Across the Universe: Perturbing the Universe
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  This column first ran in The Tablet in April 2014 A member of our Vatican Observatory community, Fr. Bill Stoeger, died of cancer last month [2014]. I could say that Bill was both the smartest man and the holiest man I have known; but he would have rejected that characterization out of hand. So I will only say that his goodness and his genius never ceased to move me. He’s the only person I know who could work the mathematics of the Big Bang, and also direct retreats for religious women. Bill’s religious faith did not control the science he did, but how he did it. For example, more often than not he collaborated with scientists from the developing world – South Africa and Brazil in particular. And he showed a special patience with those members of our scientific community who could be brilliant but eccentric and sometimes hard to deal with. His scientific output was astonishing. At Cambridge … Continue reading

A Saint, a Medallion, and a Highway
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Travel through far western Indiana in the U.S. (so far western that it is almost Illinois), and you might find yourself passing by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.  The college was founded by Théodore Guérin (1798–1856, birth name Anne-Thérèse Guérin), a remarkable woman.  She travelled from Europe to the American frontier in 1840, along with Sisters Olympiade Boyer, St. Vincent Ferrer Gagé, Basilide Sénéschal, Mary Xavier Lerée, and Mary Liguori Tiercin.  They arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, and proceeded to build up an order of nuns and a college (the first institution of higher education for women in Indiana)—all while managing in an alien culture and clashing with the local bishop.  Saint Mother Théodore Guérin was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.  She even has a section of U.S. Highway named after her—part of US 150 near Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is the “Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Memorial Highway,” so named in 2014 by Indiana Governor Mitch … Continue reading

Meet your bloggers on YouTube!
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  Did you know that the Vatican Observatory Foundation has its own YouTube channel? A number of the films there feature bloggers like Brenda Frye and Father Jim… and we’ve just posted three new videos there! Here’s Brenda talking about Dark Energy and Dark Matter, which we posted about a year ago:   Here’s three new short films: Fr. Jim on Fr. Georges Lemaître, St. Bonaventure, and Fr. Stanley Jaki:     … Continue reading

5 Amazing Astronomical Things about Choosing a New Jesuit General!
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This week, more than 200 Jesuits from around the world are gathering in Rome to elect a new Father General; you can read all about it here. But for readers of The Catholic Astronomer, I thought I would pass on five amazing things that you might not know… For the first time ever, the electors will consist not only of priests from each Jesuit province around the world but also six brothers, chosen from each continent. The representative brother from North America is, in fact… me. So, there will be at least one astronomer at the meeting. All the more reason to pray for all of us! (No fear I will get elected the new Father General — the leader has to be a priest, not a brother. (What’s the difference? Priests are ordained, brothers are not. I do not lead public prayer, say Mass, or do any of those other priestly functions. I am a layperson, who belongs to a religious … Continue reading

Javier Leach Albert, S.J. (1942-2016)
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I had the good fortune of meeting Father Javier through a Jesuit network to which we both belonged. When we first met, he was its coordinator. A few years later I succeeded him in that job. He was very nice and kind, generous and gracious. He was very passionate about our apostolate of Jesuits in Science. The word “apostolate” does not mean that a Jesuit scientist goes to his laboratory to preach to his co-workers. Our apostolate is about being with other people, reflecting in the light of faith on our shared experience, and being there for others when they need us. It is a very low-key presence. Javier was one of the great masters of the unpretentious and unassuming. He was fully devoted to his mission, convinced and convincing others that God can be found in all things, and particularly in his beloved mathematics. Born in Valencia, Spain on Jan 7, 1942, he joined the Society of Jesus on … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clerical Work
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2011 The typical scientist spends more time in front of a keyboard, writing, than in a lab or a telescope dome. That’s certainly true in my case. This past month has seen me busy with many different sorts of paperwork. One task this month was serving as a referee for one of the journals in my field. When scientists want to publish a new idea or set of data, they write up an article in a quite rigid format, designed not to let the greatest number of people understand it, but rather such that the fewest possible might misunderstand it. They send it to the journal where they think it should be published; its editor then chooses other scientists in the field to referee the article, grading it with lots of red ink. This is all done anonymously, though the referees’ identities can often be deduced from their comments (“You neglected … Continue reading

Star-mapping Sisters
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The topic came up a few months back on our Twitter account. Someone had mentioned the famous photo of the Sisters of the Child Mary at the measuring machine, taking careful measure of the position of each star on a photographic plate from the Vatican Observatory’s Carte du Ciel telescope. Someone else asked, “Do we know who those sisters were?” I resolved to find out as soon as I got back to Rome. And, unlike many of my resolutions, I actually did it. Then someone said it would make a good Catholic Astronomer posting. Which it would. But, just back from the US, I have been flooded with paperwork and details to get ready for our biennial summer school; so I begged off. Instead, Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service (the folks who prepare press reports from Rome for the US Catholic Bishops) asked if she could step in. She’s just published a wonderful and detailed story about them, … Continue reading

Georges Lemaitre – Father of the “Big Bang”
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One of the basic questions of science has a rather surprising answer: Who was the first scientist to put forward the Big Bang Theory?  Most would presume that it was either Albert Einstein or Edwin Hubble.  Instead, the correct answer is a Diocesan Priest from Belgium by the name of Monsignor Georges Lemaitre.  The “popular” narrative of the day is that faith and science are irreconcilable foes that are locked in a constant battle with one another.  Ignored are examples like Monsignor Lemaitre who, in his very person, represents a living example of why the popular narrative is in error.  Check out this ESA video for the basics of this priest/scientist. Lemaitre began his academic career at Louvain’s College of Engineering in 1913.  Due to World War I, Lemaitre was forced to leave his studies to serve in the Belgium artillery.  After his military service was done, he entered the seminary, studying to be a Priest for the Archdiocese of Malines.  In his … Continue reading