Fairfield Professor Meets Pope Before the Rest
While everyone in America is clambering for a chance to see Pope Francis during his historic trip to the United States this week, Brother Jonathan Stott, SJ, PhD and associate professor of physics, met him in person just one week prior.
“It was exciting,” Br. Stott said. “What you see is who he really is. He’s not a politician so there’s no face being put on.”
Br. Stott traveled to Vatican City on September 18 for the 80th Anniversary of the relocation of the Vatican Observatory to Castel Gandolfo. It was also the inauguration of the new Director of the Observatory, Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ and the departure of its past Director, Rev. Jose Funes S.J.
The Vatican Observatory is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See. Prior to joining Fairfield’s Physics Department two years ago, Br. Stott spent two years working there doing observational astronomy and studying stellar evolution in open stellar clusters. As a former staff member, he was invited to present at the 80th anniversary.
Br. Stott presented on the formation of stars and star clusters. “There are hundreds of clusters across the sky. It’s easy to find them. What’s not easy to find is which stars are members of a cluster and which stars are just seen nearby as a coincidence.” Br. Stott discussed better techniques on how to determine which stars are parts of a cluster.
Other presentations during the celebration included discussions on galaxies, cosmology and string theory as well as discussions on the history of the Vatican Observatory and the theology of faith and science.
“Faith and science…that’s sort of a natural fit for Jesuits,” Br. Stott joked. “We do get a lot of strange looks,” he said on being both a Brother and scientist. But, the Vatican has a long history of association with scientific inquiry. “In the Observatory’s founding documents it says that there is no fundamental conflict with being a Catholic and being a scientist. We Jesuits have been doing this for the last 150 years,” he said.
Pope Francis himself received the Argentinian equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry when he was in school.
Although the trip was a whirlwind, Br. Stott, who teaches general physics, astronomy and a core course on the physics of music and sound, said it was worth it. “I’ve been to a general audience before, but I’ve never been in the same room with this Pope or any Pope,” he said.
Top left: Exterior of the Vatican Observatory. Bottom right: Interior of the Vatican Observatory.