In 2015, Tony Jilek read an article in the River Falls Journal about River Falls First Congregational United Church of Christ adding solar panels to its building.

Jilek said he went to talk with the administrator at his own church, St. Bridget Catholic Church, and asked why St. Bridget wasn't adding solar panels.

The Rev. Gerald Harris said the idea of adding solar panels to St. Bridget arose when First Congregational UCC added solar panels to their building. Harris said he had some conversations with Mike Noreen, River Falls Utility Conservation & Efficiency coordinator.

A solar panel committee was formed to help bring solar panels to St. Bridget.

Jilek is the chair of that committee.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Jilek, the solar panel committee and many others in the church and community, St. Bridget is having solar panels installed.

"It's pretty exciting," Harris said. "That we are just making a statement that this is important. One small step so that we can care for part of the world, in terms of conservation of energy and making better use of alternative forms of energy."

Jilek said he was inspired by Pope Francis's encyclical, "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home," a publication in which he encouraged everyone on the planet to care for the environment.

"It's going to help my kids, their generation, grandkids and the future," Jilek said. "I am an old farm boy, born and raised on a dairy farm, and I value the environment. And I think this is just one small way that we can care for the environment."

Pope Francis's encyclical also inspired a group of local church-goers that eventually grew to become an ecumenical group known as Hope for Creation. The group now meets monthly and is open to anyone interested in joining to discuss taking action to address climate change. Hope for Creation has also brought speakers to River Falls to discuss climate change and environmental care.

Hope for Creation, Jilek said, was one of the groups that helped bring solar panels to St. Bridget. Jilek said he's been working with Tom Westerhause and Jerry Waller, as well as Noreen, to work on a grant from power company WPPI Energy for solar panels at St. Bridget.

The panels were funded by the WPPI grant, as well as some other grants, an anonymous donation of $25,000 and pledges from St. Bridget members. Jilek said the congregation's support provided more than the solar panel committee had asked for.

The panels were delivered Monday, July 1, and construction began July 8. They're being installed by the company Energy Concepts, Jilek said.

He said Steiner Plumbing, Electric, Heating, Inc. has also been instrumental in getting the solar panels installed.

Jilek said the solar panels are estimated to cover about 40% of St. Bridget's electricity bill, which would equal an estimated savings of about $4,000 per year.

Continuing trend

Harris said he hopes St. Bridget adding solar panels can be part of a continuing trend.

"This is state of the art," he said, "but we don't know what the next level will be. Part of this is just being aware of what's out there, and implementing it if it's appropriate. But who knows what other alternative energies will be there in two years? And we'll look at that and study it and see what happens."

Harris said St. Bridget is grateful to all those who helped bring the solar panels to the church.