|Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the director of the Vatican Observatory, spoke at Montgomery Bell Academy on Monday, Dec. 7. Photo by Andy Telli
tudying the universe can be an act of worship, according to the director of the Vatican observatory.
The goal of studying the universe “is to get closer to the creator,” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the Vatican Observatory director who spent Monday, Dec. 7, in Nashville teaching and speaking at Montgomery Bell Academy.
“Human beings look at the stars and wonder what is that? Where do I fit in?” Brother Guy said. “We’re out there to learn about creation and that way learn about the creator. We’ve always learned about the creator through the things he’s created.”
Brother Guy is an astronomer who earned degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. But he left astronomy to join the Peace Corps.
“The whole time I was doing astronomy, I had this thought, ‘Why am I doing astronomy when there are starving people in the world?’” he said.
The Peace Corps sent him to Kenya, but homesickness led him to a decision to return to the United States. But before he left, he decided to take advantage of living so close to the equator to see the Southern Cross, he said during a public talk at Montgomery Bell.
While looking at the stars, Brother Guy started to recognize constellations he knew from his childhood and realized wherever he could see the stars, he was home, Brother Guy said.
Although he went to Kenya to feed the hungry, what he found was that people there wanted him to teach them about astronomy. “Human beings are hungry for the knowledge of the universe and our place in it,” he said.
His experience in Kenya “led me to the Jesuits,” Brother Guy said.
He entered the Jesuits in 1989 and in 1993 joined the Vatican Observatory as curator of its collection of meteorites, which is one of the largest in the world.
“The job of the Vatican Observatory is to do good science,” Brother Guy said.
The observatory traces its roots to Pope Gregory XIII who appointed a committee to study the science surrounding the reform of the calendar in 1582.
The Vatican Observatory was re-established in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, “that everyone might see clearly that the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible devotion.”
“All the popes, even though they came from different backgrounds, all have been supportive of the work of the observatory,” Brother Guy said.
The first telescope tower was built at the Vatican, but as the city grew brighter, making it harder to see the stars, a new telescope tower was built at the pope’s summer home at Castel Gandolfo, where the Vatican Observatory is still headquartered.
In 1993, the Vatican Obervatory collaborated with the Steward Observatory to build the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mount Graham, Arizona, near Tucson.
“I don’t think you can use science to prove the existence of God,” Brother Guy said. “God is what I start with when I do science.”
The study of astronomy shows us that God created a set of rules by which the universe operates, Brother Guy said. God allows things to follow the rules he created, he added.
“The universe is based not only on reason, but it is beautiful,” Brother Guy said. “And beauty is truth and truth is beauty.”