Fr. James Kurzynski

About Fr. James Kurzynski

Fr. James Kurzynski is a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and a hobby astronomer. Originally from the small town of Amherst in rural central Wisconsin, Fr. James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, majoring in Applied Music (Saxophone, Voice, and Composition). After graduating from UW-SP, Fr. James worked at the University of Nebraska at Kearney as a Hall Director and pursued a M.S.ed. in Group Counseling. After a year at UNK, Fr. James left his position to attend the University of Saint Mary of the Lake - Mundelein Seminary to discern his priestly vocation.

Fr. James earned a Bachelor in Sacred Theology, a Master of Divinity, and a License in Sacred Theology. While pursuing these degrees, Fr. James also studied Spiritual Theology with the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Fr. James was ordained a priest June 28, 2003. Fr. James’ first assignment was as an Associate at the Tri-Parishes of St. Mary’s - Durand, Holy Rosary Parish - Lima, and Sacred Heart Parish - Mondovi. After two years, Fr. James was assigned as Chaplain and Instructor of Religion at Regis Middle and High School and was also assigned Associate Vocation Director. In his final year at Regis, Fr. James was also appointed Parochial Administrator of Saint Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church, serving south east Eau Claire County. From 2012-2015, Fr. James served as Pastor of Roncalli Newman Parish, serving the college students of Western Technical College and the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. In 2015, Fr. James was named Pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which also serves St. Joseph's Grade School (pre-K thru 6) and the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin - Stout. Fr. James also teaches Introduction to Philosophy for the Diocese of La Crosse’s diaconal formation program.

In regard to his interest in astronomy, Fr. James is a member of both the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and the La Crosse Area Astronomical Society. He taught an Introduction to Astronomy course during his time at Regis High School in Eau Claire. Fr. James' first involvement with the Vatican Observatory came when an inquiry led to the development of the first "Faith and Astronomy Workshop" (FAW), designed for parish educators and clergy that are not professional scientists.

Earth Day and Catholicism: What Is A Christian To Do?
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So, how are you going to celebrate Earth Day? If you were to ask me this question about twenty years ago, you probably would have received a dumbfounded look with the simple response, “Why would I celebrate Earth Day?” Like many Americans, I had a rather suspicious attitude toward such celebrations, thinking of them as merely days of political statements and protests against anyone who didn’t embrace a 100% “Green” lifestyle. As a devout Catholic, I also struggled with expressions of what I would call an Environmental Spiritualism, treating the Earth as if it were God or another type of deity. In short, Earth Day was not high on my priority list. In time, however, my attitude began to change toward Earth Day. The beginning of the change occurred when I was in college and started to delve into Catholic Social Teaching (CST). I was surprised to discover that one of the seven themes of CST put forward in the Compendium … Continue reading

Holy Week: The Tension Between Symbols of Victory, Violence and Peace.
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One of the beautiful aspects of Christianity is its profound use of symbol. During Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, we encounter some of the most powerful symbols of our faith. Yesterday, the Christian world held palm branches, reminding us of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem amid joyful cries of “Hosanna in the Highest!” This procession reminds the Christian of the hope-filled expectation that Jesus was the promised Messiah, seeking to establish a new kingdom for the Children of Israel and the world. The irony of Palm Sunday is that this symbol of victory is quickly met with the ultimate symbol of violence and defeat: the crucifix. This move from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday in the same liturgy recalls the quick turn from the joyful entry into Jerusalem to the tragic journey of the Way of Cross. This turn also highlights the twofold symbol of the palm branch as both victory and humility, recalling how we were marked at the beginning of Lent with … Continue reading

The Power Of A Word: The Movie Arrival and Sacramental Cosmology
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One of the best movies I have seen in some time is Arrival. Many presume this movie is simply about an alien encounter. However, the deeper narrative of the movie explores a simple, but fascinating question: How does language impact how we experience reality? The plot of the movie unfolds with a growing tension between beings whose language is not conditioned by time and humanity with our language that is rooted in the sequential unfolding of time. It is only when these languages come together and are experienced in linguist Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) that the plot is finally resolved as she experiences key, historical events from the future in one moment. (I will refrain from any more details in the event you haven’t seen the movie.) When leaving the theater, I was left with the question, “How much is our understanding of the world we live in limited by the language we speak and are there other languages … Continue reading

An Urgent Plea: Pray for Peru.
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Originally, I had planned this post to be a light-hearted reflection on stargazing in the southern hemisphere. The parish of which I am Pastor, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, took a ten-day mission trip to our Diocesan Orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, in Lurin, Peru. In light of my past mission trips to Casa, I was already mapping out a post for the The Catholic Astronomer before departure. However, events from the trip forced a change of theme. One afternoon, I was offering spiritual direction to a Casa staff volunteer. We were sitting outside underneath the shade of a tree when a low flying helicopter caught our attention. It was so low that it sounded like it was going to land on the orphanage grounds. It was blaring a loud siren while slowly hovering over the city of Lurin. We began to wonder what this warning was about? We had heard earlier of flooding in parts of Peru, but since there was … Continue reading

When Religion and Science Sought To Save The Black Sea: 1997 Waterborne Symposium
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What would it take to “kill off” an entire sea? In the late 1990’s, those who depend on the Black Sea for food and the stability of their economy wondered if this question had become reality. In the 1980’s, the Black Sea was seen by many as a body of water that could feed the world given its abundance of aquatic life. In the late 1990’s, this bountiful sea was being transformed into a kind of “underwater desert.” Fishermen were coming back with empty nets, promising both economic hardship and social difficulties given the region’s dependence upon the Black Sea for food. This shocking turn of events led world leaders to ask a logical question: What happened to this bountiful body of water? A simple summary of a very complex problem was that the amount of pollutants finding their way into the Black Sea was dramatically increasing. As these pollutants were being introduced, the chemistry of the Black Sea was … Continue reading

