lightbulb for at least 10 years. The painstaking job — which included removing light ballasts and rewiring the fixtures for LED lights — represented another element of the diocese’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform plan.

Pope Francis initiated the Laudato Si’ Action Platform two years ago to encourage Catholics worldwide to respond to the ecological crisis that is harming the planet and threatening people’s lives and livelihoods. “Working together,” he said of the multifaceted, seven-year platform, “we will be able to create the future we want: a more inclusive, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world” (laudatosiactionplatform.org).

“The fact that the Chancery moved to more efficient lighting in the past year makes this recognition special,” said Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and Catholic Charities. “That we were able to move so quickly on a sub-project has everything to do with the knowledge Rich Hatfield possesses and his enthusiasm for a multi-office project.”

Top winners in the six categories of the “Cool Congregations” competition were:

Community Inspiration: All Saints Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York.

Cool Planner: Cumming First United Methodist Church in Cumming, Georgia.

Electric Vehicle Leader: Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Energy Saver: Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa.

Renewable Role Model: Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland.

Sacred Grounds: Grace Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Barb Arland-Fye
Rich Hatfield, facilities manager for the Diocese of Davenport, shows incandescent lights that were changed out for LED bulbs at St. Vincent Center in Davenport last fall.

Community Inspiration winner All Saints Catholic Church won top honors in that category for the work of its task force to lead the Diocese of Syracuse, New York in mitigating climate change. The task force assisted other parishes in starting Caring for Our Common Home teams, developing a youth program, supporting the city’s tree-planting goals and signing up members with community solar, IPL reported.

Two other Catholic entries won runner-up awards. The Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley in New Jersey won a Community Inspiration award. “Inspired by Pope Francis’ teaching on caring for our common home, this 2,600-member congregation of three parishes has started a Creation Care committee to educate their members on the faithful call to care for the earth and practical ways to do it,” IPL said. “Villa Guadalupe in Gallup, New Mexico  won a Sacred Grounds award for their  innovative plan to collect 20,000 gallons of rainwater on their roofs to irrigate their own vegetable garden and the nearby Navajo reservation farmers. Their project partner is Spirit Farm, an indigenous-informed educational project of Covenant Pathways and James and Joyce Skeet.”

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