SEWARD (SNR) – Astronomy students at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward are enjoying the use of a new 12” telescope, gifted to the seminary for their studies.
Father John Rooney, who teaches the class—astronomy studies celestial objects, space, and the physical universe—attended a fundraising event for the Branched Oak Observatory Sept. 23.
“They had a raffle there, where the big prize was this telescope,” he explained. It was won by Stephen Daly, a member of St. Mary Parish in Lincoln.
“When he won the telescope,” Father Rooney said, “he remarked that he thought it would be too big for him to be able to carry and set up…. That was why he thought of donating it to the seminary.”
As the pair talked about picking up the telescope for the seminary, Father Rooney realized that Daly did desire to have a telescope he could use. So, Father Rooney offered an 8” telescope he had bought for the class in exchange.
“He came out one night, and we set it up,” Father Rooney said. “He was able to see the moon and other things in the sky, and was happy to take that telescope.”
After the trade, both Daly and Father Rooney—with a group of seminarians—each took their new telescopes out to enjoy some observation on a recent clear night.
Father Rooney has taught astronomy as an elective at St. Gregory the Great Seminary for three years.
“Part of our discussion includes that good science is not opposed to good theology,” he stressed. “Even the Vatican promotes this idea because they have the Vatican Observatory which is engaged in quality scientific research in astronomy.”
The Church has had a long-standing interest in astronomy. For example, the Gregorian Calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, was developed from astronomical data. The Vatican actively supported astronomy for centuries, and the Vatican Observatory was formally established in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. Over time, as light pollution made visibility difficult, the Observatory moved its primary location outside the city of Rome and in 1981 established the Vatican Observatory Research Group, with offices in Tucson, Ariz.
Bishop Conley said that the gift of the telescope was a great blessing for the seminarians of St. Gregory the Great Seminary.
“The Catholic Church has always promoted the study of the natural sciences,” he said. “The study of the created world allows us to see an order and intelligence behind it. The study of astronomy in particular elicits a wonder in our hearts that makes us want to know the creator behind the creation.”
The seminary’s new 12” telescope, made by Zhumell, is a Dobsonian telescope, which Father Rooney said describes the way it is mounted.
“The type is a reflector telescope,” he explained, “meaning that the main piece in it that gathers the light is a mirror, and it is 12 inches across. That makes for a fairly large telescope as far as ordinary people have. It gathers more light so the things we can see are brighter and more clear.”
He estimates the valuable gift could be worth $1,000.
The Branched Oak Observatory was started just a few years ago, Father Rooney said, “to make a place people can go and observe the stars.”