Mike Schuck Speech: Environmental Service/Decision-Making

As we celebrate Earth Day 2023 we reflect on the Universal Apostolic Preference (UAP), Caring for our Common Home, which calls us to collaborate for the protection and renewal of God's creation. 

Michael J. Schuck (Saint Louis University ’73) is an Alpha Sigma Nu Magis Medal winner and longtime Professor of Christian Ethics in the Theology Department at Loyola University Chicago, where he has introduced countless graduate and undergraduate students to the world of theological ethics in general and environmental ethics in particular. Mike was called upon by the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) and the Vatican’s Dicastery on Integral Human Development to lead international efforts to help Jesuit and other Catholic universities across the world respond to Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. 

Mike Schuck provided the following moving remarks at the Loyola University Chicago induction ceremony on October 23, 2022. In his remarks he calls on each of us to discern and act on what is right in the face of doubt. Let us reflect on his message through this season of rebirth. 


Thank you very much for this honor. Alongside my life links with family and friends, my 51-year lay companionship with the Society of Jesus has been the most important relationship in my life. This companionship has given me many gifts -- a sense of purpose, a recognition of my own spirituality, a way of thinking through hard decisions.

It is on this last gift -- decision-making -- that I would like to direct a few words to the Alpha Sigma Nu inductees this afternoon. I will tell a brief story with this moral: Make decisions that nourish your aspirations.

The Story

Three weeks ago, I was in Northern Minnesota to close our family lake cabin. When I am there, I always buy some wild rice to bring back to Chicago.

How many of you are familiar with wild rice? Wild rice grows abundantly in the Great Lakes Region of North America which includes the hundreds of thousands of inland lakes, rivers, and streams in the northern tiers of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Wild rice is one of only two edible grains native to North America. Do you know the other? Corn.

Wild rice is not really rice, but an aquatic grass with long black grains that, when cooked, have a delicious nutty flavor. Wild rice exists both 'in the wild' and in cultivated plots. The wild variety is the most sought after, especially when harvested, parched, and thrashed in the traditional manner of the Ojibwe People.

For the Ojibwe, wild rice, or Manoomin, is a sacred food and medicine. It is what put the Ojibwe people on their long, mythic journey from the East to the upper Midwest to find the "food that grows on the water." Today, wild rice is a vital part of the Ojibwe economy, a stable of the Ojibwe diet, and an important cultural and spiritual component of tribal ceremonies.

In the 1950's, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, no clean air act, and no clean water act. Despite the fact that Northern Minnesota had seven reservations of over 50,000 Ojibwe people across 3 million acres of tribal territory, this was a period of Indian Boarding Schools, the illegality of Native American religious ceremonies, the replacement of tribal leadership with Bureau of Indian Affairs bureaucrats, the nadir of Native American existence in the 20th century. In this context, it was easy to completely disregard Ojibwe treaty rights and built a 1031-mile oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta Canada to Superior Wisconsin right through the Minnesota wild rice region.  The pipeline was completed by the forerunner of the Enbridge Corporation in 1968.

From 1968-1978 Enbridge Line 3 had several leaks and cracks that put 1.9 million gallons of crude oil into various forests, lakes, and streams in Minnesota. From 1978-1988 Enbridge Line 3 leaked another 1.8 million gallons. From 1988 to 1998, Enbridge Line 3 leaked 2.9 million gallons-- This, including the then largest oil spill in U.S. history at Grand Rapids, Minnesota in March 1991. Only surpassed by the Kalamazoo River oil spill of 2010 which alone spilled 1.2 million gallons of crude oil into the river. Oh yes, this too, an Enbridge pipeline.

By the 2000's, the state of Minnesota and the Federal government required Enbridge to either shut down the pipeline or replace it. Finding it too costly to remove the old pipeline and replace it with a new pipeline, Enbridge proposed to shut down the old Line 3, leave it in the ground, and build a new Line 3 pipeline along a different route, but still go through the center of wild rice territory, at the cost of $7.5 billion dollars. But times have changed since the completion of the original pipeline in 1968. Strong opposition to the new pipeline came from organizations tribal like Honor the Earth, and Minnesota-wide organizations like Friends of the Headwaters, and multi-state organizations like Norther Water Alliance.

The decision to grant the certificate of need and the route permit was in the hands of the five Governor-appointed members of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. On paper, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission exists to ensure that Minnesotans have safe, reliable, and affordable electric, gas and landline telephone utility services. The Commission held 60 public hearing across the state. 72,000 people testified either by email and letter, or by personally appearing. Of the 72,000 people who testified, 68,000 were opposed to the pipeline, as was Minnesota's Department of Human Rights and Department of Commerce.

Enbridge, of course, made a major lobbying effort to persuade the Commissioners to approve the pipeline, spending over $11 million dollars on Commissioner-focused lobbying efforts. The vote was taken at a public meeting in St. Paul on June 28, 2018. The certificate of need and route permit were approved by the five commissioners unanimously. Line 3 was completed on Oct. 1 of last year. Now, 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil flows through the 34-inch Line 3 pipes every 24 hours. In gallons, that is 33,600,000 gallons per day. Over the duration of my talk with you, 233,333 gallons of tar sands oil has passed through the wild rice region of Northern Minnesota, threating a fragile food resource, threatening waterways, fish, forests, and forest dwellers. Threatening an entire Native American culture.

After the vote was taken in June 2018, one of the Commissioners looked out at the packed meeting room and said: "Sometimes we have to make decisions we don't aspirationally agree with.”

Alpha Sigma Nu inductees: You have been selected for the Jesuit Honor Society for your demonstrated scholarship, loyalty, and service.

Take this as a moment to pledge to yourself -- in the spirit of St. Ignatius Loyola -- that you will always make decisions that do not delay, derail, or doubt your aspirations, but that your decisions will always befit and nourish your aspirations.

When you are in situations equivalent to that of the commissioners of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission -- and you will be, many times in your life -- decide in ways that you aspirationally agree with.

Explore the skills of soulful decision-making that are available through the resources of the Society of Jesus. Prepare yourself for your life, a life that will include difficult decisions, that will call you to lead, that will test your courage.

Make decisions today that nourish your aspirations, so you will be ready to do so tomorrow. Your life, and the lives of others, depend on it.

Thank you.


Photo Credit: Eddie Quinones