By Marie Kalita-Leary
Mercy High School Dean of Academics and Technology Mrs. Melissa Bullock and Science teacher Ms. Gianna Iannucci have been involved with the University of Notre Dame Science and Religion Initiative since 2015. The Initiative is designed to help secondary Catholic school teachers to integrate Catholic teaching into the science classroom in terms of ethics, awareness of the history of Catholic scientists, and clarifying superstition from religion. They have also been involved in helping the Vatican Observatory advance its website and tools for teachers regarding science and faith. Some of the topics that both institutions try to inform students on is that there is no conflict between science and faith. For example, the Book of Genesis is not meant to be read as a science textbook, but more like an allegory that addresses spiritual issues. There is no conflict between the genetic explanation of evolution and the life and dignity of the human person.
The 2019 Mercy Astronomy trip to Arizona focused on the topics of black holes, space-time, and climate change. A faith component was also woven into the trip with daily prayer and a trip to the San Xavier de Bac Mission. The group visited the Flandreau Planetarium on the University of Arizona campus where they saw the latest information about the expansion of the universe and the existence of black holes. Within the planetarium is a mineral and gem museum where students were able to see crystals, rare minerals, and fossils.
At Biosphere 2, one of the world's most unique facilities dedicated to the research and understanding of global scientific issues, students were taken on a VIP tour where they saw the mechanisms behind the functioning of the enormous greenhouse and the life support functions that make it self-sustaining. The University of Arizona is currently using the greenhouse to study climate change and to explore the challenges of sustaining human life on other planets, specifically the Mars Mission.
During their trip, students met with Dr. Brenda Frye, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who answered questions about women in science, black holes, space-time, life on other planets, and the future of space travel.
Students had the opportunity to have dinner and speak with Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory in Rome. Joining him on this trip to Arizona were Father Justin Whittington and Father Paul Gabor who are also from the Vatican Observatory.
Dr. Fleming, the Director of the Astronomy Department at the University of Arizona met with the group and took them on a tour of the Steward Observatory and its telescope. Afterward the group attended a talk on black holes by Dr. Jenny Greene, an astrophysicist and professor at Princeton University. She is associated with Harvard and Yale, too. Grace Delany, a senior at Mercy, attended the trip and found it enlightening, "The astronomy trip to Arizona was an eye-opening educational experience that empowered me to think about topics that I hadn’t been introduced to before. I think back about how I felt when I left Middletown and Mercy very early in the morning for this trip. I left with a closed perspective on outer space and never saw space exploration or education within my grasp. By the time I got home, I was blessed with a new perspective and ideas about the galaxy around us.”