And then I wrote… in 2014, I was honored with an honorary doctorate from Georgetown University. Of course, they made me sing for my supper...
To the president, the provost, the dean, I thank you; honored guests, I greet you; to the Georgetown College Class of 2014, I congratulate you. I am honored to share this stage with you.
As you have heard, I am an astronomer; I am also a Jesuit brother. And I work at the Vatican Observatory.
A lot of people are surprised to hear that the Vatican City State has its own national observatory. That’s one of the reasons we have it: to surprise people.
But there’s a long and honored history of the Church supporting astronomy. Jesuit astronomers helped Pope Gregory reform the calendar in 1582, and one of those Jesuits, Christopher Clavius, wrote a letter of recommendation for a young Galileo. There’s a crater on the moon named for Father Clavius, along with dozens of other Jesuits who are honored that way; it helps that the fellow who made the moon map and assigned the names we still use today, Giovanni Battista Riccioli, was himself a Jesuit. Another Jesuit astronomer, Roger Boscovich, helped convince the Vatican to reverse itself and accept the Copernican system in the 1700s.
As you may know, Georgetown itself once had a thriving astronomy department. Angelo Secchi taught here in 1849; he was the Jesuit priest who first classified stars by their spectra, to ask for the first time, what are stars made of, and how do they evolve? For that he’s called the Father of Astrophysics. He also was among the first to study the surfaces of planets, seeing them not just as dots of light in the sky but as places we could go and visit some day. More recently, Vera Rubin got her doctorate in Astronomy from Georgetown; it’s her observations of galaxies that showed us the existence of what we now call “dark matter.”
By supporting an observatory, the Church is doing more than just apologizing for Galileo. We are reminding the world – including Catholics – that the Church supports and embraces science. We are not afraid of the truth; we actively seek it. We know that we can find God in all things. Saint Paul himself reminds us that the Creator reveals himself in the things He has created.
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