Circles of Giving
The Vatican Observatory Foundation is grateful for the support of many who give generously year after year and recognizes them and those who have gone before them in an annual Circles of Giving Awards Dinner.
Each Circle of Giving is named in honor of one of the exceptional individuals connected with Astronomy, the Society of Jesus and the Vatican Observatory.
The John Paul II Circle – 1 Million Dollars
More than any other Pope since the founding of the Vatican Observatory in 1891, John Paul II has encouraged the dialogue between science and religion from the very beginning of his papacy. On the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of Isaac Newton’s Principia, he wrote a special letter to the director of the Vatican Observatory in which he discussed that dialogue. He established the Galileo Commission to reexamine the controversies of the seventeenth century our knowledge of the then known universe. He enthusiastically encouraged the founding of the Vatican Observatory Research group in Tucson, Arizona and the construction of the Vatican Advanced technology telescope. On a visit to Arizona in 1987, the Pope received a delegation of astronomers and showed great interest in a model of the Large Binocular telescope.
The Leo XIII Circle - $500,000
In 1891, after a long tradition of support for astronomical research by the Holy See, Leo XIII formally founded the Vatican Observatory. At a time when there was a rampant anti-clericalism in Europe, and especially in Italy, the Pope stated in the founding document that he wished to have a visible sign of the interest of the Church in science and all intellectual pursuits.
He had an array of scientific instruments assembled in the famous Tower of the Winds, which had already been an Observatory in the sixteenth century under Pope Gregory XIII. He was instrumental in seeing the new observatory become actively involved in one of the most important scientific projects of those times, the mapping of the entire heaven, the Carte du Ciel.
The Gregory XIII Circle - $250,000
In the famous Tower of the Winds, which still rises above the Vatican Museums, there is a beautiful meridian, a line running north-south, on which a ray of sunshine falls as it enters the tower through a hole in the mouth of a cherub representing the south wind. It is here that Pope Gregory XIII was shown the need to reform the calendar because the ray of light was not pointing where it should according to the season of the year. Easter was becoming a winter festival! The Pope commissioned the Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians at the Roman College to gather and study the data required to carry out the reform, which occurred in 1582. Thus he began a tradition of Papal interest in astronomy which, over the next two centuries, was to mature into the modern day Vatican Observatory.
The Pius XI Circle - $100,000
Observatories throughout the world are continually at the risk of obsolescence and not even the Church could protect the Vatican Observatory, located behind the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, from this and from the encroachment of city lights. Pope Pius XI in his wisdom the Observatory and effected its transfer to the hills south of Rome at the Papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. He also had the wisdom to provide the new observatory with the most modern instruments of the day. This led to the forming of its astrophysical laboratory. He is truly the patron of the modern Vatican Observatory which still has its headquarters at Castel Gandolfo.
The Angelo Secchi Circle - $50,000
Angelo Secchi, a nineteenth century Jesuit priest of the Roman College, is known as the Father of Modern Astrophysics. He was the first to classify stars according to their spectra, now a powerful modern technique for the study of the evolution of stars from birth to death. He was the first to use a prism in front of the telescope lens to obtain spectra. He carried out the unique project of constructing an observatory on the top of the Church of St. Ignatius. His scientific and engineering contributions were many, ranging from the study of sunspots to double stars to irrigation systems. He contributed in an exceptional way to the tradition of high quality research at the Vatican Observatory.
The Eusebio Kino Circle - $25,000
Father Eusebio Kino, like the Vatican Observatory itself, is a splendid example of the Jesuits extending their apostolic endeavors from the old to the new world. He was born and educated in Northern Italy in the town of Segno near Trent. While studying in Europe he distinguished himself as a mathematician, physicist, and astronomer. He set up the first astronomy club at Innsbruck, Austria and built numerous telescopes and astrolabes. His astronomy skills were forever being translated into his crafting of accurate maps.
Assigned to the missions of China but unable to go there, he came in the seventeenth century to carry the Gospel and much else to Sonora, the region which today comprises Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. He was the first Jesuit astronomer in the Arizona desert. He was the first to discover that Baja California was a peninsula and not an island. He is one of the two State heroes from Arizona featured in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.
The Christoph Clavius Circle - $10,000
It is an amazing fact of history that, within less than fifty years of its founding, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) had established a major international center of learning at the Roman College. Among the greats of this College is Christoph Clavius, mathematician, confidant of Galileo and major figure in the calendar reform. Clavius suffered, perhaps more than most, the tensions of the day between old world views and the challenges of such as Galileo. Facing them as a scientist, he confirmed Galileo’s telescopic observations. He established a tradition of true and imaginative scholarship which contributed to the spirit embodied in the founding of the Vatican Observatory.
The Georges Lemaitre Circle - $5,000
A Belgian priest and cosmologist, Georges Lemaitre with the publication of his book, The Primeval Atom, was one of the first to propose what has come to be known as the Big Bang. As President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he had the very difficult task of trying to convince Pope Pius XII of the difference between scientific theories and religious creeds. Before there was any evidence for the Big Bang, Pius XII wished to adopt it as a proof of God’s creation of the world. Lemaitre forcefully resisted and thus set the stage for fruitful dialogue between the Church and science. With such figures as Einstein and Hubble, Lemaitre was a principal protagonist in the birth of modern cosmology.