Two years ago, Associate Jason Wilhite worked with climate activist Kayla Jacobs to organize the first Catholic Youth Climate Summit. The initial one took place at Saint Viator High School and its goal was to turn anxiety experienced by high school students over the environment, into hope by community-building and action.

Kayla Jacobs with Br. John Eustice and Associate Jason Wilhite

“Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a growing number of students concerned about the environment,” Jason said at the time, “who are planning to study sustainability in college, and inviting us as campus ministers and Viatorians to do more to care for creation with them.”

Kayla now serves as the Program Manager of Youth Mobilization for the Catholic Climate Covenant, based in Washington DC, bringing the model she and Jason started at Saint Viator — with the Archdiocese of Chicago — to other dioceses around the country.

This year’s summit took place at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, with Cardinal Blase Cupich celebrating the Mass at Holy Family Church. Br. John Eustice, CSV, worked with the student leaders over the past four months to plan the liturgy, and he assisted Cardinal Cupich in his role as a transitional deacon.

Br. John felt this year’s liturgy spoke deeply to the young people who attended, especially when a young person from the St. Kateri Center of Chicago, who is a member of the Arikara Ojibwe Tribe, led the summit in the traditional four directional prayer, cleansing the space for the Mass.

Br. John Eustice processes out of Mass just ahead of Cardinal Blase Cupich.

“Several participants commented how they saw the direct connection between the liturgy and the work for environmental justice,” he said. “I am hopeful that the voice of young people will increase and change for a better common home will ensue.”

That appears to be the case. Consider Mary Rittle, a 2023 graduate of Saint Viator, who was a student leader of the summit from the start and she has continued to work to mobilize her peers to work for climate change. Now a freshman at Loyola University Chicago, she is active in the Restoration Club and a new group, called “Eco-Warriors.”

In November, she partnered with Jason to lead a breakout session sponsored by the Catholic Climate Covenant, at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington. Their session focused on mobilizing young people to advance climate change.

Likewise, Saint Viator senior Sam Hargadon has been involved in the Catholic Youth Climate Summit every year and this year he helped plan it as a leader.

Saint Viator senior Sam Hargadon

Mary Rittle, top, signs a banner at the Catholic Climate Summit last spring.

“As a leader at the Climate Summit I was able to connect with people whom I would never have met otherwise and express my beliefs about the importance of caring for God’s creation,” Sam said. “I believe this is something that needs to be addressed now as the situation with our environment is urgent and we can’t wait when it comes to our earth.”