Sister Paula González died on a Sunday.
That’s befitting for the Sister of Charity, who carried effervescent titles such as “solar nun” and the “patron saint of scavenging.” She died at Mother Margaret Hall, the nursing facility of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, on July 31 at age 83.
Sister González encouraged “living lightly” on the Earth and did so herself in unconventional ways.
From 1982 to 1986 she and a few dozen volunteers converted an old chicken barn into a passive solar home constructed almost entirely out of recycled materials on the Mount St. Joseph University property.
She called it La Casa del Sol – The House of the Sun – and lived there until her health deteriorated earlier this year.
Sister González spread her message of sustainable living and support for renewable energy across many corners of the Earth; to students at Seton High School and the former College of Mount St. Joseph, to those she met attending environmental summits in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Johannesburg, South Africa, and to the audiences of some 1,800 lectures she performed through the years at churches, schools and conferences.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native once told The Enquirer that “most of the so-called environmental questions are not principally scientific questions. They are principally moral questions.”
It was her father, Hilario González, that sparked a religious connection to the natural world to a daughter who would eventually get advanced degrees including a doctorate in cellular physiology.
“He would tell me, ‘The Earth is sacred,’” as the two toiled in his garden, González told a reporter with the Eco Catholic blog in 2011.
Sister González was a visionary, said fellow Sister Caroljean Willie, program director at EarthConnection, a center focused on sustainable agriculture, alternative energies, eco-justice and eco-spirituality created by Gonzalez.
With EarthConnection, Sister González again saw potential in an unused building, turning a four-car garage into the group’s home and powering it with solar technology.
Tributes to the progressive nun have streamed in from around the world, including Chile and Mexico, Willie said.
Sister González spent 62 years as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, joining the religious community in her early 20s. It is a Catholic sisterhood for women who aspire to be like Jesus Christ’s apostles and carry out the Gospel through service and prayer.
She is also a co-founder of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, a religious response to global warming, and Sisters of Earth, an informal network of women dedicated to environmental sustainability.
Over the years she also helped implement $1.4 million in energy-efficient projects in Cincinnati parishes and Catholic schools while a volunteer for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Catholic Climate Change Task Force.
The 2014 Enquirer Woman of the Year was known, too, to tool around in a yellow golf cart she tinkered with to run off of a solar panel.
Sister González opted for a green burial, wrapped only in a burial shroud in the Sisters of Charity Cemetery at Mount Saint Joseph earlier this month.
She is survived by her brother, Larry González, of Albuquerque, and several nieces. Services have been held.
Memorials may be made in Sister Paula González’s name to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Retirement Fund, 5900 Delhi Road, Mount St. Joseph, Ohio 45051.