Laudato Si’ Ministries: How one U.S. diocese launched the ministry that’s transforming their community

by | Apr 26, 2021 | News and Updates

Laudato Si’ inspires Kayla Jacobs, the Director of Laudato Si’ Ministries in Joliet, Illinois, USA.

Years ago, Kayla Jacobs didn’t expect to be fielding questions about her job from Catholics all across the U.S.

She knew little about Catholic Social Teaching until she was a student at St. Xavier University on the southside of Chicago.

There, she came into contact with a peace and justice coordinator for the local archdiocese.

“I was like, ‘Wow, people do this full time, you could really [do] Catholic Social Teaching forever?’” she said in a new episode of the Global Catholic Climate Movement podcast.

Listen and subscribe to the GCCM podcast below:

Now people express such admiration about her position, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

Jacobs serves as the Director of Programs for Laudato Si’ Ministries at the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois (USA).

In October 2019, the diocese became the first in the U.S. to establish such a ministry.

Creating it took years and hours upon hours of conversations, along with support from the highest levels of the diocese, said Jacobs and Tom Garlitz, the Director of the Office of Human Dignity at the Diocese of Joliet.

But their path contains lessons for dioceses around the world that are seeking a similar change and looking to elevate the life-giving work of Laudato Si’.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the ministry’s start, Jacobs and Garlitz say the change has been instrumental in helping them transform and bring Laudato Si’ to life throughout the diocese, which is one of the largest in the U.S.

Jacobs has more time to devote to Laudato Si’ projects. She helped start a farm in a food desert to serve an impoverished community, and she’s seen an uptick in new green teams at local parishes.

Jacobs helps prepare a plot of garden.

Jacobs participates in a Season of Creation prayer service.

She can more often say “yes” to requests that she might not have had time for in the past, such as when a parish asks for help to start a garden or when they’d like someone to educate them about Laudato Si’.

Jacobs also has been able to spend more time on advocacy work, such as providing input on local clean energy legislation, and sharing the inspiration that Laudato Si’ gives her on a daily basis.

“My favorite quote in Laudato Si’ is, “‘Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God (LS 84).’ That is just the truest thing I feel in my heart,” she said.

“There are just countless times when I broke the tree line on a hike, and it’s just surrounded by mountains. I’ve just cried because I feel God’s love for me.”

The new ministry has communicated a powerful message to the diocese’s 600,000 Catholics and 129 churches.

“If a diocese starts a ministry like this, that means that we’re serious about caring for creation,” Jacobs said.

Dioceses everywhere, ranging from the Philippines to Poland to Ecuador, focus on Pope Francis’ hopeful message in Laudato Si’.

But such work and the positions dedicated to it are often housed under the Justice, Peace, and the Integrity for Creation departments, or something similar.

In Joliet, shortly after Pope Francis released the encyclical letter in May 2015, Jacobs was working in the Office of Human Dignity under Garlitz.

In the beginning, she did as much as she could with Laudato Si’ while working on other priorities. She presented at churches and hosted roundtable discussions about the encyclical’s messages.

But she couldn’t find time to handle other items that were borne out of Laudato Si’, such as creating a farm, helping grow green teams at parishes by 30 percent, or guiding as many parishes as possible to conduct environmental efficiency audits and act on them.

She and Garlitz quickly realized that Pope Francis’ message would require a separate and new ministry to truly seed it throughout the diocese.

“The beauty of Laudato Si’ is its comprehensive vision. It is about the care for our common home, but it’s not simply an environmental encyclical. There’s a place for everyone to grab hold of,” Garlitz said.

In 2019, Jacobs and Garlitz set about creating the new ministry. They formed their argument as follows:

  • Being good stewards of the Earth, as Pope Francis suggests, is good in and of itself because we’re taking care of creation. But it also will help the diocese save money.
  • If caring for our common home is important to Pope Francis, it should be important to us.
  • Young people might not be in the pews, but they’re concerned about justice issues, including the climate crisis. “This is a great way to meet our young people where they’re at,” Jacobs said.

That year, they’d present their idea to the Curia Council three times. Jacobs estimates Garlitz had at least 20 one-on-one conversations with people, including the bishop of the diocese.

Finally, they received funding from a local group of Franciscan Sisters and started their ministry 19 months ago.

Garlitz, however, is quick to push back against the idea that having the funding solved all. Securing the money was crucial, of course, but so was the strong support for this ministry throughout the diocese.

“It’s much more than [funding],” he said.


With the COVID-19 pandemic easing up in the U.S., Jacobs sees her ministry about to take off.

In the next few months, she plans to host an environmental camp at the farm and celebrate Laudato Si’ Week with a webinar about the encyclical.

She and Garlitz also are working on the diocese’s seven-year action plan that will be a part of a new Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The Vatican-led effort will empower Catholic institutions, communities, and families to implement Laudato Si’.

As they continue their work, Jacobs and Garlitz are ready to talk with any diocese looking to start a Laudato Si’ ministry, because they know all the work has been worth it.

“Laudato Si’ has appealed because it is so transformational. It calls for individual conversion and young people are looking for meaning, and it calls for societal revolution, and young people are looking for that,” Garlitz said.

“We will see it prosper and grow.”


More from the Global Catholic Climate Movement & Laudato Si’ Week: