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Jesuit 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.
Fr. O’Brien came to the university in 1962 to teach philosophy. It was his first assignment as a Jesuit. Fifty years later, Fr. O’Brien still cherishes his career at the university.
“One version is they lost my records at the headquarters in Baltimore, they didn’t know I was here and that I managed to stay under the radar for 50 years,” the 85-year-old joked.
“There have been times when some other position would come up elsewhere and I would say, ‘What do you think? Is it time for a change?’ In every case, I would say, ‘Maybe you should just stay here and do what you’re doing,’” Fr. O’Brien recalled.
The university recently honored the Pennsylvania native in a president’s dinner and award ceremony. Fr. O’Brien said his favorite part about Wheeling Jesuit is its small community.
“It’s a lot more different than some of the other Jesuit colleges in the area,” he said. “I think it’s being able to interact with people in a more face-to-face way.”
In addition to his other duties at the university, he also takes students on Appalachian Experience service trips sometimes up to three times a year.
Fr. O’Brien said one of Wheeling Jesuit’s main focuses is on its students.
“We help students find themselves and we make them ready not just to get good jobs but to take the talents they have and put it to good use for themselves and others,” Fr. O’Brien said.
Fr. O’Brien graduated in 1940 from the Most Blessed Sacrament Parochial School in Philadelphia and graduated four years later from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.
He later attended St. Joseph’s College and ended up going into the Navy Reserve. From there, he decided to go into the seminary. He taught three years at Baltimore Jesuit High School while studying theology.
Two years after becoming ordained, Fr. O’Brien was assigned to Wheeling Jesuit University, where he focused on teaching and campus ministry.
“The whole spirituality helped me, and at the time I was still working on my dissertation,” Fr. O’Brien said.
Although he says he didn’t make much progress at first, Fr. O’Brien said he obtained his doctorate in the 1980s from Duquesne University.
Raised in a religious environment, Fr. O’Brien said he always thought about going into the seminary for his career. His love for his work has carried on.
“Why do people stay married 50 years? Why do people choose to be doctors, lawyers or teachers? Somehow, or another, it’s not just external, but it builds up on circumstances,” he said.
“It’s not like climbing Everest. It’s more like, Here’s your life.’ You’re taking steps. That’s not to say it’s no great achievement. It’s rather a kind of gift the way it comes about.”
Jesuit priest, geologist and author James W. Skehan, a Boston College professor emeritus who served as the longtime director of the University’s geophysical research observatory, has been honored with the unveiling of a bronze bust in his likeness at an event celebrating his 89thbirthday.
The sculpture was created in clay by local artist Janie Belive, who works at Campion Center in Weston, Mass., where Fr. Skehan is in residence. Vincent J. Murphy, James Lewkowicz and Robert O. Varnerin—longtime friends of Fr. Skehan—commissioned the bronzing of the sculpture. The bust’s base, from the Le Masurier Family Quarry in North Chelmsford, Mass., is made from Chelmsford Granite, one of Fr. Skehan’s favorite rocks. The bust is on display in BC’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, which was founded (as the Department of Geology) by Fr. Skehan in 1958.
Many colleagues and friends joined Fr. Skehan at the Apr. 25 event. John Ebel, Boston College Earth and Environmental Sciences professor and Weston Observatory director, gave an address that served as a retrospective on Fr. Skehan’s career. A reception with birthday cake followed, hosted by BC’s Jesuit Community and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.
Fr. Skehan is a renowned geologist whose research has focused on the history of the Avalon terrane, the geological micro-continent stretching from Long Island to Belgium upon which Boston lies. From 1973 to 1993, he directed BC’s Weston Observatory, which monitors seismic activity around the globe.
He is the author of Roadside Geology of Massachusetts, a 400-page illustrated guide to the geological history and makeup of the Commonwealth. He followed that with Roadside Geology of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Fr. Skehan has been honored in special ways during his storied career. In 2003, Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark A. S. McMenamin named a new genus of trilobite in Fr. Skehan’s honor. Skehanos is a marine arthropod that lived more than 500 million years ago and whose fossil was discovered in Massachusetts.
