Fr. Arnold Perham, CSV, has seen a lot of interesting things in his 94 years — including 76 as a Viatorian — but a drone flying over the Province Center is not one of them.

Fr. Arnold Perham watches as Patrick McGarry prepares to fly the drone.

Sure enough, during his afternoon walk outdoors Wednesday, Fr. Perham came across seniors from Saint Viator High School and their teacher, Mr. Patrick McGarry.

“This is fascinating,” Fr. Perham said after watching the drone hover over the building and then seeing the footage it captured. “The video is so clear. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen since the eclipse.”

Mr. McGarry teaches a senior-level theology class, Environmental Justice, which explores current environmental issues as part of the “integral ecology” as addressed by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato si.

“We’ve been studying the effects of wildfires that have had disastrous effects on the environment and human beings,” Mr. McGarry said. “A major element of our studies has been exploring some of the standards of fire prevention and resistance that communities in vulnerable areas have adopted, including how to design and layout a property.”

As part of their final project for the unit, students were asked to apply those standards, assessing the vulnerability of a property, in this case, the Viatorian Province Center.

Fr. Perham talks to Saint Viator seniors outside the Province Center.

“Although Illinois might be an unlikely place for wildfires,” Mr. McGarry said, “climate change will bring about more frequent and intense fires, which may spread to areas not traditionally at risk.”

Students examined the property in zones, with Zone 1 being the closest to the building, and then moving back for Zones 2 and 3. They also assessed the roof. That’s where the drone came in.

“A major point of vulnerability for any property or home when it comes to wildfires is the roof and gutters,” Mr. McGarry explained, “where the wind can carry burning embers across great distances to light organic material that gathers in the gutters or on the roof.”

Mr. McGarry himself piloted the school’s drone to capture images and video of the roof and gutters to determine how likely the Province Center might be at risk. After assessing the property, they went back to class to review the footage and discuss the students’ findings.

The drone takes flight.

Most of the seniors had never visited the Province Center grounds before and they enjoyed seeing its lush trees, statues and gardens.

“It’s better than being indoors working on papers,” one senior said.

Their initial findings were positive.

“The good news is that the roof and gutters are immaculate,” he said. “But there may be some recommendations students have about the trees and plants growing very closely to the Province Center walls.”

They will formulate a report and get back to their teacher — and the Viatorians.