Diocese of Orlando Cares for Our Common Home

When Patrick Barker read Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’”, on care for our common home, he was both challenged and inspired by its message.


When Patrick Barker read Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’”, on care for our common home, he was both challenged and inspired by its message. He had recently been hired as the facilities director in the Diocese of Orlando’s Design and Construction Services office and was charged with assisting in the planning and implementing of construction and renovation projects for diocesan parishes, schools, and entities. With over twenty years of facility management experience, Pope Francis’ words about people plundering the Earth rang true. But he was also encouraged to reflect that the Diocese of Orlando was already making care for our common home a priority.

“Pope Francis said that human beings, ‘are capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.’ That is the open door that we choose to walk through at the diocese,” said Barker. “We have an opportunity to do the right thing. To utilize funds and programs and initiatives to move ahead and look forward – to be forward thinking and forward doing.”

With the Design and Construction office’s guidance, parishes and schools such as St. Augustine Parish in Casselberry and St. Joseph Catholic School in Winter Haven are beginning to replace their fluorescent lighting systems with new LED light fixtures which are able to give off brighter light, operate more efficiently, and are better for the environment. 

“LED fixtures burn a little less than half of the fluorescent fixtures and there is no mercury in the bulb,” explained Barker. “We really shouldn’t be using any fluorescent fixtures because there is mercury in those tubes that gets thrown in the trash.”

In some cases, going green can be literal, as was the case with the new playground turf installed at St. James Cathedral School in Orlando and St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Winter Park. The new organic turf infill is made up of coconut fiber and cork which keeps the temperature of the turf 40 degrees cooler than the previous system, and because it is plant based and biodegradable, it is safe to use on the surrounding soil and landscaping.

From replacing outdated lighting to installing more efficient air conditioning units, nearly every project that comes across the Design and Construction office is an opportunity to exercise good stewardship of the environment while caring for the people of God served in diocesan churches and buildings.

“We are a part of the body of Christ; we do not live in isolation,” wrote Bishop John Noonan in a letter reflecting on Laudato Si’ last year. “We are a community, we live in our common home, and as such, we are responsible for each other.”

The Design and Construction office was recognized in the City of Orlando’s Stakeholder Spotlight earlier this year for efforts to enhance school and worship spaces with energy saving initiatives but Barker notes that their motivation is rooted deeper than external recognition.

“Our spiritual beliefs, our Catholic tradition and our conscience must be the drivers behind our actions,” said Barker. “Embracing the spirit of Pope Francis’ encyclical must not be done to sway another’s opinion about us. This important dialogue should be the catalyst behind our desire to achieve and deliver positive, tangible and lasting results.”