Emma Heienickle aspires to lead the world in sustainable development through a social justice-oriented lens. Her interests are climate action, green building design and clean air and water.
“The environment is rooted in our faith,” said the environmental engineering student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Doing things “with grace and love out of service is what God wants us to do.”
A parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville and the St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbia, Heienickle is guided by the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’ (On Care for our Common Home).” She was chosen as an organizer and on the leadership committee for the youth and young adult track of a virtual conference on the encyclical and the Church July 13-15.
The summer after her freshman year of college, Heienickle attended the annual conference hosted by Creighton University and the Catholic Climate Covenant. Parishioners of the Newman Center encouraged her to apply and paid her registration fee.
It meant a lot to her because she had received the encyclical in the form of a book as a high school graduation gift and was inspired by it. She attended St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis and was president of the Earth Angels Club there, which influenced her major. “I’m very servant-hearted, and I love giving back to the community and being an advocate,” Heienickle said. “This major of environmental science really struck me because you have the opportunity to make a positive impact.”
Heienickle saw her leadership role at the climate conference as a way of engaging college-age young adults on the topic of “Laudato Si”’ and care for creation, while moving them toward faith-inspired action for building a better future. She views those steps revolving around eco-spirituality, sustainability and simple living, as well as structural advocacy and social action.
Heienickle describes the encyclical as stating “what we should be doing as Catholics to take action and make a positive change in the world.”
For example, she said, some people live near a factory because that’s the only place that’s affordable. If the air is filled with pollution from the factory and causing people to have problems breathing, then it’s important for others to ensure that they have good air quality, Heienickle said. Everyone is a son or daughter of Christ, “so we should be caring for every person.”
Angelle Hall is the director of campus ministry at the St. Thomas More Newman Center. She supervised Heienickle’s work as a service and justice intern the 2019-20 school year. “It’s been a joy to know Emma and to see her love for the care of creation deepen and flow from her love of Christ,” Hall said. “It is beautiful to see how the Lord is shaping her and bringing her charisms and natural gifts together for His glory.”
Heienickle also serves on the student pastoral council and the Awakenings Retreat Rector staff at the Newman Center.
This summer, Heienickle is a research assistant in the sustainability science lab, helping a Mizzou professor with water resource analysis of the Yellowstone River in Montana. The cultural inventory is part of a water management analysis, funded by the Army Corps of Engineers, to predict natural flood cycles and maintain the long-term integrity of the Yellowstone. “It’s a tributary of the Missouri River, which is close to our home. So what happens up there, if it becomes polluted, it will eventually affect our home,” Heienickle said.
Debates have ensued over damming the now-undammed river or installing an embankment, so the research could be useful in guiding decisions.
Last summer, Heienickle interned with the U.S. Forest Service, helping to manage the 17 national forests in the region. She wants to attend graduate school, possibly majoring in atmospheric and climate science. “I see a great need to care for the climate and learn more about climate change, long-term climate forecasting,” she explained. “I’d love to do research and climate analysis to get to the bottom of climate change.”
Heienickle appreciates her education at St. Joseph’s Academy and its emphasis on faith, creating values-driven leaders. “They empowered us to take on leadership roles. They wanted us to be the ones to make change in the world and not be afraid to step us to the challenge. Having that foundation with my foundation with the environment club, rooted in faith, really got the door open to some of these opportunities and how my major and faith can work so well together.”
On a broad scale to care for the environment, Emma Heienickle recommends:
• Learning about the importance of caring for creation and living a life that respects it.
• Sustainability and simple living. “In order to be fulfilled in life, it isn’t the things that surround us that truly satisfy our hearts. It’s the friends, family and of course God that will satisfy us. It isn’t consumption that will bring joy.”
• Environmental advocacy and justice — caring for people living in unjust conditions.
Hands-on steps that Heienickle recommends or are listed in the encyclical “Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home)” include:
• Thinking ahead before making purchases, including whether the item and packaging are recyclable.
• Using less water, such as watering a lawn early in the morning rather than later when it will evaporate.
• Promoting green construction with energy efficient homes and buildings.
• Using public transportation or sharing a vehicle with others.
• Planting trees.
• Supporting renewable energy.
>> Emma Heienickle
The University of Missouri-Columbia senior has a background that involves care for the environment. Besides her current research and climate conference participation, she has:
• Restored wetlands in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina with Common Ground Relief
• Planned a trip to Delores, Colorado, with the San Juan Mountain Association to perform trail restoration; due to COVID-19, the trip was cancelled, so instead participants educated themselves about the indigenous community there and donated the money they raised for travel costs.
• As president of St. Joseph’s Academy’s Earth Angels, along with other students, earned second place in the Missouri Green Schools Quest and raised $2,000 for relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Maria and Irma
• As an officer with the MU chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, helped clean the MKT stream and Katy Trail through monthly trash pickups and in conservation and sustainability efforts.