What is the IHE?

The Institute for Human Ecology

Human flourishing illuminated by Catholic social doctrine

Our Mission

The Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) at The Catholic University of America is the nation’s leading academic institute committed to increasing scientific understanding of the economic, cultural, and social conditions vital for human flourishing.

Drawing on the Catholic intellectual tradition, the mission of the IHE is to educate students, sponsor multidisciplinary and social scientific research, advise Church leadership and policy-makers, and organize symposia, conferences, and lectures for the academy and the public square. IHE programs challenge the deterministic and reductive institutions and arguments that thwart the pursuit of greater freedom and prosperity for all.

What is Human Ecology?

Human ecology is the systematic study of human flourishing. Human ecology, because it concerns itself with relationships is concerned with the flourishing of those relationships, and of the human beings in them. 

Ecology is the science of the relationships among living things and their environment. Human ecology is the systematic study of human beings in their relationships with one another, with various human communities, and with the natural world shared among all the living organisms on the planet.

Precisely because of its systematic character and its care for evidence and argumentative rigor, it is permissible to speak of human ecology as a science, where “science” is understood to mean the systematic study not just of the natural world (natural science) or of social and/or political phenomena (social science), but of all sources of human values, aspirations and understanding, indeed of all reality. For that reason, human ecology is particularly interested in the contributions of philosophy, theology, and the humanities.

Human ecology is the answer to a specific problem: disconnection from reality. This problem was noticed by Pope Leo XIII, in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum and has been reiterated by every pope since Saint John Paul II. It continues to be a problem to this day. We are so disconnected that the very word “reality” poses a major challenge to many academics.

The reduction of “Science” to the empirically observable leaves us unable to account for, or even discuss, the good, the true, and the beautiful, and this leads to a reduction of our understanding of man himself. Behaviorists, for example, are powerless to explain why it thrills us to stand at the brink of the Grand Canyon because they can’t account for beauty. This shrinking of our understanding has practical effects, as the repeated failures of socialist experiments demonstrate. We need to think only of the long lines in the old Soviet Union to enter stores with nothing on the shelves to see that unless our understanding is grounded in the real — things as they truly are — even the most laudable efforts to help others become disconnected from what actually helps.

Throughout her tradition, the Church has observed that there is a natural ecology — there is an order to nature that we cannot violate with impunity. If we understand this, it should not be hard to see that humanity, as part of this natural order, has its own ecology as well, and this human ecology has requirements such as human dignity, marriage, private property rights and the like.

Human ecology, then, is vital because it enables us to broaden our horizons, studying the human person scientifically, but without deliberately excluding the insights of philosophy and theology that connect us to that which is.

What does the Institute for Human Ecology do?

IHE Staff

Executive Director

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

Managing Director

Stephen P. Higgins, J.D.

Director of the Program in Human Rights

William L. Saunders, J.D.

Media Fellow

Beatriz Lopez-Bonetti

Institutional Coordinator

Jeanne Marie Leo

Director of Research and Planning

Emmett McGroarty, J.D.

Administrative Assistant

John Henry Hobgood

Digital Content Producer

Will Deatherage

Executive Director

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

Expertise: Social Ethics, Moral Theology, Law and Religion

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D. in Theology, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Ecology and an Ordinary Professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America. He has published widely on just war theory, bioethics, the history of moral theology, and political liberalism. Dr. Capizzi worked as a research fellow at the VADM James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy from 2013 to 2014.

Managing Director

Stephen P. Higgins, J.D.

For more than two decades, Stephen Higgins devoted his life to public service. As a Legislative Director and Chief Counsel in the United States Senate, he was a legislative, legal, and policy strategist. Stephen worked with Members of Congress, congressional staff, executive branch officials, interest groups, think tanks, and constituents to build bipartisan coalitions and negotiate complex legislation. On a daily basis, he served as a liaison to Senate and House offices, the White House, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders.

Director of the Program in Human Rights

William L. Saunders, J.D.

Of Counsel | Americans United for Life | Chair of Religious Liberties Group, The Federalist Society | President, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

Expertise: Bioethics, Religious Liberty, Human Rights

Bill Saunders, J.D., is a graduate of the Harvard Law School who has been involved in issues of public policy, law and ethics for thirty years. A regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Mr. Saunders has written widely on these topics, as well as on Catholic social teaching. He has given lectures in law schools and colleges throughout the United States and the world. He is the Director of the Program in Human Rights for the Institute for Human Ecology.

Media Fellow

Beatriz Lopez-Bonetti

Mrs. Lopez Bonetti is a Research Associate in the Busch School of Business and a media fellow with the IHE. Previously she was the Director of Public Relations for the Busch School of Business. She specializes in marketing research and has conducted qualitative and quantitative tests and statistical analysis to identify product appeal, customer content preference and consumer behavior for use in company product and market strategy development.  She has directed and executed marketing research, strategic planning, budgeting and monetary goals for a start-up organization which led to the development of breakthrough technology seeking protection of families from harmful media. Mrs. Lopez Bonetti managed relationships with national membership organizations including family, religious and civic groups using the collected market data to execute integrated communications and outreach plans to ensure strategic communications with their audiences. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the Universidad Tecnológica del Centro in Venezuela and a Master of Science in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Lopez lives in Maryland with her husband, and five young children.

