By Dave Jolivet
NORTH DARTMOUTH — There is no escaping it. We are all surrounded by the cosmos as far as the eye can see and well beyond that. The universe is endless and will never be fully understood by human minds.
Only the Creator has that information, yet the study of the universe, cosmology, is the perfect vehicle to display just how truly connected are religion and science. In fact, the Church has been scientifically studying the cosmos for more than 400 years. Many of the world’s premier cosmological experts are priests, including those who run the Vatican Observatory in Tuscon, Ariz.
On October 27, the director of the observatory, Brother Guy Consolmagno, visited UMass Dartmouth for a presentation in which he delved into stories about the different approaches to the greatest questions about the universe from St. Paul, St. Augustine, Galileo, Newton on up to Stephen Hawking.
The event was made possible by Deacon Frank Lucca, a member of the university’s Campus Ministry Team and co-director of the Diocese of Fall River’s Permanent Diaconate Office. “I was on a retreat at La Salette and the topic of faith and science came up,” Deacon Lucca told The Anchor. “I learned that the Vatican Observatory, which started at the Vatican and later moved to Castel Gandolfo, was now situated in the United States, in Tuscon.
“I also learned the director, Brother Guy, was sometimes available for lectures and presentations, so I contacted the observatory and heard back directly from Brother Guy, who said he’d be happy come to UMass Dartmouth.”
Deacon Lucca explained that the observatory ultimately relocated to Arizona because the light pollution was too great in the areas of the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo.
“There are many who think that science is not compatible with the Church, but in fact, faith and science work together, and Brother Guy brought that to life to the 75 students and faculty who gathered to hear him,” said Deacon Lucca. “Priest scientists are always on the side of truth, and science brings about truth.”
Deacon Lucca went on to say that the presentation was of great interest to those there, but it was the Question and Answer session that sparked the most conversation and interaction.
“Brother Guy is a gregarious and fun person and the attendees were totally engaged,” added Deacon Lucca.
One of those in attendance was Jacqueline Hale, a Ministry Apprentice at St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family Parish in Falmouth, a position she obtained through the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame.
“Space has actually played a huge role in my faith journey, particularly as it, in many ways, embodies the relationship between faith and reason,” Hale told The Anchor. “In college, I worked at the Astronomical Observatory at my school, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, giving night sky tours to the public. Often spurred by the questions asked of me, I wrestled a lot with these questions of the cosmos and the way our faith informs, directs, and speaks into how we understand them. With that in mind, a lot of the content that Brother Guy talked about was familiar, but his presentation left me with several new avenues to tackle the subject. Not only did he speak from the basis of history and modern study on the beneficial and truly real relationship between the Catholic faith and science, but Brother Guy stands as tangible proof of that reality.
“I came away inspired to ensure that encounters with nature and space play a role in my ministry. God has revealed Himself to us in Creation, and if we disregard that reality, we disregard a major way God desires for us to know Him. As Brother Guy said to me as I spoke with him after the talk, space is an incredible avenue to teaching kids about God because it opens their minds up to a universe big enough and beautiful enough for there to be a God. Space forces us to open our minds beyond not only ourselves but even the visible and tangible world around us to trust in something greater and deeper and unseen with the naked eye. Faith asks us to do the same.”
Following the presentation and the lively Q & A session, Hale learned she wasn’t alone in her impressions of Brother Guy.
“As I stood in line to talk with Brother Guy after, I overheard a student say something along the lines of: ‘I didn’t know what to expect, but you were actually really cool.’ This struck me because I think many people may hear ‘Vatican Astronomer’ and think that is a cosmological confusion itself. How could a priest study science? But like this girl said, he was really ‘cool’ and very scientifically based and knew what he was talking about well enough to answer questions about the multiverse and Pluto without any preparation. He was approachable and immediately easy to grant respect to, even for someone outside the faith.”
Brother Guy is a Jesuit Brother, a native of Detroit, Mich. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree and later a Master of Science degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona.
He was a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at the Harvard College Observatory and was later the same at MIT.
Brother Guy joined the Vatican Observatory in 1993 and was named director by Pope Francis in 2015.
“Brother Guy brought to life the fact that science and religion do work together,” added Deacon Lucca. “Early man eventually figured the universe was created by God.”