Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - People from coast to coast were able to witness what may be for some, a once-in-a-lifetime event Aug. 21: a total solar eclipse.
Those fortunate enough to be in the path of totality were able to witness the moon completely blocking the view of the sun, turning day for a few moments into something akin to twilight.
Thousands of people who weren’t in the path of totality flocked to the Midwest for the event, seeking a location to watch the spectacle.
In the Lincoln Diocese, one of these places happened to be St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, where students from Bishop Neumann Jr./Sr. High School in Wahoo, St. Mary and Aquinas schools in David City, St. Vincent De Paul Elementary in Seward and Villa Marie in Waverly were able to spend the afternoon and witness the eclipse.
Other guests were also able to travel out to the seminary to watch the eclipse with the students, including Bishop James D. Conley. In all, St. Gregory the Great hosted 1,100 students and adults.
When they arrived at the seminary, students were able to take part in three segments. These included a talk by Sister Karen Marie, M.S. on the science of the eclipse, a tour of the seminary given by seminarian volunteers, and a talk from Father John Rooney, the vice-rector at St. Gregory the Great, on faith and science.
Following the segments, the students went outside for lunch at noon to watch the partial eclipse and prepare for totality. On the grounds, Father Rooney had filtered telescopes available, through which students could safely view the sun as it began to be eclipsed by the moon.
While the day had been partly cloudy beforehand, Father Rooney noted that just as totality approached, the sky cleared and the eclipse became obvious. The students all cheered as the moon fully covered the sun, and they were able to take their protective glasses off.
“We were grateful that our prayers were answered and the sky cleared for the eclipse. The Lord gave us a beautiful day,” Father Rooney said.
Other diocesan travelers included close to 200 students from Pius X High School in Lincoln, who were invited to travel to Homestead National Monument outside Beatrice. These students were either freshmen in World Geography this semester or students in the school’s Earth, Energy and Environment class.
There, they were able to be a part of educational programs and view the eclipse right in the center of the eclipse path, where the total eclipse was longer.
Tom Korta, the school’s principal, said, “We wanted the kids to have a fuller experience that relates to their curriculum. It was memorable for us, but they’ll have that extra experience.”
For others, the journey was less strenuous. The remaining students at Pius spent part of their fifth-period class on the school’s Aldrich Field.
At Pius, the eclipse fit right into the day, almost as if it had been planned that way.
“The timing worked out really well with our schedule,” assistant principal Greg Lesiak said.
All classes were taught during the first half of fifth period on the day of the eclipse. When the bell rang, they all filed outside where they received NASA-approved solar glasses and got to picnic on the football field.
As the moon covered the sun more and more, students and staff spent time looking up at the sight. Meanwhile, Korta played a series of “moon songs” over the stadium’s speaker system.
Korta also had an app that he used to notify the crowd of different changes that they would be able to notice as the day became darker, and provided periodic updates on how far away the eclipse was from totality.
As the time of totality drew closer, Korta explained to those in the stadium that birds and insects would become quiet and he encouraged students to sit in silence as totality approached.
“We wanted students to experience that quiet and have time to enjoy it,” Korta said.
At totality, everyone took off their glasses to look up at the eclipse and note the sun’s corona. Korta’s app also informed those in attendance of the 360-degree sunset that could be viewed on the horizon.
As the sun began to reemerge after totality, Korta played “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. Students and staff cleaned up the field and headed back inside to continue the day with sixth period.
Both Father Rooney and Korta were able to offer diocesan students the opportunity to view the eclipse with classmates and fellow Catholics alike, and both know that the experience was one that they are likely to remember for years to come.
“There are moments like this that come along that kids will remember,” Korta said. “I think that the kids will have a much better appreciation for, and fond memories of this event.”
Father Rooney also enjoyed being able to make a connection between faith and science at the event.
He said, “We were able to share the event in the context of our faith at the seminary, it was a very Catholic event. The students were delighted with the day and I think it’ll be something really memorable for them.”