Un grande uomo di fede ed un immenso scienziato.
Fedele alla tradizione Cattolica con vedute teologiche moderne.
L’astronomia deve a lui molto, per il fecondo connubio creato tra la Scienza e la Religione Cristiana sul terreno comune della ricerca di senso e di risposte ultime ai quesiti posti dalla condizione umana.
Una sua frase mi colpì in modo particolare sulla precarietà dell’esistenza umana, così vera in questi tempi difficili: “siamo esseri effimeri su un pianeta fragile”.
Non dovremmo mai dimenticarlo, a Padre Coyne sarebbe piaciuto così.
Con nostalgia, addio Maestro, sei tornato al Cielo che tanto amavi.
I have many memories, but the ones that stand out are those from the VOSS 2005 for which I was lead instructor. Those weeks were the sea change in our (my wife’s and my) relationship with George and the whole Specola, and a change in the trajectory of our lives. George was a man of God and a man of science seamlessly woven together, both roles effortlessly played for the benefit of the world, AMDG. Thank you George, and pray for us.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to remember Fr. Coyne with such admiration and gratitude. I am Fr. Andrew Greeley’s niece and heard him singing Fr. Coyne’s praises as a scientist, priest, and person for many years. Then, when my daughter at a Jesuit high school ended up using a scripture textbook that mentioned polygenism as a contradiction of biblical truth (among other bizarre proclamations), my uncle referred me to Fr. Coyne, who gave me some scientific and theological background to present to the school president! He also forwarded a few marvelous articles.
Then, when my uncle tragically suffered brain damage, I got to meet Fr. Coyne when he said Mass for him during a few visits to Chicago. I finally connected with him once more on a pilgrimage back to Tucson, which my uncle dearly loved. Fr. Coyne took me and a few family members to lunch and to his residence and was as gracious a host as he was a scholar and human being. I know that my uncle is thrilled to have him back in his company (yes, I am betting they are both in Paradise!) and that they are conversing again with great vigor! May he rest in peace among his beloved stars.
I was in the VOSS86 class. VOSS86 itself was incredible; and among the incredible lessons from that time was from Fr. Coyne: that science and spirituality are not incompatible; that humility in our everyday lives is but a mirror of the awe we feel for creation.
I met George in 1999 as a student of the Vatican Observatory Summer School from Ukraine. That school changed my life forever – I was given a scholarship to enter PhD program at the University of Arizona. Twenty years later, the knowledge I received and people I met are still playing significant role in my life.
Of all qualities of George I most appreciated how accessible and modest he was. Such an intelligent, outspoken person, and yet always having a joke to cheer you up, willing to listen, and behaving equally with young people. Science and philosophy were the passion of his life, and yet he remained so human, so down to earth person. George will always be a role model for me, of a scientist and a person.
Fr. Coyne was a great man and was proof that a man of science could always be a man of religion. He was truly a Jesuit, a scholar and a believer. In the 21st century, the world needs to see more of people who believe in both science and religion and the importance of both.
Fr. Coyne had a special talent for being present in a conversation. He was always welcoming to me and my family. It never felt to me that he engaged in small talk. He always seemed genuinely interested in talking and being with us. I enjoyed the time we had with him. I have missed him and am sad to know of his passing.
George, through no fault of his own, was always somewhat larger than life to me. It was good to have him and other Vatican people, in the Steward building (my first Jesuit friend was Martin McCarthy, who was very good to a very young grad student). I’ll just note three things here: the first was a discussion with George about what “really” happened to Galileo in the past 30 years or so. The second was that while channel surfing one night I saw George on CSPAN. I was impressed that he told truth to power about such topics as evolution. I also went, long ago now, to a christening that George officiated. He made me laugh many times that morning. I’d say that he was a very good man.
Fr. George Coyne married Elizabeth and I in 1990. Shown in the attached picture just prior to the wedding is George Coyne along with (l to r) Jesuit astronomer, Fr. Rich Boyle, Fr. Patrick Crino and yours truly. George presided, with the others joining him on the altar at SS Peter & Paul in Tucson. Fr. Crino joked that it took three priests to get me married!
As a graduate student, I had the honor of serving as George’s TA for the introductory astronomy course for non-majors that he taught. Affectionately known to us grad students as “Father Photon”, I was always impressed with the clarity and humility that George expressed in his teaching, treating the students, as he did everyone, with the utmost respect and understanding. We will miss George–Christian, Astronomer, Educator, and Friend.
I was teaching at Brophy Prep in the 80s and the Phoenix Astronomical Society was meeting monthly in the Physics Lab (then in Loyola Hall). A few of the astronomically-inclined Jesuits attended our meetings. I was put in contact with Fr. Coyne to request he speak at one of our meetings, which he graciously agreed to do.
He spoke of how science and theology were complementary, not antagonists. He illuminated us on the politics of Galileo’s trial. When the meeting was over, I recall some members saying they “never expected to hear a sermon from an astronomer.” Our club continues to draw speakers from the Vatican Observatory to this day, but Fr. Coyne was the first.
I worked with Father Coyne for many years at The University of Arizona; I thank God I got the pleasure to do so. Hope to see him again someday when I’m called to serve with God.
