Career Ambassador Extends Experience Outside the Classroom

SHU Student Explores Mankind’s Ties to God and Nature
JULY 26, 2023

Emma Grady attends integral ecology seminar at Cornell University

Sacred Heart University junior Emma Grady spent a week recently contemplating the interconnection among God, people and the environment during a weeklong seminar at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

The seminar delved into integral ecology, a theme of Catholic social teaching explained in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’―a letter to all bishops in 2015 in which the Pope wrote, “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.”

Grady, 20, of Watertown, MA, applied in March to attend Explorations in Integral Ecology: Science, Theology and Creation, organized by the COLLIS Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at Cornell University in conjunction with the In Lumine Network and the Lumen Christi Institute. She learned a month later she was accepted into the intensive seminar, which integrated “theological study with the direct scientific observation of the natural world and experiences of creation,” according to the institute’s website.

The seminar’s organizers aimed to inspire and educate undergraduates to pursue a God-centered response to current environmental challenges in the holistic spirit of integral ecology. It enabled participants to explore the rich, natural beauty of Ithaca and the nearby Finger Lakes region through field-based study and excursions.

Grady, a political science major with minors in Catholic studies, human rights and social justice, and press relations and communications, said SHU professors Michelle Loris and Chelsea King encouraged her to apply to the institute. She had read portions of Laudato Si’ and was familiar with integral ecology. Moreover, she felt passionate about the seminar’s focus, which showed in her application, in which she wrote, “Through learning about many concepts that integrate theology and science/the environment, I have been exposed to an entirely new light. I find it interesting and support the crucial dialogue between faith and science because of the power they possess when put together and their common goal of discovering truth.”

She noted that she had examined arguments and facts about integral ecology and believes that as stewards of creation, people feel stuck between progress and environmental health. “As humans, we have made a mark on the world around us, but this mark is not entirely positive,” she wrote.

The institute

In mid-June, Grady found herself in “beautiful” Ithaca. “It was such a different environment from what I was used to,” said Grady, who lives in a Boston, MA, suburb. “I really enjoyed it.”

She joined 12 other students from around the country who brought unique views and experiences to the program. “It was a great collection of people with different backgrounds,” she said. “Not everyone was Catholic, and not everyone was religious.”

The participants stayed in Cornell’s residence halls, and Grady said she connected with the others instantly. “We had all our meals together and became so close. I think the closeness developed because everyone was super vulnerable and open with each other. We all wanted to learn and experience the institute to its fullest. We all really wanted to be there.”

Most days started with a two-and-a-half-hour lecture or seminar, followed by an outdoor excursion or activity. One day, the students visited Cornell’s botanical gardens; another afternoon, they hiked to nearby gorges, where local people guided them and provided historical background. Another day saw the participants board a boat to take water samples from a lake.

“We were able to integrate these excursions with what we were learning,” Grady said. “We were really exposed to the world around us.” At night, the students read excerpts from various philosophers and journaled their thoughts about the day for homework.

At SHU, Grady had taken two of Loris’ seminar classes in the Catholic intellectual tradition (CIT) and believes they contributed to her ability to think critically. “I’m such an advocate for the CIT classes. I really think seminar-based education is such a productive way of learning. It taught me how to reflect,” she said.

She quickly realized those SHU classes had prepared her for deep discussions with her teachers and peers at the institute. “I just felt more confident, and I was able to act and think in this special way. Dr. Loris stresses having open minds and open hearts—she teaches us to make connections and encourages thoughtful conversation without the feat of not knowing things.”

“Emma was an exemplary candidate for this institute” Loris said. “She is deeply committed to her faith, and she has taken her work and study in the CIT seminars—where we read and discuss the issues of integral ecology, the environment and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’—seriously and deeply.”

Loris said Grady is curious, asks questions and has a thirst to learn more about how Catholic thought intersects with important issues in the contemporary culture. Loris said Grady is also interested in social justice and sees the deep connections between social and environmental justice.


In addition to making lifelong friends, Grady said she is trying to incorporate the lessons she learned in the weeklong seminar into her everyday life. At the institute, she created a guide on ways to nurture her ability to see the world and not just look at it, and she said her notes are helping her integrate her knew knowledge into her daily behavior.

Since attending the seminar, environmental law has become of interest to Grady who thinks she may pursue law school after graduation.

“Emma is an exceptional student in every way,” Loris said. “I am so pleased and proud that she was selected to attend this institute. She has made Sacred Heart proud!”

Article from Sacred Heart University website:

By Amy Novak
Amy Novak Senior Director