Archive for the ‘Science and Technology’ Category

Jesuit Leading Santa Clara University Solar Decathlon Team to Victory

Jesuit Father Jim Reites started out as an engineering student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but meeting the Jesuits his senior year changed his career path. Instead, he joined the Society of Jesus and became a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University in California. In a nod to his former career path, Fr. Reites is now making headlines as the adviser of Santa Clara’s Solar Decathlon team.

The United States Department of Energy sponsors the Solar Decathlon every two years, in which teams from schools worldwide compete to build the most efficient, livable and beautiful solar home. Santa Clara’s teams finished in third place in both 2007 and 2009, besting many bigger, better-funded universities. Students credit Fr. Reites as a large reason for their success, and the 2013 solar decathlon team is currently working on their next entry at the Santa Clara campus.

“I’ve never seen him down in spirits or tired,” said Santa Clara junior Brian Grau. “He’s always ready to work whether it’s actually doing physical labor all day long or helping us with the design.”

Fr. Reites may be 75 years old, but he is teaching young Santa Clara students plenty about technology. Additionally, Fr. Reites brings his love of science to his position as chair of the Religious Studies Department at Santa Clara. “The very first personal computer in a department on campus was in the Department of Religious Studies,” said Fr. Reites. “And I built it from a kit.” His do-it-yourself attitude led the university to ask him to become the Solar Decathlon team adviser.

Tim Hight, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty project leader for the Solar Decathlon team, said Fr. Reites “always seemed to be around when something needed to be done and outworked most of the team in terms of energy and enthusiasm. His understanding of so many aspects of the house, whether electrical, plumbing or controls, means that he knows how the whole house works and how to fix it if it doesn’t.”

According to Fr. Reites, building a solar house is right in line with the Jesuits’ mission. “It’s engineering with a mission, a real mission to make the world a better place.” [NBC Bay Area, Santa Clara University]

Jesuit Finds God Through Study of the Stars

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, is used to questions about his job, such as “Why does the Vatican have an observatory?” and “Aren’t there more important things to do than look at the stars?” In fact, he used to ask himself the same type of questions.

Br. Consolmagno recalls being a postdoctoral fellow at MIT and lying in bed at night wondering, “Why am I wasting my time worrying about the moons of Jupiter when there are people starving in the world?”

He had no answer, and he eventually quit his job and science and joined the Peace Corps.

“I told the Peace Corps people, ‘I’ll go anywhere you ask me to go, I’ll do anything you ask me to do; I just want to help people,’” he says. “They sent me to Africa, to Kenya, where I ended up teaching astronomy to graduate students at the University of Nairobi!”

Now as an astronomer at the Vatican, Br. Consolmagno explains that he encounters God in his scientific studies.

“Astronomy is how we experience the universe as creatures who are interested in more than just, ‘what’s for lunch?’” says Br. Consolmagno. “But what I have also come to see is that belief plays a fundamental role in being able to do that astronomy.”

According to Br. Consolmagno, there are three religious beliefs you have to accept on faith before you can be a scientist: that this universe actually exists; that the universe operates by regular laws; and that the universe is good.

“Science is where I get to spend time with the Creator,” says Br. Consolmagno. “When God invites me to encounter him in the things that have been made, as St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, God is setting up a game we get to play together. It is a game that, on top of everything else, tells me he loves me. And for that, I am grateful to be an astronomer.”

To read more about Br. Consolmagno’s thoughts on God and astronomy, visit Thinking Faith, the online journal of the British Jesuits.

Father Robert Ballecer: The Digital Jesuit

Jesuit Father Robert BallecerJesuit Father Robert Ballecer serves as the National Director for Vocation Promotion for the U.S. Society of Jesus, but in technology circles he’s known as the “Digital Jesuit.” And he likes that name a lot better than the alternative:  Friar Tech.

A digital guru with a growing legion of 4,000 Twitter followers, Fr.  Ballecer operates his own website, The Tech Stop, which he calls a “site with a soul.”  He also hosts “This Week in Enterprise Tech” (TWiET) on the online tech network TWiT.

Fr. Ballecer, who wears a Roman collar and identifies himself as a Jesuit on the show, says it’s been amazing to read the comments in the chat room from different episodes. There’s been a shift from “Why is there a priest on the tech network?” to the same people saying, “Fr. Robert actually knows what he’s talking about.”

So how did this self-proclaimed geek from Fremont, Calif. end up becoming a priest?

“My vocation story was a little less light from the heavens and a little more gradual leading me up to the inescapable conclusion that this is the only life I’d be happy in,” says Fr. Ballecer.

A first generation Philippine American, Fr. Ballecer was focused on making his mark in business and had already started a computer consulting firm by the time he was an undergrad at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif.  But he quickly realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

A Jesuit priest at Santa Clara helped him recognize his calling. “The Jesuits I saw on campus were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. They were some of the most brilliant people I’d ever met,” says Fr. Ballecer. “They seemed to have what I wanted — a satisfaction in life. That’s what set me on the track to join.”

After two years of doing retreats and spiritual direction while a student at Santa Clara, Fr. Ballecer says there were “angst ridden” days where he fought against his calling to join the Society of Jesus. “I was fighting myself, thinking why would I want to do this? I’ve worked all my life to get out of poverty and now I want to take a vow of poverty?”

