Vatican Observatory Celebrates Fr. Angelo Secchi, the Father of Astrophysics

Vatican Observatory Celebrates Fr. Angelo Secchi, the Father of Astrophysics

Let’s add Fr. Angelo Secchi to the list: the founders of the many branches of modern science that have been priests or religious, men and women of faith.

Fr. Secchi was the first to classify stars by their spectra and was dubbed in an article cited below as “the most famous scientist you have never heard of” The article continues:

“He is considered a pioneer in the field of astrophysics, and his scientific contributions cover fields as widely varied as stellar spectroscopy, solar physics, terrestrial magnetism, meteorology, and oceanography.”

The post, written by Observatory director Br. Guy Gonsolmogno, highlights several articles about Fr. Secchi--from a short biography summarizing his work posted by the American Astronomical Society to a more informative article which mentions Secchi’s disk, a 150 year old invention of his still used today to measure the clarity of water in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Most of us know Gregor Mendel as the father of genetics--although these days due to a supposed rift between science and religion, many may not know that he was an Augustinian monk who carried out his cross-breeding experiments in the monastery garden.

Pascal's Wager

In an effort to heal the unnecessary divide between faith and science, here is a short list of other scientists whose religion was not a hindrance to their scientific achievements:

  • Copernicus, who introduced the heliocentric theory in 1543 solving a mystery plaguing the Ptolemaic view of planetary motion for 1500 years, was a priest.
  • Johannes Kepler, also a priest who, among many other accomplishments, developed the laws of planetary motion based on Copernicus’ work.

“I thank thee, Lord God our Creator, that thou allowest me to see the beauty in thy work of creation.”

  • Galileo, famous for getting caught up in the religious politics of the time, used a telescope to discover the terrain of the moon and the many moons of Jupiter, defended his belief in God.

"God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word."

  • Blaise Pascal, famous for Pascal’s wager, (see quote above) mathematician, physicist, and theologian, inventor of the first adding machine.
  • Maria Agnesi, known for her work in differential and integral calculus, the first female mathematician to publish a book and the first to become a professor at a major university, best known for the famous equation describing a curve, called the Witch of Angesi.
  • Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry and pioneer of the scientific method, known primarily for Boyle's Law, was a pious Anglican.
  • Isaac Newton, most famous for his work on gravity and optics, but also a mathematician (the inventor of calculus), astronomer, and theologian.

"Yet one thing secures us whatever betide, the scriptures assures us the Lord will provide."

  • Nikolas Steno, a brilliant anatomist and Father of modern geology, a convert to Catholicism, priest, bishop, is now on the road to being named a saint.
  • Michael Faraday, famous for his work in chemistry and electromagnetism and creator of the first electrical generator.

"What its great purpose is, seems to be looming in the distance before us....and I cannot doubt that a glorious discovery in natural knowledge, and of the wisdom and power of God in the creation, is awaiting our age."

  • James Clerk Maxwell considered a pioneer in chemistry and physics, most famous for introducing the idea of electromagnetism.

“You may fly to the ends of the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation. You may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in your explorations.”

  • Fr. George Lemaitre is most famous for his theory of a beginning for the universe, dubbed the Big Bang. Fr. Spitzer has much to say about this famous Belgian priest.

Watch for future posts highlighting their outstanding scientific insights and achievements! And head here for a list of more modern religious scientists.

Armed with a B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in science, Ciskanik landed in a graduate nursing program. With the support of her enthusiastic husband, an interesting career unfolded while the family grew: a seven year stint mostly as a neurology nurse, 15 years as a homeschooling mom of six, and a six year sojourn as curriculum developer and HS science teacher (which included teaching students with cognitive differences). These experiences added fuel to her lifelong interest in all things related to God’s creation and the flourishing of the human spirit—which has found a new home on the Magis blog.

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