Electric Road Trip

It's all-electric for the nuns of Nazareth

NAZARETH, Ky. — Sister Molly Thompson is still getting used to the features of her electric Chevy Bolt. As she rolls up to a stop sign on the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth campus here, the regenerative braking brings her up short.

And then there's the racy accelerator pedal that she secretly enjoys.

"In fact, I need to really watch it," said the nun in her knit sweater. "I can be looking at the speedometer and, oops, what happened there?"

The 80-year-old nun, who just celebrated her birthday, is a den mother of sorts among the sisters who live at this 200-year-old convent. She joins Sister Theresa Knabel to help remind people of the congregation's mission to be stewards of the environment.

That means trying out new technology.

She drives one of the four electric cars purchased by Nazareth in the past two years. Three are at this campus, which is about 30 miles south of Louisville, and the other is in the city, where it helps shuttle around older members of the congregation.

"Not putting pollution into the air. That's one contribution I can make to saving the planet," Thompson said.

The congregation started defining what it means to care for Earth in 2000. Its members pledged to analyze their own habits. Then they passed guiding principles in 2014 around managing the land. In 2017, the set a target for zeroing out their greenhouse gas emissions.

When they brought on Carolyn Cromer, the convent ecological sustainability director, to help think through what more could be done, its fleet of cars came up. Transportation has eclipsed power plants as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide emissions tied to global warming.

"The sisters are ahead of the curve by far," Cromer said. "They're putting their money where their mouths are."

What happens next? They look for opportunities to replace more combustion engines with electric cars. But Cromer and Knabel, who chairs the congregation's Western Province Car Committee, said it's still hard to find electric cars on sales lots.

Western Kentucky is "Ford country" to people around here. Ford Motor Co. is behind other automakers in introducing electric vehicles. Locally, it builds the Ford Escape and Lincoln-brand cars in a 3-million-square-foot plant in Louisville. It employs nearly 4,000 people at the site.

Ford employees are abundant in local pews, and the nuns know that the local plant makes traditional Ford SUVs. Still, the nuns take it on faith that the example of their vehicles, paired with a bully pulpit, can turn down the brakes and hit the accelerator.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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