Turn Right At The Cow: Stargazing In Wisconsin With My Mother.
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(With Ash Wednesday coming up, my time has been consumed with parish work. Therefore, I will be taking a week off from the summaries of the Waterborne Symposia. If you have been following these posts, we will get back into “Christian Ecology” next week.) A little over a week ago, I had a rare opportunity to run back to the family farm for dinner. I had just come off of a long stretch of funerals at the parish and felt the need to get away, even if it just be for a night. As soon as I got home, my father told me how beautiful the night skies had been. It has been an unusually warm February in Wisconsin, providing crystal clear skies and weather warm enough for some stargazing with no winter gear necessary. After nightfall, my parents asked me if I brought my telescope home? Unfortunately, I had not since I was just looking to rest for the … Continue reading

The Book of Revelation and the Environment: 1995 Waterborne Symposium – Aegean Sea
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I had never thought of the Book of Revelation as containing an ecological message until recently. In my childhood, I fell into the trap that most do of seeing the gloom and doom of Revelation in a way that literally scared the “Hell” out of me. In my college years, I revisited the Book of Revelation through the lens of it being a book of hope for the early Christians under the persecution of Nero. In seminary, there was a push to approach Revelation from a liturgical perspective, seeing in its mystic and symbolic language a type of “code” the author used to communicate a mystical experience of celebrating the Eucharist. Recently, I have discovered a new approach to Revelation as being profoundly connected to the environment, arguing that when we are not in right relationship with God the impact is not only personal, but global. This vision of Revelation containing a commentary on our environment was a central theme … Continue reading

Just How “Green” Is Christianity? Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew
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A lesson quickly learned when studying theology is that the terms liberal and conservative are of little to no help. In a culture that demonizes such labels, there can be a deep desire to find a different language that transcends the volatility of these terms. Traditionally, theologians will use the terms Orthodoxy (correct belief) and Orthopraxy (the proper practice and application of our belief). When the terms liberal and conservative are removed in favor of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, one quickly finds that authentic Christian belief is a fascinating weave, providing a beautiful tapestry of the world that fails to fit nicely into a cultural ideology, limited by political designations. One of the clearest examples of this transcendent tapestry is ecology and care for creation. As a priest for the Catholic Church that is pro-life, pro-family, pro-personal responsibility, and pro-subsidiarity, many find it contradictory for Catholics to also be pro-immigration, pro-workers rights, pro-solidarity, pro-preferential option for the poor, and pro-ecology. An example … Continue reading

You Are The Bridge: Exploring “the Gap” Between Faith and Science
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What is the bridge between faith and science? At this year’s Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW2017), a simple, but powerful answer to this question emerged: You are the bridge between faith and science. Since then, I have been wrestling with the question: What does a relational approach to faith and science look like? Too often we fall into the trap of reducing faith and science to a set of intellectual arguments one can find in a book. The reason I find this dangerous is that it removes the human element and turns faith and science into a mere intellectual exercise of thesis, antithesis, and new thesis to borrow a model from the philosopher Hegel. Absent from this approach is the realization that truth is found not only in written arguments, but in the encounter of human hearts. To look at this from a slightly different angle, as a Catholic Priest, I am often pressed by non-Catholics to defend my faith. Over the … Continue reading

Hidden Figures: (Spoiler Alert) Stories That Must Be Told
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In my youth, I hated reading. I would get bored, become tired, and hardly ever finish a book. Some called my behavior lazy, slow, and unengaged. My mother, on the other hand, knew different. She knew I could read and enjoyed reading because every night when the Newspaper came I would, in her words, “absorb” the sports page. In particular, I loved baseball stories and numbers. My first math lessons were understanding batting averages and the hit to at-bat ratios my favorite players needed in order to be among the league leaders in hitting before the end of the season. In high school, I recall a project in which we needed to write a book report on a subject of civil rights. My teacher wisely encouraged me to do a project on Negro League Baseball, ensuring that I would actually read the book given its connection with baseball. At first, I had no idea that the Negro Leagues even existed. I … Continue reading

Alister McGrath: How Beauty, Meaning, and Purpose Brought an Atheist to Christianity.
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How does a staunch, combative atheist become a Christian? In our modern culture, there is a false narrative that the exploration of science leads to atheism. Though many can speak of a scientific awakening that led them to an inner atheism (or from my ministerial experience an agnostic mentality that is often presented as atheism), there are also examples of those who, from an atheist presumption, have come to faith in part because of their scientific pursuits. An example of a scientist who was a hard atheist turned Christian is Alister McGrath. In his youth, McGrath speaks of being the kind of atheist that was combative and confrontational when encountering Christian faith. Interestingly, McGrath speaks of his early atheism as almost a cultural wind of the times that many young British intellectuals got caught up in. In some interviews McGrath has given, he will speak of atheism as a “faith,” equating it to a life of aggressive evangelization one would find … Continue reading

FAW2017 – The Journey Continues
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This week, I will have the privilege of joining scientists from the Vatican Observatory, friends of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, and 24 participants at the third Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW). Having greatly enjoyed the previous FAW events, both as a participant and a presenter, I greatly look forward to what this year’s Workshop has in store. Amid the excitement, there is also a sobering reality I take with me. Recently, the The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has published a study, commissioned by St. Mary’s Press, on why young people are leaving the Catholic Church. Though the results showed a complex tapestry of reasons why millennials are leaving in large numbers, one of the central findings was that young people see science and Catholicism as incompatible. (Click Here to read Our Sunday Visitors summary of the study.) I would be quite naive to think that one workshop can change the cultural winds of the relationship between faith and … Continue reading