Science in the Bluegrass —
Astronomy for ministry and education

Photos Special to The Record by Holly McGuire

Kentuckians “invaded” the Vatican’s astronomical observatory this winter.

Chris Graney

The Vatican Observatory has two sites: near Rome, and in Arizona (where the skies are darker and clearer than Rome). In January, the VO held its Astronomy for Catholics in Ministry and Education workshop in Arizona. Among those there, talking religion and science and stomping around mountaintop telescopes, were two Kentuckians: me and Holly McGuire of Trinity High School.

Coincidentally, we both grew up in Owensboro, Ky., and graduated from Owensboro Catholic High School five years apart. I am a lifelong “science nerd” at the ACME workshop because I am on the staff of the VO.

The journey of Ms. McGuire (as her students call her) to ACME, where she ended up querying astronomers at the University of Arizona about their adaptive-optics machines, was very different.

She kindly agreed to write an essay about that journey for the VO (www.vaticanobservatory.org). Following is an abridged version of her essay:

Holly McGuire

The Catholic Church proclaims the Christian journey begins at the waters of Baptism, is strengthened by the grace of Confirmation and is renewed by the Eucharist. But the means of each Christian’s journey differ.

My maternal grandfather, Howard Baum, was a machinist for GE. I was often found with my grandpa in his garage machine shop. GE subcontracted him to make satellite parts, and I helped him do this. He also supported my artistic talents by sending me to art lessons with a local artist.

In college, I majored in fine arts with a minor in business administration. I married Sean McGuire. I had three sons, Lance, Alec and Luke. I worked for an east coast signage corporation, occasionally showing my artwork in galleries.

Returning to Kentucky, I helped with the art and environment committee at Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., including a “Morning Star” glass mosaic project that provides the background for the Easter Candle. The opportunity to create liturgical art allowed me to pray and work.

I followed the Christian example of my grandparents, so I was drawn into the beauty of liturgical life. I started teaching at Trinity and studying theology, receiving my master’s in theological studies from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2016.

In teaching, I would stumble over my students’ supposed conflict between science and religion. Even a colleague would say that faith and reason opposed one another. Eventually, I found the Science and Theology Seminar at Notre Dame, and I started to talk about the Big Bang, Galileo and evolution. Through all of this, I continued to have more questions than answers. I looked up the VO, and found the ACME workshop.

The workshop gave me the experience of doing science instead of simply talking about it. Over the course of four days, participants enjoyed presentations on the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, asteroids, meteorites, Johannes Kepler and astrophotography.

We traveled to Steward Observatory, where researchers showed us how they removed “noise” with code they wrote. The Caris Mirror Lab displayed the manufacturing of seven 8.4-meter mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be the largest in the world. We drove through the desert, pine forest and snow to tour different observatories.

Each evening we celebrated Mass. After dusk we looked through telescopes and learned astrophotography, taking amazing pictures of the night sky. The clear night sky displayed a glimpse of the Creator.

It was truly a beautiful moment in my Christian journey. The dialogue between science and theology is essential, but it is the ability to “do” science, not just talk about it, that will keep me intrigued in the journey. — Holly McGuire

Chris Graney, a parishioner at St. Louis Bertrand Church, is on the staff of the Vatican Observatory, www.vaticanobservatory.org.

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