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Vatican astronomer comes to St. Vincent College to offer message of God found in universe

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 12:12 p.m.
Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the official Vatican astronomer, poses for a portrait in St. Vincent College's planetarium located inside the Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion on the campus near Latrobe on March 11, 2013. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dupre has an accent over the e.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the official Vatican astronomer, poses for a portrait in St. Vincent College's planetarium located inside the Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion on the campus near Latrobe on March 11, 2013. EDITOR'S NOTE: Dupre has an accent over the e.

As a conclave of 115 Roman Catholic Church prelates prepared to gather at the Vatican to select a new pope, Brother Guy Consolmagno on Monday sat in the atrium of the new $39 million Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion at St. Vincent College.

As one of a dozen official Vatican astronomers, he studies the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.

The Jesuit brother gave a lecture on Monday night in conjunction with an open house for the 110,000-square-foot campus facility, which has been under renovation and construction since 2009.

Consolmagno, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University who taught at Lafayette College in Easton before taking his vows in 1991, explained that his work shows how the Catholic Church supports science and recognizes the connection between God and the heavens.

"God designed chance into the universe. God designed freedom into the universe," he said. "It's not just a wind-up toy that does the same thing over and over again. It reflects our relationship with God. ... The universe has a freedom to be in a relationship with God in the same way human beings are free to have a relationship with God."

The lecture is the last in a monthlong U.S. visit by Consolmagno, who will return to the observatory at Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Benedict XVI gave his final public address two weeks ago.

"This is a remarkable place," he said of the new science facility at the college near Unity. "I'm stunned by how beautiful it is. ... It reminds students that this kind of work isn't just industrial, but you put your heart and soul into it."

About 500 people made reservations for the lecture and 300 had made reservations for the three-hour open house, touring research and technology laboratories in the building that is a part of the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing.

Design elements created by Pittsburgh architects MacLachlan, Cornelius and Filoni Inc., are meant to invoke the Benedictine mission of hospitality throughout the pavilion, which has earned gold certification for sustainability from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The curvature of the glass facade is meant to embrace visitors like outstretched arms, college spokesman Don Orlando said.

Windows into labs with glass doors invite visitors to peek inside for a look at students' work, he said. A crucifix hangs in each laboratory, a silent testament to the college's mission that is found in the rest of the classrooms and laboratories at the Unity campus.

"It's not something we hide or are embarrassed about, it's something we want to visibly proclaim," Orlando said.

One can be found inside the Angelo J.Taiani Planetarium, named after the 1948 St. Vincent graduate and Latrobe native who worked as an aerospace engineer with NASA.

Within the silver dome prominently featured inside the pavilion, the planetarium seats up to 60 people and hosts public outreach programs about space and astronomy once per month.

Classes in astronomy, philosophy and anthropology can use the space, which was completed in fall 2010.

"We can open up the wonders of the heavens," said John Smetanka, professor of physics and vice president of academic affairs for the college. "We really wanted it to be flexible. You'll see that's a theme throughout the building."

Biweekly construction meetings with Dean Stephen Jodis, faculty members, architects, contractors and facility mangers resulted in the incorporation of writable white-board walls, glass partitioned fume hoods or hallways to contain the movement of chemicals.

With such support from the college, Jodis said he and other faculty members feel inspired to use the new facility and make progress in the sciences.

"(It's) tremendously exciting to have a facility like this to come into every day," he said.

Not far from the silver planetarium dome, 11 custom-made cow bells hang in the second-floor mezzanine.

The Swiss bells are a tribute to the buildings' namesakes, who along with friends and family gave $7.6 million for the project, and their nine daughters. Herman Dupre, a 1953 St. Vincent graduate, retired as chief executive officer of Seven Springs Mountain Resort in 1992 and has patented snow-making methods, reflected in the arms of the mobile holding the bells.

The project, which include a 100-seat lecture hall and greenhouse, will not affect tuition rates and is fully paid for, Orlando said.

"We never committed to more than we had money in hand to finance," he said.

The next opportunity for the public to view the new building will be April 24 when the college hosts its 10th annual academic conference, showcasing research and community service work as well as performances by students.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or

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