Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC, the visionary founder of EarthConnection as a center for learning and reflection about living lightly on Earth, died peacefully on July 31, 2016. She opted for a green burial and was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati on August 2nd. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated in the Motherhouse chapel on August 4th at 3:00 PM. Her death is difficult for all those who have known and loved her, but the memory of the legacy she left behind will continue for years to come.
One cannot think of Paula without becoming immersed in the universe story. Paula would always say that her transformation into an advocate for her beloved Pachamama (Mother Earth) began the moment in 1969 when she saw the first photos of Planet Earth from space. In that moment she saw the interconnectedness of all of creation and made it her life’s work to share that understanding through example, word, and work. Paula co-founded, with Keith Mills, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007. Paula moved from founder to active board member to inspirational advisory council member during her time with OhIPL.
In these past few months, Paula has talked often about how she was 25 years ahead of time, but how grateful she is that so many throughout the world are coming to the realization of creation’s interdependence. She was especially delighted with Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.
The following testimonials to Paula speak far more eloquently than I can of the effect Paula had on the lives of so many:
“We each received many gifts from Sister Paula Gonzalez. I would like to mention just one. She was a phenomenal pioneer and by her example demonstrated that we only live up to our calling as children of God when we reach outside our limits to create something new and wonderful. Sister Paula was continually reaching out and creating something new and wonderful and she has inspired me to do the best I can to do the same. May we all be inspired by her to do great things.” – Jim Rogers (Ohio Interfaith Power and Light board member (OHIPL)
“I first met Paula about 20 years ago, during my first visit to the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse. We (participants in a program) had the wonderful experience of spending time at EarthConnection… She was light years ahead of her time in her recognition of the need to preserve our earth. She was passionate about ecology and preached her message to all, long before it became popular to do so. Paula seemed to radiate a light of love and warmth and it was a pleasure to be in her company…Paula was such a gift to my life, and I will forever be grateful for having known her. I know she’s with God, and taking a major role in looking out for our earth, recruiting others to join her in this important project!” -Lee Hemminger (Sister of Charity Associate)
“She was a horizon buster and great soul for Earth and all her community…She mentored so many of us into reverence for our common home and inspired religious women to be forerunners for ecology and eco-spirituality. She was proud of the house built of recycled material and the community such an effort led to. She will be missed, but the rest of us will carry on. Peace now for her.” -Gemma Doll, OP
“Paula’s expression of sacred activism was spread wherever she spoke, gathered, taught and lived. For such a tiny person in stature, her voice was sure and strong, full of the story of the Universe and our Oneness with all of creation. She was a mentor to me, a courageous role model and full of the presence of the Holy Spirit…I know for certain that it will be her voice echoing in my soul that will give me the strength, courage and hope for our future. Sister Paula, the beloved “solar nun”, embodied Power and Light and enriched the lives of so many. We have heavy hearts but we are so grateful for her life and the inspiration she offered.” – Sara Ward (Director, OHIPL)
“Paula was so important to our ecological community here in Chile. Paula gave us a retreat here in the mid-1990s to our Maryknoll Ecological Committee and our invitees that changed our lives. She spent two weeks with us—first in the rural area of Chile along a river in the mountainous region of Vilches and then in Santiago to various groups where she gave her ecological version of the Lord`s Prayer. Her energy and commitment to the earth and a new way of living in connection with her inspired us all…Most of all, we will remember Paula for her tremendous enthusiasm for what is possible—for her Great Heart so full of practical compassion. We thought she would be with us forever… Now she has joined the ancestors. We are convinced that she will be even more supportive on the other side. Paula presente, ahora y siempre!” -Judy Ress (for the ecological committee in Chile)
“Paula was on a Global Awareness through Experience (GATE) program in Mexico…The most wonderful thing was: That when she saw the squalor of the indigenous people living around Ixmiquilpan she immediately did something that resulted in the biggest project Habitat for Humanity had ever supported. It was during the years that GATE brought groups to the villages to learn from the people, that we’d see all these simple one-room dwellings that provided a roof over hundreds of families. This project also became supported by the Heifer Project which brought in cows and smaller animals to help the people provide a more nutritious diet for their people.” -Cecilia Corcoran, FSPA (former director of GATE)
“She lived a life that was one exemplifying the brightness of life and the call to shine for the entire Sacred Earth Community in these times when we face many challenges. Creativity and enthusiasm were her special gifts that touched so many.” –Joan Brown, OSF (NM Interfaith Power and Light)
“We loved Paula and so deeply valued what her life brought to all of us and to the whole world. She made a difference. My grief is tempered by thoughts of what she accomplished–she lived an amazing life–and also I take some comfort in what I know she believed in and what motivated her life, the knowledge that God is with us here, and now she’s moved on to be with him.” –Karl Zuelke (Mt. St. Joseph University Environmental Action Committee)
“We believe that Paula continues to bring life to our evolving Universe and will continue to enlighten our minds and hearts for Earth’s healing.” Ann Lynch and Roberta Mulcahy (Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield)
“She was truly a prophet to all of us. She is now in a new heaven and a new earth.” -Elaine Biollo, SC (Halifax)
“She was a woman ahead of her time and taught all of us to see things differently.” – Fran Repka, rsm
“What can one say about the “loss” of Paula, now radiating into the Universe. She was a dynamo, a pioneer for Earth, one of a kind.” – Mary Lou Dolan