Institutional Coordinator

Jeanne Marie Leo

Mrs. Leo is an Institutional Coordinator with the IHE. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Theology from The Catholic University of America, where she served first-year women as a Student Minister and worked as a writer in the Office of the University President.


Mrs. Leo grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and lives in Arlington with her husband and two daughters.

Director of Research and Planning

Emmett McGroarty, J.D.

Expertise: Education Policy, Federalism Issues

Emmett McGroarty, J.D., is the Director of Research and Planning at the Institute for Human Ecology. He studies public policies that undermine the constitutional structure and the principle of subsidiarity. He is the co-author of Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. He is also co-author ofControlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America, Pioneer Institute, No. 87 (May 2012); and Cogs in the Machine: Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing, Pioneer Institute, No. 114 (May 2014). Mr. McGroarty is Co-Founder of truthinamericaneducation.com, a nationwide network of individuals and organizations that sheds light on the Common Core system and the collection of private data on children and their families. His published works have appeared in, among others, Breitbart, Christian Post, Crisis, Daily Caller, The Federalist, FoxNews.com, New York Post, Public Discourse, The Hill, Townhall, USA Today, and The Washington Times. He has testified before state and federal committees and commissions. Mr. McGroarty received an A.B. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from Fordham School of Law.

Administrative Assistant

John Henry Hobgood

John Henry Hobgood is the Administrative Assistant for the IHE. He holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, where he studied in the Program of Liberal Studies. His interests include the history of political thought (especially early-modern) and normative questions surrounding religion and politics. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Digital Content Producer

Will Deatherage

Will Deatherage is a graduate student in Historical and Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America. He manages digital content production and web design for the Institute for Human Ecology. Having earned his B.A. in Politics and Theology, he has worked for the Knights of Columbus, the Marriage and Religious Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and several other political and religious organizations. Deatherage is the Executive Director of Clarifying Catholicism, a Catholic social media project that features over 150 young contributors who write blogs and record videos about their faith. His life-long ambition is to publish a book on phenomenology, existentialism, and Theology of the Gift.

More about the IHE

Our Patron

Quamquam Pluries
Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on devotion to Saint Joseph
15 August 1889

“The special motives for which Saint Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory. In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together.”

“Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life’s companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents. From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch’s jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church.

From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers. And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust – this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Prayer to Saint Joseph promulgated by Pope Leo XIII:

To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.

Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.

As an institution proudly devoted to Catholic truth and the uplifting of the family, we turn regularly to our heavenly family for aid and inspiration. In addition to our primary patron, Saint Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the IHE has the following secondary patrons:

  • Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
  • Saint Charbel Makhlouf
  • Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

The IHE’s programs have patron saints who serve as models for the formation we endeavor to imbue and powerful intercessors for our staff and students in times of need. They are:

  • Saint John Henry Newman, patron of our Undergrad Program. As a tutor and cleric at Oxford, Saint John Henry had a profound pastoral influence on the undergraduate population, urging them in his Parochial and Plain Sermons to pursue purity of heart, integrity of mind, and intimacy with Christ above all things. 
  • Saint Josephine Bakhita, patroness of the M.A. in Human Rights Program. Born in Sudan in 1869, Saint Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven and sold into slavery. She was sold several times, eventually becoming a nanny for an Italian family. Josephine gained her freedom and became a Canossion Sister, where she spent her life preparing missionary sisters to work in Africa and exemplified Christian charity. When asked what she would do if she could meet her captors, she replied: “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.”

We also seek the intercession of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Benedict (ora et labora), Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Margaret of Castello, Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, and Saint Thomas More.

The IHE esteems Pope Leo XIII. An early champion of Catholic social doctrine and the beauty of tradition, Pope Leo XIII granted the founding charter to The Catholic University of America in 1887, urging the University to “give to the Republic her best citizens.”

Our Logo

The fleur-de-lis (lily flower), which appears on the coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII, who issued the charter for The Catholic University of America, traditionally represents the Holy Trinity as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It was, for instance, featured on the coat of arms of Saint Joan of Arc.) The lily is also the ancient symbol of Saint Joseph, the patron of the Institute for Human Ecology. The twelve stars bring to mind Mary’s crown of twelve stars (“on her head a crown of twelve stars”) (Revelation 12:1), the twelve Apostles, and the twelve Schools at The Catholic University of America. Additionally, the stars symbolize the light radiated by God, as described, for example, in the Psalms,“in your light we see light” (36:10), and by Dante in the last line of Paradiso, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

Follow us

“This Institute, I think, is a very important expression of the renaissance that’s underway at Catholic University in these recent years, and I’m delighted to be part of that.”

George Weigel
About the IHE

The Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) at The Catholic University of America is the nation’s leading academic institute committed to increasing scientific understanding of the economic, cultural, and social conditions vital for human flourishing.

Contact Us
The Institute for Human Ecology
The Catholic University of America

620 Michigan Avenue NE
339 Caldwell Hall
Washington, DC 20064

202-319-5892
ihe@cua.edu

The Institute for Human Ecology
The Catholic University of America


620 Michigan Avenue NE
339 Caldwell Hall
Washington, DC 20064


202-319-5892
ihe@cua.edu

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