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Catholic laywoman honored for addressing climate change

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J-P Mauro - published on 09/21/21

Molly Burhans mapped the Catholic Church's land holdings and is using the data to contribute to the environmental effort.

The woman responsible for mapping the vast landholdings of the Catholic Church is being acknowledged for her environmental contributions. Molly Burhans, founder of GoodLands, recently earned a National EarthCare Award. Burhans received the award for the way she has used her maps to help address climate change. 

Founded in 1975, the EarthCare Award honors individuals and organizations that have made unique contributions to international environmental conservation. The award can be issued annually, but since 1975 there have only been 23 recipients, including Burhans. The EarthCare award is issued by the Sierra Club, an environmental organization with chapters in all 50 states.


Burhans’ mission to help the Catholic Church utilize its global landholdings for the good of the environment caught the eye of the Sierra Club. According to EarthBeat, her maps have been shown to have many uses. They have helped identify Church properties at risk of flooding, helped plan an urban pollinator habitat in Maine, and helped a female religious community maintain its land

That’s just on an environmental level, but the GeoHub maps that GoodLands makes identify social and financial factors as well. Aleteia’s own John Burger reported on the work GoodLands has done to map out the global priest shortage. The website also helps religious communities around the world understand and map their parish boundaries, provinces, programs, and landholdings.

EarthCare Award

Burhans told EarthBeat that she feels the award validates the importance of science-based maps in the making of social and economic decisions on climate change. It is also an acknowledgement of the growing role the Catholic Church is playing in such pursuits. With an estimated 177 million acres of land worldwide, the Church is in a unique position to take global action on climate change. 

Until GoodLands there had never been a comprehensive map of Church world holdings. Church holdings sounds simple, but it’s a blanket term that covers churches, religious communities, housing, farmland, and more. Most dioceses keep their own files on their holdings, but Burhans discovered that these are not always complete. The process has been slow going, but as GoodLands receives more recognition, individual dioceses have been more eager to join in the mission. 

As of today, GoodLands has digitized most of the Church’s holdings in the United States. The rest of the world may take a lot longer, but Burhans is committed to seeing her mission through. She told EarthBeat

“One of the original, beautiful visions of GoodLands that we still have,” she said, “is let’s see Catholic conservation [reach] the scale of Catholic health care and education globally, as the largest global network the world has ever seen.”

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