John Paul II Center Fellows visit Vatican Observatory for special tour

The Russell Berrie Fellowship Cohort visited the Vatican Observatory this month for “a faith and mind expanding event.” The special tour, led by Director of the Vatican Observatory Jesuit religious Brother Guy Consolmagno, showed fellows original works by Isaac Newton and two telescopes. The Observatory is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See, and one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world.

Fellow Bernadette McGonigle reflects on the experience below:

Situated in the Papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Brother Guy met us at the train station in Lazio Albano, and walked us to the Observatory giving us a history of the sites en route. When we arrived at the Observatory, after the obligatory coffee, we were shown around the center. A disarmingly modest room holds a collection of meteorites in addition to books from the Vatican Library, including original works by Isaac Newton and Secchi. Another room houses rare works by Copernicus, Galileo and other treasures from the Vatican Library.

Brother Guy showed a video detailing the history of the Observatory, including footage of Pope Paul VI from the observatory making a call to the astronauts after the Apollo moon landing in 1969. He then related his own journey to becoming a Jesuit as well as an asteroids and meteorites researcher: a perfect combination of faith and science. His story, relayed with true humility and humor, moved us all deeply. Faith needs science to keep it from superstition and he clearly showed that both faith and science benefit from learning from each other, as does society. The official Observatory website has a key section entitled “Science, Religion, Society.”

Brother Guy took us on a tour of the two telescopes based at the center and then through the magnificent gardens, to visit the pond, a serene oasis frequented by previous Popes. The sun shone on us and the skies seemed brighter and more wondrous after our knowledge and appreciation had been expanded by Brother Guy.

Despite the small staff, the projects the observatory engages in are staggering. There is a sister observatory based in Arizona called the VATT (Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope) housing an optical infra-red telescope which is one of the most modern centers in the world for observational astronomy. In addition, the Observatory run a summer school, at which a few very lucky international students are chosen to attend. Before you get too excited, we also asked if we could apply but a background in astrophysics and astronomy are the criteria, not theology!

Our trip to the Vatican Observatory was a faith and mind expanding event- the world and cosmos are more wonderful than we have the capacity to appreciate. We came away marveling at how great God is and how marvelous is his cosmic creation- indeed it is very good!