This discourse… might have happened. Frustrated first-time stargazer: “Fr. James, where’s this comet you’re talking about?” Me: It’s right below the bowl of the Big Dipper. Take your hand and place it over the bowl of the Big Dipper. Turn your palm toward you and move your hand straight down to the horizon. Put the pinky side of your palm on the horizon and then look above your thumb for a fuzzy dot with a tail.” Frustrated first-time stargazer: “I don’t see it. Are you sure there’s a comet out there Father?” Me: Yes, it’s there. Look for a fuzzy dot with a fuzzy streaming tail going up.” Frustrated first-time stargazer: “You mean that little thing? Right there? That’s the once in a lifetime comet you’re talking about?” Me: “Yes! Congratulations! You found it!” Frustrated first-time stargazer: “Cool… but it doesn’t look like your pictures. Are you sure you took those pictures? You Photoshopped a fake comet in didn’t you?” … Continue reading →
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 (3K thru 6) and the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin - Stout. In 2017, in addition to his responsibilities to St. Joseph Parish and StoutCatholic, Fr. James was also named Pastor of St. Luke Parish in Boyceville, Wisconsin. In July of 2018, Fr. James was named the Pastor of St. Olaf Parish in Eau Claire. Wisconsin. 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.
Last week, I gave you some tips on how to image different objects in the night sky. This week, I’m going to give you a new tip, but first will force you to look at a slide show. Now, typically when “Father” tells you there’s going to be a slide show, the eyes roll and mystery meetings emerge that call people away from the event. Thankfully, I find with my parishioners and friends, these slides are worth sticking around for instead of finding a spontaneous reason to leave the room… or read another post! I’ll start with my most recent images from last night! After a week of being sleepless in Wisconsin chasing down dark skies, I was tired. I was temped to drive way north into some super dark skies, but I wanted to get some sleep. So, I drove about 30 minutes to a small town with “okay” skies and captured these images. Why did I choose these … Continue reading →
Two weeks ago, I reflected with you on the mysticism of two of my favorite authors: John Muir and Pope Francis. Since then, I’ve been trying to practice what I preach. Whether it be an evening walk along a lake or a late night chasing a comet, I’ve been attentively observing the glory of God through the Book of Nature. So, what I have learned through this practice? Well, not much really. What is so edifying about the Book of Nature is that when I “read it” or “pray with it,” the process doesn’t teach me something “new,” but reminds of timeless truths that have slipped from my sacred memory. Things like the importance to taking time away from work, stress, concern, and the frustration I feel with Covid-19. It reminds me of the importance of contemplative silence, attentiveness to my surroundings, and simply being instead of constantly trying to become something or do something. And it reminds me of … Continue reading →
Two weeks ago, a small group of my friends decided to explore the writings of the famous naturalist John Muir. Though born in Scotland and known most for his writings about conserving the Yosemite, his family immigrated to Wisconsin, giving us Wisconsinites a good enough reason to explore Muir’s thought. Raised in a stern (abusive by today’s standards), Calvinist farm family, it’s clear that Muir lived in tension between strict discipline, hard work, and a longing for the natural world. Though Muir’s zeal for the redwoods in the everglades is common knowledge, his memoir reveals that every aspect of creation fascinated him. For obvious reasons, I found great joy reading Muir’s recollection of Wisconsin’s starry nights and northern lights. The winter stars far surpassed those of our stormy Scotland in brightness, and we gazed and gazed as though we had never seen stars before. Oftentimes the heavens were made still more glorious by auroras, the long lance rays, called “Merry … Continue reading →
When was the last time you gave thanks to God for the blessings of your life? Amid a deeply stressful time in modern history, to take time to simply be thankful for the good things in our lives is essential. Part of my week of gratitude was to check in with some NASA missions I’ve had the privilege of visiting. At the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop in 2015, our group toured the OSIRIS-REx mission headquarters at the University of Arizona. This ambitious mission to return a pristine sample of asteroid Bennu is progressing as planned! In March of this year, OSIRIS-REx imaged one of the potential “bounce sites” where the probe will attempt a “touch, vacuum, and go” maneuver, gently landing on the surface of Bennu just long enough to capture a small amount of the asteroid’s surface before returning home to Earth. If successful, the sample returned will be analyzed and compared with existing samples of Bennu that … Continue reading →
Amid the stresses of returning from sabbatical, Covid-19, the culture of protest that is emerging in the United States, and preparing the parish I serve to reopen for Mass this past weekend, I felt a clear need in my life – Find a way to give my brain a mental break! There are many things I enjoy that allow for such a break ranging from music, art, and star gazing. This time around, however, I had the wonderful opportunity to virtually attend OPTIC 2020. OPTIC is an annual photography conference, typically held in New York City, but this year, in light of Covid-19, the conference was held virtually and was made free to the public. The conference was impactful, exposing me to some of the most talented modern professional photographers. I was drawn into wonder by the beautiful, ethereal landscape/self portraits of Elizabeth Gadd. Her photography took my mind and heart away from the stress of the world and created a … Continue reading →
