As this is a new column for the blog, it might be appropriate to begin with a small introduction.
In the motu proprio “Ut Mysticam”—the document establishing the Vatican Observatory in 1891—Pope Leo XIII wrote that the reason for creating such an institution in the Vatican was “…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 dedication.”
Primarily, the Vatican Observatory addresses this mission through its scientific endeavors. We are all vowed religious members of the Catholic Church who are respected scientists making valuable contributions in our fields. Through this we are a sign to the world of the compatibility of faith and science through the example of our own lives.
It would be a mistake to think that the Vatican Observatory serves as the only such example of science performed in the context of consecrated life. The goal of this column will be to call attention to the myriad other priests and religious who have made significant scientific contributions, and form part of the tradition from which the Vatican Observatory arose.
The first few articles will look at scientists whose names are already familiar from this blog or elsewhere, such as Fr. Angelo Secchi SJ (pioneer of astrophysics and stellar spectroscopy), Msgr. Georges Lemaître (who proposed the Big Bang theory), and abbot Gregor Mendel OSA (father of genetics). In time, you will be introduced to other scientists who may be less familiar, such as Fr. Dominic Troili SJ, for whom the meteoritic mineral troilite is named. Each installment will include a short biography and description of their important scientific contribution.
From personal bias, there will naturally be an abundance of Jesuits and astronomer/astrophysicists. However, I would like to represent a breadth of Catholic religious orders (and diocesan priests) as well as scientific fields outside of astronomy. In particular, I would like to recognize women religious who have made important scientific contributions. Among these are Sr. Mary Kenneth Keller BVM (pioneer in computer science), and Sr. Miriam Stimson OP (a chemist who contributed to understanding the structure of DNA).
I am open to hearing suggestions for people to include in this column.