Rallying for the Planet, and the Future

October 21, 2019

By Cate Kelly, student at Mercy High School in Omaha, NE

I’ve always loved the planet because of the wildness it inspired in me. In an age where humans commonly have the ability to dominate all other life forms, it’s a relief to know that we are not the rulers of everything but simply one of many chess pieces. There is a power greater than us, something we will never conquer, and that is nature. Growing up, I experienced this with ocean waves so big they would knock me off my feet and mountains so tall I marveled at how anyone had ever made it to the summit. My relationship with God’s creation is one of wonder, respect and comfort, and I never feel so alive as when I am interacting with the Earth.

Mercy High School senior Cate Kelly addressing the crowd at the Omaha Climate Strike.
Mercy High School senior Cate Kelly addressing the crowd at the Omaha Climate Strike.

This is why last year, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate reports were released, I remember feeling a wave of grief wash over me, a feeling of utter panic. I read the scientific report while dropping off my car to get an oil change, and sobbed the entire way home when my mom picked me up. I retreated under the covers for the rest of the evening and imagined my future, imagined how much environmental destruction was happening at that very moment and how much was to come. I felt completely helpless and, above all, I felt disgust and anger. I needed to channel my emotions into something substantial, as I couldn’t bear to feel them any longer.

That same night I messaged other organizers in a student union group to which I belonged. I shared the article and asked that we form a climate council, even if it was made up of only one or two people, to pay attention to these issues and attempt to change the narrative in our community. The responses were swift and numerous, and what had originally begun in my mind as a minuscule idea soon grew to an entire climate justice organization. Though I never intended for it to happen, never intended to become an activist and organizer or a leader of an organization, I believe that it was a part of the path God laid out for me. I simply had to have the courage to begin walking it.

We formed as an official youth-led organization called Students for Sustainability in February of 2019, and only seven months later, organized Omaha’s first climate strike, with more than 300 in attendance. In those seven months, we organized ourselves and our roles within the group, held a mini Rally for the Planet to kick start our call to action, testified twice in front of the Omaha City Council, and met and talked with countless community leaders, elected officials and other youth involved in sustainability. It has been an astonishing and exhausting journey, and one that I could never have foreseen. I certainly could not have continued this fight without prayer and guidance by my higher power, as well as frequent spiritual direction.

Mercy High School Senior Cate Kelly is interviewed by the local news at the Omaha Climate Strike.
Mercy High School Senior Cate Kelly is interviewed by the local news at the Omaha Climate Strike.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and especially after the climate strike, I realized how much I hadn’t been taking care of myself. I didn’t eat for three days before the event, too anxious and busy for an appetite. I slept restlessly and fell behind on my schoolwork. But I persisted, telling myself that not only was this fight bigger than me, but that there was no time to waste. Truly, there is no time to waste, but if advocacy has taught me anything, it’s that you cannot give from an empty pot. I am so inspired by Catherine McAuley and the perseverance and dedication that she demonstrated during her lifetime. Sometimes I wonder how she did it all, how she never gave up no matter what obstacles were presented to her. I am also very grateful for the support of my school and the Sisters of Mercy, for encouraging me to continue fighting for climate justice and climate action.

This fight for our planet is one that is long term and that requires massive structural changes, from how we treat one another and the planet on an individual level to how we get energy and power our cars. I am not sure where this journey will lead me or how it will continue, but I am confident that by paying attention to my intuition, my heart and where God is calling me, it will work out far better than I can even imagine.

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  1. Katherine Hill

    Dear Cate,
    Thank you for your inspiring action on behalf Earth. Your work reflects the critical concern ‘to act in harmony with all creation.’
    I too have experienced the grief and helplessness and like you have chosen to act in HOPE.
    Blessings, be gentle with yourself! In Gratitude,
    Sister Katherine

  2. Melissa Regele

    I am so proud to be your teacher! What a wonderful reflection. Young people like you bring me hope for the future of our earth.

