Molly Burhans receives 2023 Oscar Romero Award


Samantha Weber, Editor in chief

On Tuesday, March 21, Molly Burhans, Ph.D., was awarded the Archbishop Oscar Romero Award. This award is bestowed annually through the Mercyhurst Department of Religious Studies. The event took place in the Walker Recital Hall in the Audrey Hirt Academic Center at 7 p.m. This was the 31st year of the Archbishop Oscar Romero award being presented. The award is named for St. Oscar Romero, the late archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador. He is remembered for his “uncompromising commitment to the poor and the oppressed of El Salvador,” according to Dr. Verna Ehret. Although the award was started prior to any of the current faculty in the religious studies department, the award is given to “a person living the call of faith in an extraordinary manner.” Burhans, a cartographer and environmentalist, represents that type of person in everything that she does. She started GoodLands which is a nonprofit organization that assists Catholic communities in mapping and utilizing their lands for ecological planning. In addition to starting a successful nonprofit, Burhans currently teaches at both Canisius College in Buffalo and Columbia University in New York City. She has also been featured in The New Yorker and was a guest speaker at Yale University. Burhans’ work acts as a combination of two aspects of her life that she is deeply passionate about: Catholicism and climate change. According to The New Yorker article, “she began to think of ways in which the Catholic Church could be mobilized as a global environmental force.” Additionally, she talked about how the Catholic church is probably “the world’s largest non-state landowner” and there are plenty of Catholics to make a change. When asked how the department chose Burhans as the recipient this year, Ehret said, “Ms. Burhans was chosen because of her environmental work with the Catholic Church because the department sees care of the earth as an important component of promoting the common good and social justice. It is one of the five critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, and is in line with Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and with the university Mission office’s special focus on Laudato Si.” The event began with a lecture from Burhans titled “Mapping the Past to a Better Future” that provided an overview of the work she has done in the past followed by a brief Q&A session. Following the Q&A, there was a short announcement and conferring of the award. The Department of Religious Studies sponsored the award ceremony with financial support from the Office of Mission and the Hafenmaier College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. If you missed this event, keep your eye out in the spring of 2024 for the next award presentation.