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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