Two weeks have passed since my travels home and I have crossed a very important finish line – I didn’t get sick! Sadly, that small accomplishment is muted in light of the many struggles and trials our world is facing. And, sadly, many of these struggles can do severe damage to our hope as a culture. When I wrote you last, I posed the question, “What world am I walking into?” As with most reflective questions, the answer transcended what I hoped would be a simple answer. The question I should have asked is, “What ‘worlds’ will I be walking into?” While driving home through New Mexico, I listened to their Governor’s press conference, updating citizens on the state of Covid-19. She shared guidelines for reopening the state and provisions people should follow. With a medical expert present to clarify the science of Covid-19, the plan presented was cautious and slow. When I arrived at my hotel in Santa Fe, … Continue reading →
I will never forget my first impression of the Sonoran desert, “I’ve never experienced anything like this!” Br. Guy, in his usual quick witted fashion retorted, “No, you haven’t experienced anything like this because there is no other place in the world like this.” Many times I have spoken of entering “a new world” when I travel to a foreign land for the first time. When it came to the desert of Arizona, this “new world” sentiment took on a new depth of meaning – And I loved it! My sabbatical has been rich with “new world” experiences. The program offered by the Redemptorists is in desert spirituality in the contemplative tradition. With my head, I re-entered the world of the Desert Fathers with the guidance of Thomas Merton – A world I know rather well. In my my heart, however, I truly entered a new world of trying to live my faith less in my head and more at … Continue reading →
Some of you may have wondered why I haven’t written on the topic of care for creation for some time. The decision was intentional, not because I have lost interest in the topic or have had a change of heart. Rather, I’ve been taking a step back from the topic to see how I could approach it anew. I know people appreciate my pieces on the subject of care for creation, but I could also tell they weren’t gaining much traction in terms of a real change of heart. Something happened, however, that has rekindled the flame. Last week, I was watching the evening news from a national outlet that will remain nameless. After an update on infection numbers and death, the show host said, “Coming up after the break, will Covid-19 be the new tactic for the radical, environmental left?” I was stunned at the mere insinuation that people who care about creation might be somehow rejoicing that we … Continue reading →
It is very difficult to divorce my sabbatical experience from the looming cloud of Covid-19. Perhaps it has to do with how I’m wired when prepping homilies – If your people are thinking about it, preach about it. Perhaps its the psychological byproduct of trying to understand life in light of a national pandemic. Nevertheless, I have thought of about fifty reflections to offer you today, but none of them have made it from mind to megapixel save this one. Why, may you ask? Its hard to explain, but most of the reflections I thought of felt aloof and divorced from the reality we’re dealing with as a global community, In light of this inner conflict, there is a growing intuition to repress the more idealistic part of who I am, feeling a need to give primary attention to our global pandemic. For example, if all were normal, I would write to you about International Dark Sky Week, the importance … Continue reading →
If you live in the Tucson area, did you notice something odd in the sky about 4:00am? This morning, as prep for my forthcoming post on International Dark Sky Week, I was walking the grounds of the Redemptorist Renewal Center, capturing Milky Way images. In fact, I’ve been doing photography every morning for two reasons. One, its getting hot for my Wisconsin blood and doing my daily walks before sunrise is more comfortable. Two, the skies have been absolutely gorgeous this week! The image above is the Milky Way over the outdoor Chapel at the Redemptorist Renewal Center. This Chapel has a special place in my heart. It is here that I celebrated the closing Mass for the Faith and Astronomy Workshop. It is a place that is peaceful and prayerful, but also a place that has become a deep part of my spiritual journey. This morning, I was back at the chapel playing with my fisheye lens. I wanted … Continue reading →
I wish to begin by extending a sincere word of support for any readers of Sacred Space Astronomy that have been impacted by Coronavirus or has a loved one who is suffering with or has died from this virus. I know that Sacred Space Astronomy is read by people that are Catholic, Non-Catholic, and those whose life journey has led them to question God. As a Catholic Priest, I feel inclined to focus this post with a prayer. The Redemporist Order, the Order that runs the center where I am on sabbatical, has a unique devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Catholic tradition of asking the Saints for prayers evokes the intuitive act many of us have of asking good friends and family to pray for us in our need. We don’t pray to Mary as a deity, but ask that her motherly love wrap us with her prayers as any loving mother would. In that spirit: Mary, … Continue reading →