In Memoriam

Sister Paula Gonzalez-Visionary and Role Model

In loving memory, from Sara Ward, Director, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light

Sister of Earth, Paula Gonzalez, SCI’ll never forget the first time I met Sister Paula Gonzalez, PhD.  She was the keynote speaker for the National Weatherization Assistance Program conference that was hosted in Columbus, Ohio by my office in the late 80’s.  She spoke powerfully of our call to care for all of God’s creation through the work we were doing to help low income families reduce their heating and cooling costs by weatherizing their homes.  She artfully connected the dots, speaking to this secular crowd of over 400 from every state in the country, helping us to understand how weatherization for the poor was also helping to reduce our use of fossil fuels which were polluting our air.  She was a scientist, biologist, teacher, visionary, and a woman of deep faith; on fire with her message.   Known as “the Solar Nun” from Cincinnati, Ohio,  Sr. Paula never missed an opportunity to teach about her beloved “Pacha Mama”, Mother Earth.

Often, as I have reflected upon my own career in state government, I am aware that it was an inner call that was the driving force behind my own determination.  Sr. Paula gave voice to that inner call and in many ways, inspired us all to be better at this work.   This expression of sacred activism was spread by Paula where ever 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.

SisterPaula_KeithSr. 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.  When we gathered in Cincinnati at EarthConnection in June this year for our board retreat, I knew that we would find renewal and hope just being in that special place, which she also founded.  Even in her limited physical capacity Paula mustered the strength to join us each day for a few hours, lifting us all with her presence and yes, her still strong voice for caring for God’s amazing creation.  She praised us often for being her beloved community and we all knew that it was our good fortune to be included in her inner circle.  My colleague, Deb Steele, said it best when she commented, “Sister Paula had such vision that made our home better.  We stand on the shoulders of this giant.”

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.

We love you dear Sister Paula and are joyful that you now reside in eternal wholeness.


View this wonderful interview of Sister Paula by Mary Evelyn Tucker as part of the Journey of the Universe Educational Series. Sister Paula narrates the efforts of Catholic sisters to harness solar power and other natural systems as a means of protecting the Earth community. Scroll down to # 16. CLICK HERE.

Please share your own reflections…Sister Paula touched so many lives.


9 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. Sister Paula said that she was awake.
    What an understatement! The Holy Spirit shown through her very being like a flame.

    She said that she lived simply; that others may simply live.
    Paula said that we, as the children of God, are to care for all living things and the Earth; as we are kin to them all.
    And she said that her presentations needed to be at least a day long, so that others could see these “simple” insights for themselves; as these are deep spiritual truths; and not the common world view of our day.
    While a devout Catholic, she crafted and conveyed her insights lovingly, using language that people from a wide range of backgrounds could understand.

    The depth of her spiritual insights were matched by her actions; she added flesh and bone to her words and brought them to life. Such a bright light, such a clear and strong voice; let all who have ears to hear and eyes to see….

    As co-founders of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, we were such an unlikely couple – a petite, well known Sister of Charity from Cincinnati and a tall Presbyterian elder and electrical engineer from Cleveland just starting my witness around our call to care for the Earth; and yet we agreed upon much in our world views.
    My own awakening took place from 2003 to 2007 around how the windfall of finite coal, gas and oil had turbo-charged and addicted human societies; with the obvious side effects of pollution, and the not so obvious side effects on our relationships with other creatures, the Earth, and with God. It seemed to me that we had become Supermen, as Nietzsche wrote about. In early 2007, my epiphany was wondering how humanity, as the children of God, could not see and take responsibility for our actions that were and are unpredictably changing the Earth that sustains us.

    Both members of Green Energy Ohio, we met at the 2007 Solar Conference in Cleveland, and agreed to co-found the Ohio chapter of Interfaith Power and Light. We later discovered that in 2005 we had both reached out to the national organization to start an Ohio chapter and both of us did not! So, as Paula would have said, it must have been providential that we met and co-founded in 2007. We also discovered that we both had Jesus’ words in John 10:10 in mind during this time; but we did not discuss this with each other. And so, our founding theology was about being a stand for life; that all may have it in abundance. We agreed these who we are in the world, caring for the Earth all living creatures are deep moral issues; a call for the people of faith to take up in our times.

