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Faith and reason celebrated at first Gold Mass for scientists

By Mark Labbe Pilot Staff
Posted: 11/25/2016

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CAMBRIDGE -- The newly formed Society of Catholic Scientists held their first ever event, a Gold Mass for scientists, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's chapel, Nov. 15.

An international group that was incorporated into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia over the summer, the Society of Catholic Scientists, "exists as a place where Catholic scientists can share their knowledge, perspectives, and intellectual and spiritual gifts with each other for their mutual enrichment, and with fellow Catholics and the wider community," according to its website.

The Gold Mass, which was co-sponsored by the society and MIT's Tech Catholic Community, drew in around 75 people, organizers said.

"We had a good turnout" said Father Dan Moloney, chaplain at MIT and University of Massachusetts Boston, noting that "a mix of students, professors, and area scientists," attended the Mass.

Like other Masses designed to honor those in a specific profession, such as the Blue Mass for emergency personnel, the White Mass for health care professionals, and the Red Mass for legal professionals, the Gold Mass is meant to honor those in the science field.

The color gold was chosen because it is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a Ph.D. in science and because the patron saint of scientists, St. Albert the Great, was an alchemist at a time when people believed it was possible to turn base metals into gold. The Mass was held on his feast day.

Father Nicanor Austriaco, a scientist himself and a member of the society's board of directors, served as the celebrant.

An associate professor of biology and professor of theology at Providence College, Father Austriaco holds a doctorate in biology from MIT and another in moral theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

He also serves as principle investigator at the Austriaco Laboratory, a laboratory at Providence College that he founded.

Father Austriaco said the society plans on having a Gold Mass at MIT every year, and is hopeful that Gold Masses will be held in other locations across the country in the coming months.

"We have been contacted by individuals who would like to organize these Masses for their local community," he said.

"We hope that these Masses will bring Catholic scientists, science educators, and students together so that we can meet each other, pray with each other, and bear witness to the harmony of faith and reason to a society that is unsure of both," Father Austriaco continued.

Karin Oberg, associate professor in the Department of Astronomy of Harvard University and also a member of the society's board of directors, said that while only board members have officially been inducted into the society at this point, there are currently about 100 people who wish to join.

She said the Gold Mass was "beautiful," and noted that Father Austriaco delivered "a really lovely" and "insightful" homily that focused on St. Albert the Great and how he was able to combine within himself a love of science and a love of God.

"One of the main motivations for me to be part of this is to set an example to the world, and especially to budding Catholic scientists, that they can and should be both a scientist and a devout Catholic, and I think that is something Father Nicanor made very clear," she said.