John Burns funds Laudato Si across the Curriculum
- A major gift by SCU alumnus John Burns (‘66) will support students and faculty to understand, reflect, and act on the twin crises of environmental and social justice.
Around the world, Indigenous peoples, people of color, and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, including pollution, lack of access to healthy food and water, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the effects of structural racism.
For John Burns (SCU Class of 1966), the Catholic Church and Jesuit higher education can play a distinctive role in helping to address these challenges. In his groundbreaking social encyclicals, Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis draws on both Church teaching and contemporary science to help modern-day people reflect on the causes of a contemporary crisis. “What had been missing was the awareness of the many ways social and environmental justice intersect,” Burns explains, “and a light went on in my mind.”
The retired clinical psychologist has long considered how to make the biggest positive impact. In graduate school, Burns became interested in community psychology. “If you could train, supervise, and consult with direct service providers, you reached a much broader range of people,” Burns explains.
He brings this notion of expanded impact to his philanthropy, most notably with his seed funding to SCU’s Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative to launch the Laudato Si across the Curriculum program. The program will help students and faculty to understand, reflect, and act on the twin crises of environmental and social justice. The Initiative will develop and provide this program, helping to train faculty to incorporate social and environmental justice themes into their curricula, support student learning through community-engaged research and advocacy, and inspire interdisciplinary teaching and research collaborations across disciplines, centers, and campus units. Burns has committed an additional estate gift to endow the program for the future.
“John Burns’ generous gifts will allow us to support many faculty members who want to show their students that all disciplines can contribute to environmental justice, especially when we learn by collaborating respectfully with community partners,” said Chad Raphael, a co-coordinator of the Initiative. “We aim to create a program that can be a model for other Jesuit institutions and we look forward to sharing it with them.”
“Santa Clara was formative to my growth as a person and a Catholic, and the focus on being of service never left me,” explains Burns. “I see environmental and social justice as defining issues for the survival of our civilization, and maybe even for humanity as a whole. Laudato Si across the Curriculum will bring so many strengths to the fore: the right expertise, a desire among students and faculty to deeply engage the issues, and the Jesuit consciousness to then bring these ideas into the world to find solutions.”