I first met George when I came to graduate school at the Lunar and Planetary Lab and Steward Observatory in 1972. From my very first interactions with him, George taught me valuable lessons in humility and service to others. Of all the many, amazing services George performed for the people and organizations with which he was associated, the Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) stands out as one of the most outstanding services to the world-wide astronomical community that has occurred in my lifetime. I am continually grateful that George picked me to teach the VOSS in 1990 and I consider it the capstone of my career to have taught VOSS14 many years later. This remembrance of George is dedicated to the students, staff and professors of VOSS90 and VOSS14. Keep on looking up!
In the late fall of 1972 Father George taught a portion of an observational astronomy graduate course that I took. Because he seemed much more accessible than the other professors, I approached him to learn more about the art and science of conducting astronomical observations at a research telescope. Coming from a degree in Physics, I had no knowledge whatsoever about astronomical observing but was eager to do so. George suggested that I come along with him for an observing “run” at the 61 inch telescope on Mt Bigelow in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson. And so I did.
After we loaded our gear into a carry-all, we picked up the polarimeter at LPL and headed up the mountain. Being my first time it was exciting to go through the routine preliminaries with George of mounting the instrument, balancing the telescope and centering a bright star in the telescope so we could set the clocks. Then began the long, winter night of ten degree above zero Fahrenheit conditions during which we found star after star in George’s program and measured its polarization in several optical bands. Of course, being 1972 the observations were conducted entirely out in the open dome.
After a few hours of successful observing on what proved to be a frigid night up at 9000+ feet, George left me to take a quick nap, instructing me to continue guiding on the star I could see through the eyepiece beneath the bulk of the telescope. And so I did, moving the telescope slightly every now and again to keep the guide star centered on the cross hairs so that the target star’s light precisely entered the polarimeter for recording. Despite sitting almost immobile out in the open telescope dome with my eye glued (frozen?) to the eyepiece, I was determined to show George I could do this job well so I kept at it without complaint. Besides there was no one to complain to. By the way what were those wisps of light that I saw moving through the guider eyepiece field-of-view every now and then, I wondered?
A good two hours later I heard George return and then heard him run hurriedly up the stairs as if something were wrong. He burst into the dome and shouted, “John, what are you doing?” To which I shivered and simply replied, “Why, George, I’m guiding on the star just as you told me to do”. But then George ran to the console which controls the telescope and dome and shouted, “But, John, it’s snowing! We must close the dome and mirror covers right away to avoid getting any more moisture on the mirror.”
Wow did I feel silly; how did I not know that it was snowing? Maybe because I was underneath the bulk of the telescope so I could not feel the snowflakes. Maybe because the storm clouds had not completely covered the part of the sky toward which the telescope was pointing. I do not know. But I do know that George’s upset quickly turned to amusement and we both laughed and then shivered as the dome closed on our little adventure. When I sent my memories of this night to George last summer he verified that this is how he remembered it too.
Over the many years after my first encounter with Father Photon (as we grad students fondly called him) most of my conversations with George seemed to come around to musings about the need for humility in science and especially in cosmology. George understood as very few astronomers and cosmologists do, the necessity to remain humble in the face of Creation. Now humility is a real challenge for a University professor and especially for a cosmologist. But when I find myself thinking otherwise, I remember my first observing experience with George, I see his face and kind, forgiving smile and thank him once more for teaching me some much-needed humility…. And the joy and necessity of service to others, as well.
The last time I corresponded with George sometime last summer, I told him I had retired recently, partly because I had lost some enthusiasm for teaching modern college-age students. George chided me by saying that he thought I had quit too soon when I still had so much to give. Then he told me he had 150 students in his classes this fall.
With Father George Coyne the lessons in humility and service for me will never end.
Our memories go back by more than 30 years. Formal occasions, like the Giotto mission in 1986 and the first encounter with Saint John Paul II, the laurea ad honorem in Astronomy from the University of Padova in 1992, the second encounter with Saint John Pail II at the end of the Three Galileo conference in 1997.
But even more vividly, we recall the several times we were together either in Padova, Asiago or Castel Gandolfo. Occasions when it was not only astronomy but also spiritual advice. Two sides of George’s figure in our minds, the astronomer and the Father, equally important for us.
I remember the first time that I met Fr. George. It was in spring 2002, when we were trying to decide whether to join the faculty of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Then Steward Director Dr. Peter Strittmatter arranged us to meet Fr. George. We talked about VO, Tucson, and science and religion.
Meeting with Fr. George in no small part convinced us to move to Tucson. Steward Observatory has been my academic home since; and in many ways, as Catholic, Fr. George and VO made us feel like home spiritually as well.
I wish I would have met him; I’m vexed that I hadn’t since I’ve known Br. Guy for around three decades, and have been working closely with the VOF for several years.
Recently, I was driving home from a meeting of the Warren Astronomical Society, and I had NPR on the radio; “On Being” was playing an interview with Fr. Coyne and Br. Guy. “Well this ought to be an interesting drive” I thought. A few moments into the interview my phone rang – it was the president of the W.A.S. “Bob! Are you listening to NPR?”
I knew George long before he knew me. I knew George from listening to his homilies at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, in Tucson. I was a grad student at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab in the 1970s, when George was a young professor there.
The Lunar Lab was a wildly dysfunctional place in those days, with lots of infighting among the faculty, and I was living in a house with other grad students working for the various feuding professors. We would keep each other posted on what was going on in the department; and my contribution was to take the temperature of the fighting based on what George had preached on that morning!
Eventually the other astronomers agreed to have George become the director of the Catalina Observatory, even though he was junior to all the rest of them. He was the only one that they all trusted. And liked.
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