By Jerry Duggan
As curator of the Vatican Meteorite Collection and an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in Rome, Br. Bob Macke, SJ, shows how science can be used to adore and worship God.
He cautions that his title may be a little misleading.
“I do not spend much of my time looking through a telescope – which is what most people would probably assume when they hear the word ‘astronomer,’” Br. Macke said. “I am a research scientist, which means much of my work involves analyzing meteorites in the lab.”
His work also has a more public component.
“One of the main purposes of the Vatican Observatory is to show how faith and science can work together, and I take great pride in being a rather public voice in advancing that notion,” he said.
Brother Macke regularly speaks with visitors and school groups in addition to giving presentations at other institutions and having an established presence on YouTube.
He arrived at this assignment by “following [his] passion and listening for God’s call.”
After earning a master’s degree in physics, Br. Macke began postgraduate work at Washington University in St. Louis, when he finally started to pay attention to a persistent call to pursue a religious vocation.
“I had always felt some level of a calling to a religious vocation but had been too wrapped up in my education and hadn’t paid attention to it,” he said. “It got to a point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer.”
During his formation process, he was invited to visit the Vatican Observatory by Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, of the USA East Province, who, at the time, was its curator of meteorites and today serves as its director. Years later, Br. Macke is working alongside him.
In addition to conducting research on the Vatican’s extensive meteorite collection, Br. Macke measures the physical properties of specimens sent in by outside researchers.
He also collaborates with both religious and lay partners on projects, papers and conference abstracts.
Brother Macke remains focused on the real purpose of his work.
“When I’m in the lab, I’m focused on science, but everything that I do is in a context of faith,” he explained. “The best way for me to show that the Church supports science is to produce and promote good, well-researched scientific findings.”
While the Vatican Observatory is a work of the Catholic Church, it has been staffed and run by Jesuits since 1907. Brother Macke is honored to follow in the footsteps of the Jesuits who have gone before him.
“Being able to be in Rome, representing the Society of Jesus at such an esteemed institution has been a dream of an assignment for me,” he said.
The location of the observatory presents many opportunities.
“I pronounced my final vows earlier this year and had the privilege of having Superior General (Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ), say the Mass,” he said. “In addition, being so close to the Holy Father, who, of course, happens to be the first Jesuit Pope, and being around so many dedicated religious from around the world has also been a tremendous blessing.”
The real reason he is in Rome is never far from his thoughts.
“The reason we, as a Church and Society, do this work, is to show praise and adoration toward God,” he said. “The science itself, conducted with the right mindset, is a form of worship.”