  3. Maureen Schatz

    I am very proud of what you did to say the planet. I like that you got out there and made a difference in our community. I just want to say thanks for all that you do and keep up the good work.

  4. Julie Vankat

    Dear Cate, I am, by no means surprised that you had the fortitude to venture out on this path, or that you had the charisma to inspire others, but that doesn’t dim the great pride I feel to know you! Great work! I’m sure you will be one of those Mercy High School alumae that I always find myself bragging about. Go transform and help save the world.

  5. Carolyn McWatters, RSM

    Wow, Cate, how very impressive and inspiring your writing and your actions on behalf of this precious planet of ours! You sound like an American version of Greta Thurnberg, who has greatly inspired me and continues to make such a positive difference for our world. Please be steadfast in your efforts, for we desperately need young people like you. Thank you so much.

    Sister Carolyn McWatters

  6. Claudette Schiratti, RSM

    Thank you for being a courageous and Merciful leader!

  7. Sister Carren Herring

    You are a true daughter of Catherine McAuley. Your Mercy community world wide will be the wind beneath your wings. Keep following the spirit. You give me hope.

  8. Mary Pendergast

    Thank you, Cate! No one ever really knows where the journey will take her or him. We just get on the path and start walking. Every blessing to you!

  9. Mary Fahy

    You are indeed a daughter of Catherine!
    So proud to have a young “mercy woman” give us such hope!

    Thank you
    Mary Fahy RSM

  10. Jean Strawbridge

    Dear Cate, Sharing your story as you have is such an important part of the journey. I am expecially touched by your learning that care of yourself in this effort is important.
    There are a number of groups working for policy changes re taking care of our planet. You might want to look at Citizens Climate Lobby

    In Mercy,
    Sister Jean Strawbridge RSM

  11. Patricia E Fairfield

    Wow! You give me and the world HOPE. You are INSPIRING. Keep following the Spirit of God, which certainly is what another Cate (Catherine M) did. Thank you for daring to do what you are doing.

  12. Mary Bilderback, RSM

    Cate, Your love of Earth’s wilderness!
    Your vision for a thriving Earth community!
    Your focused energy to put that love and that vision into action!
    I’m so happy to read your beautiful story! Thank you.
    May you continue to bless, and be blessed by God’s call, and our Mercy community.

  13. Eileen O'Connor

    Thank you, Cate, for your outstanding leadership! Greta would be proud!! May your courage and commitment hold you as you go forward.

  14. Marilyn King, RSM

    You are an answer to prayer, Cate. I have asked our dear creator God to raise up people who can speak for all the beauty and wonder that has been given us in nature– and that now is in danger because of one part of that creation–US! I am so grateful that so many young people see the situation and are raising the consciousness of so many others. May the Spirit/Life of the universe continue to inspire you and give you the courage to speak. And may the ears of our world open to your message.

  15. Kay Schwenzer, RSM

    Cate, you are surely on the right path for our Mother Earth. May God sustain and strengthen you on your continued journey.

  16. Mandi Marcuccio

    Your words and actions inspire me every day! While I’m honored to be your teacher, I am actually humbled by what you have taught me (strength, courage, passion, empathy, and purpose). You are a remarkable young woman whose crusade has only just begun. Thank you for leading the way!

  17. Donna M Vaillancourt, RSM

    Dear Cate, Thank you for your inspiring efforts on behalf of earth. You and those who join you give me great hope. Continue to care for yourself as you care for our planet. I hold all of you in grateful prayer.

  18. Natalie Rossi

    Thank you so much. I am grateful that you had reached out to your peers and organized the planet strike. May you continue to use your gifts. In Mercy

  19. Josh Riesberg

    There are a lot of women and students who go make a difference in this world. You are without a doubt one of them. As your former teacher, I cannot be more proud of your determination and goals. Thank you for being a guiding light in this world.

  20. Alan

    Great job Cate!!