ITEST emphasizes faith-science link

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

For nurse practitioner Karen Sepe, a parishioner of St. Cletus in St. Charles, the defining moment for her career at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital occurred in continuing education: a brain and spine symposium at her alma mater, Saint Louis University.

She studied the spine first, then came the brain ...

She got to hold an actual human brain, such a delicate organ, and was overwhelmed at the beauty and complexity of God's creation.

"I still get overcome," she said recently at Ranken Jordan, where she works with traumatic brain injuries. "To look at that and see how fragile it is and how easy it is to damage. ... You can see all the nerves.

"It's just a beautiful thing."

No way such complexity could have developed by chance.

"You see the hand of God in everything," said Bill Weisrock, a microbiologist. "Everything is so complex that only God could make it. It's the only way to explain it. There's no conflict between God and science."

Sepe, Weisrock and engineer Jim Baumann recently spoke with fellow parishioners about the link between faith and science — "Scientists Speak of their Faith: A Model for Parish Discussion" — at St. Cletus Parish.

Sponsored by ITEST, the acronym for the archdiocesan Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology, the session was the fourth of six in the pilot program to address the myth that faith and science mix like oil and water. In other words, that they repel each other, diametrically and eternally opposed.

Sister Marianne Postiglione, RSM, the associate director of ITEST, calls that notion, simply, "Bull." But more than words, she's doing something about debunking this mythical conflict.

Thanks to a grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, she's taking it to the parishes, with parishioners in science, technology or health fields speaking with their cohorts in faith about the faith-science link. In addition to St. Cletus, sessions have been held at St. Anselm in Creve Coeur, St. Joseph in Imperial and Ascension in Chesterfield. Two sessions remain: at St. Peter in Kirkwood and Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Louis.

"We demonstrate that faith and science are complementary paths to Truth, with a capital T," Sister Marianne told the gathering at St. Cletus. "ITEST is where faith and science meet."

Celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year, ITEST was founded because physicist and Jesuit Father Robert Brungs and biochemist John Matschiner saw the need to keep Christian churches abreast of advances in science and technology, according to the ITEST website. They incorporated the group in 1968.

Sister Marianne, ITEST director Thomas P. Sheahen and others in ITEST are carrying on their legacy in celebrating the connection between faith and science. In fact, Father Brungs broached the idea of bringing the discussion to the parish level. The grant now makes it possible.

"He said, 'We've got to find a way to have scientists and engineers in parishes talk to (fellow) parishioners and tell them what they do,'" Sister Marianne said.

Catholics such as Sepe, Weisrock and Baumann are prime examples of faith and science complementing each other. Raised Catholic in Ohio and a nursing graduate at SLU, Sepe has long recognized the compatibility of faith and science, experiencing the healing power of prayer early in her career at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital and more recently at Ranken Jordan.

A former seminarian, Weisrock credits a priest for nurturing his interest in biology and chemistry. Baumann learned "service to God and man" at Creighton University. And as an engineer, he enjoyed a career of "making science work for the world." In other words, he worked for the betterment of man in God's beautiful creation.

Sister Marianne described Baumann, Sepe and Weisrock and other Christians in their fields as "the presence of God in using their God-given gifts. You are the sign of Christ." 

SCIENCE FOR SEMINARIES

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary recently received a grant from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to fund courses and programs exploring the connection between faith and science. Kenrick is among only seven seminaries selected nationwide for "Science for Seminaries," a project of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program, in consultation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). The project helps seminaries from Christian denominations integrate science into their core curricula.

According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, 72 percent of 18-29 year-old Catholics think science and religion are in conflict. Further, 78 percent of lapsed Catholics in that age group cite the alleged conflict of science and religion as a reason for their departures.

Kenrick-Glennon has been on the forefront of seminaries creating a deeper integration of science in the curricula, receiving two grants for the "Re-Engaging Science in Seminary Formation" project, sponsored by John Carroll University and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. In 2015, professor Ed Hogan won a grant for his course on Theology and Science. In 2016, John Finley won a grant for his course on the Science and Philosophy of Gender. In addition, Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, gave the fifth annual Glennon Lecture in 2017, focused on contemporary faith and science, and the seminary's magazine, "The Herald," was entirely devoted to faith and science in the spring edition.

The seminary tentatively plans to conclude the Science for Seminaries project in November 2019 with a daylong conference on how science enhances faith, including the first-ever "Gold Mass" in the archdiocese on or near the feast of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of science and scientists. A "Gold Mass" is among "color" Masses that celebrate various professions, such as Blue Mass for emergency responders, Red Mass for legal professionals and White Mass for medical professionals. The Gold Mass celebrates the role of science and scientists in the Catholic Church.

For information the Science for Seminaries project, visit scienceforseminaries.org. 

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