Once Fr. Ballecer joined the Jesuits, he said that his experience in the novitiate cemented that this was the life he wanted to live.

A Jesuit and a Techie

Jesuit Father Robert Ballecer on TWiETBefore becoming the National Director for Vocation Promotion three years ago, Fr. Ballecer was assigned to parishes in California and Hawaii, and he’s also served in China, the Philippines and Bolivia. In addition to his ministries, he’s stayed active in the tech world, with projects such as “Gadget,” an online show he’s run as a hobby for the past five years, which has received over 14 million YouTube views.

Fr. Ballecer’s tech expertise is a perfect fit for vocation promotion with the Millennial Generation (age 28 and younger).

At last count his office has created over 600 hours of You Tube content — from interviews with Jesuits to videos from World Youth Day to his tech content.  “The strategy has been to say anything that shows priests and Jesuits doing things that others might be interested in — that’s vocation promotion and that’s what we want to show,” explains Fr. Ballecer.

One of his projects was a video series called “Path to Priesthood,” which followed Jesuit Radmar Jao from his deaconate ordination to his priestly ordination. The popular series was picked up by CatholicTV.

Pursue Your Passion and Your Vocation

TWiET logoFr. Ballecer says that the Society wants to encourage more Jesuits to show their competence in venues that will reach out to the Millennial Generation. “We want to reach out to people who are looking for something to believe in,” he says.

“I’ve been using the weekly online show as a forum to say ‘Look I’m a priest and I’m a man of faith, but at the same time I have a sense of humor and I’m very competent about my subject material. I’m willing to listen to all different ideas.’ ”

One of Fr. Ballecer’s first vocation promotion projects was “Jesuits Revealed,” a video series of interviews with Jesuits from around the country with different areas of expertise.

“We have these three-minute vignettes into the life of Jesuits and if you watched enough of them you could find someone who believed like you, who grew up like you, who had the same interests as you. It’s reinforcing that a life of faith and a life of the priesthood is not what you think it is,” Fr. Ballecer says.

One of the things Fr. Ballecer tells vocation promoters to look for is the aha moment.

“The aha moment is anything that you do, anything that you say, anything that makes someone say, ‘I didn’t know that about faith or I didn’t know that about religious life.’ It’s where old, preconceived notions are emptied out and you get an understanding that you didn’t have before. I think all vocation promotion is built on that aha moment.”

For anyone considering a Jesuit vocation who may not think they fit the right mold, Fr. Ballecer says, “We’re not calling for what you think a priest is. We’re asking who you are, and we’re saying we can use that in the priesthood.”

Jesuit’s New Film Claims Physics Helps Prove Existence of God

Jesuit Father Robert SpitzerJesuit Father Robert Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University, is “utterly convinced that the evidence from physics shows the existence of God.”

He backs up his statement with his new film, “Cosmic Origins,” a 49-minute documentary that features eight physicists who discuss the big bang theory, theories of modern physics and the need for a creator.

Along with Fr. Spitzer, founder of the Magis Center for Faith and Reason, the film features Michael Heller of the Vatican Observatory, Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias and professors from Harvard and Cambridge.

In choosing the physicists for the film, Fr. Spitzer made sure that  every scientist was “absolutely top in their field, world class, they had to be a Nobel prize winner, a Templeton prize winner or come from Harvard or Cambridge or from the top ranks of NASA.”

The scientists affirm that it is impossible for the universe to be random and without purpose, he said.

“When the universe was nothing, it could not have moved itself from nothing, something else had to do it, and that something else was a transcendent creator,” Fr. Spitzer said.

Fr. Spitzer claims that this creator would have to exist outside space and time because before the Big Bang, nothing existed, including space and time.

“Cosmic Origins” is available on Amazon, and information on a parish screening program is available through the “Cosmic Origins” website, www.cosmicoriginsfilm.com. Read more on Fr. Spitzer and his new film at Catholic News Agency.

Jesuit Astronomer on Science and Religion in The Washington Post

Jesuit Brother Guy ConsolmagnoJesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, a researcher and spokesman at the Vatican Observatory, recently shared his thoughts on science and religion on The Washington Post’s blog.

With news about the Higgs boson particle, the so-called “God Particle,” that’s helping scientists understand how the universe was built, Br. Consolmagno says he’s explained multiple times that “No, the God Particle has nothing to do with God…”

Although not a particle physicist, Br. Consolmagno is often interviewed because of his role as a Vatican astronomer. He says some are surprised to hear that the Vatican supports an astronomical observatory, but that science and religion complement each other:

But the real reason we do science is in fact related to the reason why so many people ask us about things like the God Particle. The disciplines of science and religion complement each other in practical ways. For example, both are involved in describing things that are beyond human language and so must speak in metaphors. Not only is the ‘God Particle’ not a piece of God, it is also not really a ‘particle’ in the sense that a speck of dust is a particle. In both cases we use familiar images to try to illustrate an entity of great importance but whose reality is beyond our power to describe literally.

Read more of Br. Consolmagno’s commentary on the Higgs boson discovery on Catholic News Service and Catholic News Agency.