This week, more than 200 Jesuits from around the world are gathering in Rome to elect a new Father General; you can read all about it here. But for readers of The Catholic Astronomer, I thought I would pass on five amazing things that you might not know…
- For the first time ever, the electors will consist not only of priests from each Jesuit province around the world but also six brothers, chosen from each continent. The representative brother from North America is, in fact… me. So, there will be at least one astronomer at the meeting. All the more reason to pray for all of us! (No fear I will get elected the new Father General — the leader has to be a priest, not a brother. (What’s the difference? Priests are ordained, brothers are not. I do not lead public prayer, say Mass, or do any of those other priestly functions. I am a layperson, who belongs to a religious order. Or, as I joke, I can hear your confession but I can’t forgive you! Actually, I can’t hear confessions either but I can’t stop you from talking… much as I might like to.)
- The major church where we open the congregation, the Gesu, is just up the street from the other Jesuit church in Rome, St. Ignatius. That church was designed by Fr. Orazio Grassi SJ, the Jesuit polymath who also was the first person to observe a comet through a telescope… which infuriated Galileo, who wrote his famous book The Assayer as a way of making fun of Grassi.
- The Gesu is also the burial spot of St. Robert Bellarmine, who first confronted Galileo in 1616 (a story that is more complicated than I can go into here; read this post at Thinking Faith.)
- Fr. Angelo Secchi SJ built a telescope from the roof of this church in the 1850s and from here first observed the dark markings on Mars he called “canali” (what he saw was real, unlike the later “canals” of Percival Lowell) and, more importantly, first classified stars by their spectra. In the process he changed the study of astronomy from asking “where are the stars located” to “what are the stars made of”, and is called for that reason The Father of Astrophysics.
- Fifth amazing thing: headlines with clickbait like “Five Amazing Things” actually work to lure people to read posts like this!
(Edited to remove previous incomplete edit that made it look like Bellarmine confronted Galileo from the roof of the Gesu church!)