$1.5 million grant boosts study of science, faith in seminaries

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of NASA

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — A wave of courses connecting branches of science with Catholic teaching
is emerging in seminaries across the country.

goal is to raise “the scientific literacy of clergy,” said Doris Donnelly, retired
professor of religion at John
Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, who is administering a three-year, $1.5 million grant funding the Science and Faith in Seminary Formation program for the school.

courses are not just limited to clergy, but also have seminarians, lay
ministers and anyone interested in the intersection of Catholicism and the
sciences in mind, Donnelly told Catholic News Service.

In all,
staff at 15 seminaries received grants of $10,000 each in the program’s first
year. Faculty and administrative staff are introducing courses that address
topics as diverse as human genetics and biotechnology, Christian anthropology,
Darwin’s theory of evolution, marriage and human sexuality, and brain science
as it relates to Catholic ritual and mysticism. Except in one case, the courses
will roll out in the 2016-2017 academic year.

For some
instructors, the emphasis on science and religion is a key component of the new
evangelization. Others see science education as crucial in a world where
science is usually portrayed as contradicting faith.

importantly, however, instructors said, the courses can help students find new
ways of understanding God and share that understanding with people in the pews trying
to make sense of the information they are bombarded with daily.

want to be able to integrate science and religion so people in the pews don’t
have to check their critical mind at the church door,” said Dominican Sister Linda Gibler, associate
academic dean at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, a grant

Edward Kaczuk, professor of liturgical-sacramental
theology at St. Mary Seminary
& Graduate School of Theology in the Diocese of Cleveland, sees a
close intersection between science and religion.

theology and science are in search of the truth and in that sense both can
inform each other. Scientists and theologians are seekers and there are things
we can offer each other in both disciplines,” said Kaczuk, who has
developed a course with Father
Michael G. Woost, another liturgical-sacramental theology faculty
member, with the help of a grant.

The intersection
of faith and science enticed Donnelly to pursue the grant and distribute funds
to encourage science education at seminaries nationwide. The funding allows
faculty to arrange for guest speakers to appear in classes and present public
lectures as well.

legacy of the Catholic Church is a legacy of appreciating the advances of
science and the relationship between scientists and theologians in pursing the
truth,” Donnelly said. “There is one truth, two different ways to get
at the truth.

legacy was sort of fractured, or as some people say, divorced, at the time of
the Enlightenment (in the 17th and 18th centuries) when science was ranked as
superior. However, with our recent popes and recent church documents …
there’s been a resuscitation of this,” she said.

At the
Oblate school, Sister Linda will teach “Catholicism in an Evolving
World” with R. Scott
Woodward, vice president for academic affairs. The course will examine
Catholic theology and spirituality, which emerged long before recent understanding
of cosmology or the idea of evolution developed, and the change in thinking required
in moving from a static world to one that is continuously emerging.

Bible, she explained, tells of Adam being made from the dust of Earth. Astronomical
discoveries indicate that Earth is made of material blown off of novae, stars
exploding at the end of their life cycle, which makes humans made of “the
stuff of stars,” Sister Linda said.

Such an
understanding can help people respect God’s creation as they begin to identify and
connect the suffering of Earth, personal suffering and the suffering Jesus, she

While most
of the courses will begin this fall, Father Joseph R. Laracy at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall
University in South Orange, New Jersey, is nearing the completion of his
course, “Creation and Science.” He will offer it again this fall.

The systematic
theology course was developed to deepen students’ relationship between Catholic
theology in creation and contemporary empirical science, explained the priest, who
holds a master’s degree in engineering systems from the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and once worked at Ball Aerospace & Technologies on NASA’s Deep Impact mission to a comet.

important for the new evangelization. A lot of people, particularly in the U.S.
and Europe, are presented at a very young age with the false conflict that
Christian faith and modern science are incompatible. Whether it’s future
priests (or) lay ministers in church, we need to equip people to confront that
lie,” Father Laracy said.

course developed by Dominican
Father Christopher J. Renz, academic dean at the Dominican School of School of
Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, is designed to help
seminarians make connections between Catholic worship and contemporary science.
His course can be traced to his natural inquisitiveness.

spent 10 years reflecting on Catholic worship as a priest. As a scientist I’ve
always been interested in why. I always like to say when I got a toy as a child
the way to play with it was to take it apart and figure out how it worked,”
he said.

a priest, that’s what I’ve been doing from a scientific perspective. Not what
are we doing but why are we doing it,” explained Father Renz, who holds a
doctorate in microbiology-immunology from Northwestern University.

at Cleveland’s two seminaries, St. Mary, which is the graduate school, and Borromeo
Seminary, the undergraduate school, each received a grant.

Beth Rath, assistant professor of
philosophy at Borromeo, told CNS she hopes to “relieve the false
dilemmas” between science and religion in her course.

new evangelization is for priests and for laypeople involved in the parishes
to become scientifically literate so they can reach out to those people in the
pews,” she said.

plans to address topics related to neuroscience and biology as well as issues
that might arise in the news.

and Father Woost, are preparing to explore the emerging field of neurotheology — also known
as spiritual neuroscience — and how the brain may be hardwired for
spirituality in their course. Father Woost, who has led retreats on the
Christian mystical tradition and researched the topic, said the course should
give students insight into how people experience religion and grace.

number of people are studying this who are supportive that God and human beings
interact and the brain is the primary locus for this interaction,” Father
Woost explained.

Father Mark A. Latcovich, president-rector
of the Cleveland seminaries, said the courses will help present the
Gospel to a world that “values science more than anything else.”

everything being said today from the church’s perspective about the new evangelization
or even Pope Francis in the “Joy of the Gospel,” we really have to
learn to talk with the culture and embrace it and be able to transform it,”
he told CNS.

said last year’s request for proposals drew interest from 41 seminaries. A
second round of funding, for courses during the 2017-2018 academic year, was
announced in March. Donnelly said the program plans to fund another 15 seminary
courses. Some funding is available for courses that will be taught again.

are due May 3. From those submitted, a committee will invite finalists to
submit full proposals by Aug. 22. Awards will be announced Sept. 20.

component of the grant provides seeks to encourage writing on science and
faith. In the first year, four seminarians and three seminary faculty received cash
awards for their writing.

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Note: Information on the grant program is available at https://sites.jcu.edu/semscience.

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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