Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno’
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.
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.
Among the most frequent of frequent flyers, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno racks up more than 100,000 miles per year, traveling between two dissimilar yet dramatically beautiful home bases: the Vatican in Rome and the rugged desert of Tucson, Arizona. Consolmagno, staff astronomer and the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory, travels nonstop, delivering 40 to 50 talks annually at universities, schools and parishes around the world. Along the way, he’s learned a thing or two about how to travel like a star. Brother Consolmagno sat down with the Chicago Tribune to share a few tips – everything from hidden gems at the Vatican to don’t-leave-home-without-it travel aids.
Q: For those making a trip to the Vatican, what would you advise them to visit?
A: Well, everyone knows to see St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. But most people, when they go to the museum, rush ahead to see the Sistine Chapel and miss out on some wonderful artwork on the way. In particular, I recommend that when you first get into the museum, where the signs all point to the left, turn right instead. This gets you to the coffee shop and the Pinacoteca, the small but wonderful collection of paintings. I find the series of musical angels by Melozzo da Forli are particularly charming. But the best part is a series of eight astronomical paintings by Donato Creti, made in the early 1700s, which show the planets as seen through a telescope. They include the first color depiction of the great red spot on Jupiter. Another wonderful sight, which requires advance reservations, is to explore the Scavi, the excavations underneath St. Peter’s. (http://www.vatican.va)
A: That was 30 years ago, and I know that Kenya has changed a lot since then. What I remember most was how wonderful the people were and how much the countryside reminded me of a Tolkien painting — odd volcanic mountains and glorious but very strange vistas.
Q: What are your five favorite cities?
A. I am quite partial to the United Kingdom, so I would have to start with London, Liverpool and Glasgow. Tokyo is fascinating and continually surprising. I lived many years in Boston and I still love to visit there because it’s full of history, great museums and great food — and you can walk to nearly all of it. But lately my heart has been stolen by New York. As a Jesuit, I get to stay in parishes built to serve immigrants of the 19th century that are now in neighborhoods that are just wonderful to wander around. And, yes, I know that’s six cities.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: One trick I have never heard anyone else describe is that for long overnight flights, I put myself to sleep by listening to favorite audio books. Because I know the book well, it doesn’t keep me awake. And when I realize that I have skipped a few chapters, it relaxes me by letting me realize I really have gotten some sleep.
Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno is the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence. His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system. Prior the joining the Jesuits, he obtained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a PhD in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona.
After speaking at the Jesuit Brothers Institute on Jesuits in the Sciences, Br. Consolmagno took some time out to sit down with National Jesuit News and share the story of his vocation:
Top Renaissance scientists and scholars gathered on a grassy hill overlooking Rome one starry spring night 400 years ago to gaze into a unique innovation by Galileo Galilei: the telescope.
“This was really an exciting event. This was the first time that Galileo showed off his telescope in public to the educated people of Rome, which was the center of culture in Italy at that time,” said Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer, as he stood on the same knoll.
Today, the grassy hill is part of the American Academy in Rome, which celebrated its connection to Galileo earlier this year with a number of events that included a discussion of faith and science with Brother Consolmagno.
The Renaissance men gathered on the Janiculum hill included Jesuit scholars, such as Jesuit Father Christopher Clavius, who helped devise the Gregorian calendar 40 years earlier.
Brother Consolmagno told CNS that the unveiling of the telescope was so significant because “this is the first time that science is done with an instrument. It’s not something that just any philosopher could look at. You had to have the right tool to be able to be able to see it,” because one’s own eyes were no longer enough.
“People then wanted to look for themselves and see if they were seeing the same things Galileo was seeing,” he said.