Not total, but still totally cool: Eclipse brings science, spirituality in focus

April 23, 2024

The moon begins to eclipse the sun as seen from Huntsville April 8, which saw 97% totality. At right: St. Cecilia Catholic School students cheered in amazement viewing the solar eclipse April 8. They wore  eclipse glasses that they then fashioned with decorated paper plates for added eye protection as staff supervised between their own glances upward to the heavens. (Photos by Michelle Eisterhold/for the Herald; St. Cecilia Catholic School)

HOUSTON (OSV News) — Though the Archdiocese did not fall in the path of totality of what was dubbed “the Great American Eclipse” on April 8, God seemed to part the cloudy skies in time for many Catholics in the Archdiocese to witness the partial phenomenon and students to conduct science experiments, Archdiocesan school officials said.

From Huntsville to Galveston and everywhere in between, hundreds of thousands donned eclipse glasses and stared at the (cloudy) heavens, hoping to see the deep partial eclipse, when the moon covered more than 90% of the sun.

Perhaps parishioners and staff at Christ Our Light Church in Navasota and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Huntsville were among the closest to seeing the total eclipse.

Several Catholic schools also held experiments, including St. Cecilia School in west Houston which integrated several activities. Its 616 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students were among the millions of Texans lucky enough to be in the slim corridor stretching from Texas to Maine and see the near-total eclipse.

John Aylor, assistant principal, told his students, “This is your opportunity to see God’s creation in action.”

“At first, we couldn’t see the sun at all until the eclipse actually started, and the clouds began to part. For about 30 to 45 minutes, we saw glimpses of the different stages, seeing it appear and disappear again,” Aylor said. “The students outdoors started cheering whenever the sun and moon peeked out.”

Mary Margaret Leavitt, St. Cecilia’s STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) Integration Teacher, assembled a collection of different activities recommended by NASA and other institutions, providing teachers with a set of resources.

The elementary grades learned about physical science to understand the process of what would be happening, while more advanced grades studied the physics of the phenomenon through shadow and light waves.

“This is a chance for them to see what sort of design, what sort of beauty, is within the world — and just to help incorporate a better understanding of the science behind it all,” Aylor said. “And then, just the historical perspective of it: ‘I was there.’ We took time to learn; we took time to think — and stop and wonder.”

“Textbooks only take you so far. That’s why it’s so important to study, learn and conduct hands-on experiments,” he said.

At St. Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, the science teachers also explained the eclipse beforehand and how it worked in class.

But once it began occurring, the group of St. Theresa students gathered in communion outdoors.

St. Theresa English teacher Samuel Klumpenhouwer, Ph.D., said, “During the eclipse itself, though, we just watched and sang the Salve Regina in honor of “the woman clothed with the sun.” (Rev. 12)

In other experiments conducted along the line of totality from Mexico, through the middle of the U.S. and up into Canada, professional physicists and student researchers were planning to run one of the most famous astronomical experiments in history — one that proved Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity during the 1919 solar eclipse.

“Our faith informs that science,” Aylor said.

For Father John Kartje, rector and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, who also holds a doctorate in astrophysics, the eclipse reminded the world of who put things into motion in the first place.

“As extraordinary as an eclipse is, it’s simply the natural world behaving in the way the one and only God who created it set it up to behave,” Father Kartje said. “But I think anything that can give us a little jaw-dropping awe and wonder to stop us in our tracks — to quiet and silence the din and buzz of everyday busyness — can be a great opportunity to reflect on God’s grandeur.”