Jesuit Brother with Passion for Science Finds God in Meteorites

Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in the growing awareness that God can found in everyone, in every place and in everything. But in rocks from outer space? Jesuit Brother Bob Macke says yes. Currently in his first year of theology studies at Boston College, he shared his thoughts on how God can be found in lunar material, some of which is more than 4.5 billion (yes, with a B) years old.

One of the things that attracted me to the Society of Jesus was the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things. I saw Jesuits seeking and finding God in so many ways, from ministering in the Third World, to delving into questions of philosophy and theology to exploring the grandeur of the universe.

As someone with a background in physics and astronomy, I am no stranger to the idea that by studying God’s creation we encounter God. As a 38-year-old, first-year theology student at Boston College and a recent graduate of a physics doctoral program, I can see in hindsight a pattern of formation as a Jesuit brother that has only strengthened this idea.

After I completed philosophy studies in 2006, I began my regency assignment teaching physics and astronomy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, a wonderful opportunity to teach in my field and minister to students.  During that time, I heard from a friend at the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who told me about an opportunity to study meteorite physical properties in a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. I had spent a summer at the Vatican Observatory doing exactly that kind of research. So, with the provincial’s blessing, I left regency after only one year and spent the next four years at the University of Central Florida measuring the densities of meteorites, the percentages of pore space within them and their responses to a magnetic field. And somehow, as part of graduate studies and in the context of Jesuit life, I was to find God in these rocks from outer space.

Studying meteorites can be tedious work, but the pursuit involved travel to New York, Washington, Chicago and London where meteorites are held in museum or university collections.

As I studied more than 1,300 specimens, sometimes the tedium of the repetitive process became too great. I then would hold one of the more primitive meteorites in my hand and muse upon it, reminding myself that it was 4.5 billion years old, one of the earliest objects to form when the solar system itself was forming, and holding clues to that history.

Embedded within the meteorite are a few tiny grains of material that survived the heat and shock of its forming and that remain essentially unchanged from the moment they were created in stars. They are literally stardust. I am awestruck, and in that awe I once again encounter God.

This work also allowed me to minister to people in the sciences. Simply by being a scientist and a member of a religious order, I stand as a counterexample to the false notion that science and faith are incompatible. My presence has sparked many conversations with colleagues who wish to explore that idea more deeply and who have no other way to do so.

Now that the doctorate is completed and theological studies have begun, I have not abandoned the pursuit of science. A Jesuit in the physics department at Boston College, Fr. Cyril Opeil, has provided space in his lab where I can construct some new research instruments. Furthermore, by helping out with campus ministry at my alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I can continue to have good conversations about faith and science with its many students of science and engineering.

In my spare time, I research properties of lunar materials, which led to a visit over Christmas break to study Apollo moon rocks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

But most importantly, I am discovering that theology studies themselves provide tools for integrating these pursuits with the many other ways in which we are called to find God in all things.

This reflection originally appeared in Southern Jesuit MagazineTo download the full magazine, please click here.

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