Science Pilgrimage to the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, Arizona – Feb. 28 to March 5, 2019

One of the great highlights of the grant (and perhaps its most audacious endeavor) was a “science pilgrimage” to the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, Arizona (Feb. 27 to March 5, 2019). Drs. Monson and Shippee led nineteen seminarians, representing a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, and stages of formation. Seminarians included religious from the Priests of the Sacred Heart (2) and the Society of the Divine Savior (2), as well as diocesan candidates from Belleville (1), Green Bay (1), La Crosse (1), Milwaukee (10), Richmond (1), and Youngstown (1). Many of the seminarians chosen were enrolled in courses that concurrently integrated science (particularly Trinity and Creation or History of the Church Universal II). 

The pilgrimage group spent an entire day with Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory, with presentations on the history of the Vatican Observatory, the relationship between faith and science (especially with respect to Galileo and scientific method), a spiritual reflection on creation through images from recent missions to Mars, and a visit to the Space Imagery Center at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. 

Seminarians also experienced a wealth of other learning opportunities, including: 

  • The legacy of the priest, explorer, and astronomer Fr. Eusebio Kino, SJ (1645-1711) and his Mission San Xavier del Bac, with a presentation by Fr. Greg Adolf of the Diocese of Tucson 
  • The legacy of Angelo Secchi, SJ (1818-1878) and Jesuit contributions to the use of spectroscopy in astrophysics, with presentations by the Vatican Observatory’s Fr. Chris Corbally, SJ 
  • The planetary dynamics of the solar system in relation to the Kuiper Belt through a presentation by Dr. Renu Malhotra, Regents’ Professor of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona
  • The search for exoplanets in habitable zones and on the vital role of the Vatican Observatory in the scientific community through an open discussion with Dr. Chris Impey, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona
  • The study of early galaxies and gravity, including a session of stargazing with Dr. Brenda Frye, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona and contributor to the Vatican Observatory’s blog, the Catholic Astronomer.
  • A state-of-the-art planetarium show on exoplanets and astrobiology
  • The “Science City” at the Tucson Festival of Books, including a special session on Einstein and Black Holes
  • A four-hour night program at Kitt Peak National Observatory , including the use of special telescopes
  • A tour of the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, including new mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile

The group stayed at the Redemptorist Renewal Center, which provided space for sleeping, meals, morning and evening prayer, daily mass, recreation, and stargazing away from city lights. Msgr. Al Schifano, Fr. George Holley, and Fr. John Gonzales, all Sacred Heart alumni for the Diocese of Tucson, celebrated mass for the group. 

Upon the group’s return from Arizona, each seminarian crafted a homily incorporating a scientific insight from the pilgrimage. Dcn. Steve Kramer, Director of Homiletics, reviewed the homilies and provided feedback. A collection of these homilies can be found here.

Sacred Heart is currently exploring ways to continue its collaboration with the Vatican Observatory, including expanding future pilgrimages to integrate the Church’s engagement of science through astronomy with the Dehonian commitment to social justice through the Kino Border Initiative.