    From my time with her, Sister Paula helped stand for and fulfill on Jesus wish for us; that all have life in abundance.
    May you rest in peace, Paula, from a life well lived.


  2. I met Paula when she was planning and implementing her La Casa Del Sol project which converted an old chicken and utility barn into her superinsulated passive solar home where she lived ever since. Back then I was studying energy, both how to use much less and how to use more solar. So we shared that interest immediately, and I became a volunteer every weekend on her La Casa Del Sol project. After that we worked together leading the SW Ohio Alternate Energy Assn, a hands-on consumer-based energy efficiency and renewables group which was popular in Greater Cincinnati from 1978 to around 2005. Paula later founded EarthConnection, the center for ecological learning at the College of Mt. St. Joseph, and I got involved a little in that too, providing design and analysis assistance to her and her design team. Then after I moved to KY, Paula got involved with Green Energy Ohio (GEO), the Ohio chapter of the American Solar Energy Assn, eventually becoming a board member. In recent years as Paula’s health began to deteriorate, I occasionally visited her at La Casa and transplanted (to my yard) many of the volunteer redbud trees sprouting up in her yard where she didn’t want trees. I will remember Paula as a very smart, very good and very dedicated woman who influenced me quite a lot in my earlier years and who became a good friend. She once told me my profession (energy-focused consulting and design) was more like a vocation than a job. I am so glad to have known her as a friend and colleague, glad to have worked with her. RIP Sr. Paula! Your work and aspirations will be carried on by the many whom you educated and influenced.

  3. I met Sister Paula in the 1980s as a retreat leader for the United Christian Fellowship of Bowling Green State University. Her leadership was inspiring. In the 21st Century I worked with her as a faithful board member of Green Energy Ohio. The purity of her heart and her steadfastness of vision were exemplary. I join all those who grieve our loss of her in rejoicing in the high benchmark her witness has established.

  4. My first year at Mt St Joe (1965) was Sister Paula’s first teaching Freshman Biology there, after completing distinguished research in genetics. I had originally signed up for Botany, but the course was cancelled for low enrollment. When she heard this, she promised that I wouldn’t miss out by taking Biology, since the concepts of Botany were essential to Biology and Zoology, and she made sure I learned them! She led us on long rambles to identify plants and trees around the stately Old Mount campus, and was among the first to explain the concepts “Ecosystem” and “Ecology.”
    I can’t set foot in my garden, pastures or woods without remembering one or another of her insights. I am proud to explain to creationists and deniers of science that I was taught evolution, the vast wonder and diversity of life on Earth, by this woman of unshakable Christian faith and committed life.

  5. My favorite line from Sister Paula is her looking up at me and saying “Come here. I’m a hugger!”
    May Paula rest in peace and rise in glory.

  6. It was my distinct honor to witness the green burial and rite of committal of our dear Sr. Paula today on the grounds of the cemetery of the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati. It was a sweet and simple gathering of dear friends, the sun was shining, puffs of clouds, dragonflies, butterflies, birds and all manner of God’s creation came together to honor her. As she was presented for burial in her white shroud we gathered and said prayers and petitions as a community, we sprinkled her with water and laid flowers all around her. I was both full of sorrow and joy all at once as I could just sense her delight as we gathered around her. So peaceful, beautiful and full of grace as we shared these words: Into the beauty of mother earth, we release you. Into the freedom of wind and sunshine, we release you. Into the dance of the stars and planets, we release you. Into the next part of your spiritual journey as you walk hand in hand with your Creator God, we release you. Into the realm of all those who have gone before you lighting your way, we release you to go safely, go dancing, go joyfully home. Amen.

  7. I first met Paula about 20 years ago, during my first visit to the Mother House. We (participants in a program) had the wonderful experience of spending time at EarthConnection, which Paula founded. She was very proud of the fact it was only dependent on alternative energy and that it was environmentally sustainable, not emitting anything harmful to the ecosphere. She was so vibrant and full of so much energy, one couldn’t help feeling inspired in her presence. She was light years ahead of her time in her recognition of the need to preserve our earth, treating it with care. 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. From that time on, each time I visited the Mother House II would seek her out, to have that sense of relationship. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the Associates, and always voiced her support. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. Dear dear Paula, from a fan, a friend, and soulmate on environment. Love, Janis