Residents of Kentucky “invaded” the Vatican Astronomical Observatory this winter.
The Vatican Observatory has two locations: near Rome, and in Arizona (where the sky is darker and brighter than in Rome). In January, the VO held its Astronomy Workshop for Catholics in Ministry and Education in Arizona. Among those there, talking about religion and science and stomping through telescopes on top of a mountain, were two Kentuckians: me and Holly McGuire from Trinity High School.
Coincidentally, we both grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky and graduated from Owensboro Catholic High School five years apart. I’m a lifelong “science nerd” at the ACME Shop because I’m on the VO staff.
Ms. McGuire’s trip (as her students call her) to ACME, where she ended up interviewing astronomers at the University of Arizona about their adaptive optics machines, was very different.
She kindly agreed to write an essay on this trip for the VO (www.vaticanobservatory.org). Here is an abridged version of his essay:
The Catholic Church proclaims that the Christian journey begins at the waters of Baptism, is strengthened by the grace of Confirmation and is renewed by the Eucharist. But the means of travel of each Christian differs.
My maternal grandfather, Howard Baum, was a machinist for GE. I was often found with my grandfather in his garage machine shop. GE contracted him to make satellite parts, and I helped him do it. He also supported my artistic talents by sending me to take art lessons with a local artist.
In college, I majored in fine arts with a minor in business administration. I married Sean McGuire. I had three sons, Lance, Alec and Luke. I worked for an east coast signage company, occasionally showing my work in galleries.
Back in Kentucky, I helped the art and environment committee at Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., including a “Morning Star” glass mosaic project that provides the background of the Easter candle. The opportunity to create liturgical art allowed me to pray and work.
I followed the Christian example of my grandparents, so I was drawn to the beauty of liturgical life. I started teaching at Trinity and studying theology, earning my Masters in Theological Studies from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2016.
In teaching, I stumbled over my students’ alleged conflict between science and religion. Even a colleague would say that faith and reason are opposed. Eventually, I found the Science and Theology Seminary at Notre Dame, and started talking about the Big Bang, Galilee, and evolution. Through it all, I continued to have more questions than answers. I searched the VO and found the ACME workshop.
The workshop gave me the experience of doing science instead of just talking about it. For four days, attendees enjoyed presentations on the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, asteroids, meteorites, Johannes Kepler, and astrophotography.
We traveled to Steward Observatory, where the researchers showed us how they were removing “noise” with the code they were writing. The Caris Mirror Lab presented the manufacture of seven 8.4 meter mirrors for the giant Magellan telescope, which will be the largest in the world. We crossed the desert, the pine forest and the snow to visit different observatories.
Every evening we celebrated Mass. After dusk we looked through telescopes and learned astrophotography, taking amazing pictures of the night sky. The clear night sky showed a glimpse of the Creator.
It was truly a beautiful moment in my Christian journey. The dialogue between science and theology is essential, but it is the ability to “do” science, and not just talk about it, that will intrigue me on the journey. —Holly McGuire
Chris Graney, parishioner of St. Louis Bertrand Church, is on staff at the Vatican Observatory, www.vaticanobservatory.org.