St. Scholastica students Skype with Vatican official

Conducting research with about a dozen Jesuits and other religious at the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) in Arizona, Jesuit Brother Robert Macke was quick to answer philosophical and some fun questions about the compatibility of faith and science recently posed by St. Scholastica (SSA) students sitting in their Covington gym.

And Brother Macke did it all without ever leaving Arizona – through the scientific miracle of Skype.

“Sometimes it is difficult for students to put together science and reason and how this gels with our Catholic faith,” said teacher Colin MacIver, department head of SSA’s theology department. “What better way than to have a Jesuit brother with a Ph.D. talk to students?”

Students from both philosophy and theology classes at SSA, including the “Big History” class that teaches how history, science and theology intersect, participated.

Vatican supports science

Brother Macke first showed a brief film on the history of the Vatican Observatory,  celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as a sign to the world “so that everyone might see clearly that the church and her pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they enhance it, encourage it and promote it with the fullest possible devotion.”

In 1993, the observatory telescope moved from the papal summer residence at Castel  Gandolfo – due to the telescope receiving too much light at night from nearby Rome – to its current location in southeastern Arizona on top of Mount Graham.

The scientists and astronomers often publish their findings in scientific magazines.

The students stood (or crouched down) with teacher Bridgette O’Connor to reach the Skype camera on the computer to ask questions.

One student asked how humans got to earth. Brother Macke said evolution “is the best evidence we have” on how humans evolved but it’s “the spirit that makes us human and helps us in our relationship with God.”

Another question about aliens elicited the answer that the church has no position on alien life.

What about life on other planets? Brother Macke thinks there is a good chance life exists and will be found in the students’ lifetime.

Another student posed a question about the location of heaven. Brother Macke  said, “Heaven is part of God’s realm outside of space and time.”

When asked about the parallel universes, Brother Macke said while he can’t see parallel universes – he’s  limited in observing our own universe – he said the laws of physics are consistent, and our universe is not unique. He thinks other universes exist.

He was posed the question on how to connect faith and science and answered that we should do everything as an act of worship to God who created the universe. “Creation is not (just) the physical stuff around us but the relationship with God.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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