Author Sarah Andrews created a fictional Fr. Jim Skehan character for In Cold Pursuit, her mystery novel set in Antarctica. Fr. Skehan is also the recipient of the American Institute of Professional Geologists’ Ben H. Parker Memorial Medal, honoring individuals with long records of distinguished and outstanding service in the field of geology, among other honors.
A man of science, Fr. Skehan is also a man of deep faith. Growing up, his family said the rosary regularly after dinner. He entered the Jesuit order in 1940 and was ordained in 1954.
A noted retreat and spiritual leader, he is the author of Place Me With Your Son: Ignatian Spirituality in Everyday Life and of Praying with Teilhard de Chardin, on the life and thought of French Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher de Chardin. The convergence of geologist and priest was profoundly on display when Fr. Skehan said the first Mass on the volcanic island Surtsey soon after it rose off the coast of Iceland.
Fr. Skehan sees no conflict in his devotion to both science and faith, telling the Boston College Chronicle:
“If you look at a beautiful sunset, or how mountains are formed, or observe how continents move, you can view it either as science or as God speaking to you, or both. I do both. What I do as a scientist is no different from what I do listening to the cosmic word of God. It’s nice to have both [science and faith] – in fact, it makes everything so exhilarating. What could be more marvelous?”
Jesuit Matthew Baugh, currently in his second year of studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto, shared this reflection with Southern Jesuit Magazine about the influence that Jesuit Martyrs have had in his formation as a Jesuit.
Two years ago, having just pronounced my first vows as a Jesuit novice in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, I was on a flight bound for London. All of a sudden it hit me: For the first time, I was arriving in England as a Jesuit. Four centuries earlier, my brother Jesuits had arrived under starkly different circumstances. They had to enter the country in disguise, under assumed names and beneath the watchful eyes of priest-hunters. Edmund Campion, for one, passed himself off as a jewel merchant named Mr. Edmunds. Having left England eight years earlier to become a priest and a Jesuit, he was for that reason regarded as a traitor and public enemy.
Campion and his companions—Robert Southwell, Nicholas Owen and Henry Walpole—were among the first Jesuits I ever encountered. At that time, nearly ten years ago, I was an overly ambitious young graduate student at Oxford University, my sights set on a career in politics and foreign affairs. But, I also had a profound sense that the Lord was calling me deeper into prayer and union with him. When I began attending daily Mass at the university chaplaincy, I encountered one of the most astonishing preachers I had ever heard, a British Jesuit by the name of Nicholas King. Here was a man who had met the Word of God and knew how to help others do the same.
Jesuit Father John Ruane, who was interned in the Los Banos civilian internment camp on the island of Luzon in the Philippines during World War II, recently passed away at the age of 92. He was Professor Emeritus at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City for 38 years.
Fr. Ruane, who entered the Society of Jesus upon graduating from St. Peter’s Preparatory in 1937, said that going to the missions appealed to him, and he was sent to the Philippines to study philosophy at Ateneo de Manila in July 1941. By 1942, all the priests and seminarians were placed under house arrest by the Japanese military, and in 1945, the Jesuits were moved to the Los Banos camp. They could take few belongings, and the 80 Jesuits were assigned to live in huts with 16 internees in each.
Given rice mixed with a little meat and water twice a day, Fr. Ruane said, “We were weak.” He said that they didn’t move around too much to preserve their strength and people would blackout often. “One pig would last for 1,000 servings.”
The priests would take turns saying Mass with the wine they had smuggled into the camp, and some of the Jesuits professors who would lecture the internees.
Fr. Ruane said they never gave up on the Americans and knew they were close since their airplane engines were stronger than the Japanese. Eventually, Fr. Ruane and the other internees were rescued by the U.S. troops.
After World War II, Fr. Ruane returned to the United States to be ordained; earned a doctorate in philosophy at Louvain, Belgium; and then returned to Cebu in the Philippines to teach Jesuit seminarians until 1969.
With the passing of Fr. Ruane, Jesuit Father James Reuter, now 95, is the only other Jesuit survivor. Fr. Reuter still lives in the Philippines.