They had to convince members of several parish committees that the plunge into solar energy was prudent and in line with Catholic social teaching. "Up to that point, a lot of this had been theoretical," Msgr. Cahalane said.

At the time, the state of Arizona was offering tax credits to encourage use of systems like solar energy, Krzysik said.

For Msgr. Cahalane, it was more about spirituality than savings. "You have to understand you are doing something beneficial for the environment."

Parish leadership approved the plan.

Decreasing the carbon footprint meant more than putting solar paneling in the parking lot, however. Krzysik noted that old windows were replaced with added insulation and new energy efficient windows. Old thermostats, blowers, lightbulbs and other hardware were changed out for devices designed to reduce electrical usage

On Oct. 16, 2011, when Msgr. Cahalane blessed a parking canopy -- where most of the new solar panels were located -- he told parishioners: "Welcome to a new milestone moment in our parish. As stewards of creation, we continue to celebrate with gratitude God's blessings in abundance with the gift of creation and its energy all around us."

Improvements in one area produced results in others, Krzysik said. For example, by switching from 250-watt bulbs in the church's light fixtures to more efficient 40-watt bulbs, less electricity was needed to illuminate the church. Because the lower watt bulbs produced less heat, it also didn't cost as much to cool the church, he added.

All these changes took place before Pope Francis landmark 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," cemented concern for the environment solidly within Catholic social teaching.

There was a lot of science involved, and a local company, Technicians for Sustainability, helped design, assemble and facilitate financing for the project. Arizona Interfaith Power & Light, the state affiliate of a national movement to link ecology and technology in support of faith communities, also helped.

Since installing the panels, the parish added an electric fueling station for hybrid autos.

As the parish moves forward, one challenge will be finding ways to store the power created by the solar energy for times when demand rises. Krzysik said the storage issue is one confronting the solar power industry right now, not just a parish in Arizona.

The parish is looking to build on its success with solar panels by planting a garden that can be used to raise fruits and vegetables to supplement the parish's school lunches. is also investigating a rainwater collection and storage system that will support the garden without tapping into water supply.

Krzysik said the Care for Creation committee is considering advocacy -- petitioning and lobbying state and utility leaders to provide incentives again to make the conversion to alternative energy such as solar panels more affordable.

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Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.