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Vatican astronomer to speak at University of Charleston

By Candace Nelson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Science and religion will meet for a day at the University of Charleston when one Jesuit priest turned scientist turned astronomer will speak to both campuses next week as part of its Speaker Series.

President of the National Committee for Astronomy, Vatican City State, Father Christopher Corbally is speaking as part of the event "Star Wars: When Astronomy and Religion Meet," which will focus on the connections between space and religion.

"I find the two go together harmoniously in my life. There isn't a division between my work as a priest and my work as an astronomer," Corbally said. "For many people, that's a surprise. Yet you find many people -- of all types of religions throughout the world -- are also scientists. And there is no conflict between what they do when they worship the divine and when they do their science."

Corbally will speak 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 26 at Carter Hall at UC-Beckley. A short reception will follow.

He will then visit UC-Charleston for a 90-minute presentation and discussion, moderated by University of Charleston President Ed Welch, at 6:30 p.m. in Riggleman Hall's Geary Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. Guests will be invited to submit questions to be answered by Father Corbally, as well.

"I hope to have a conversation with the president -- Dr. Welch -- about science and religion and their inner relationship. Where it goes exactly will depend on my and his perspective," Corbally said. "My own is that I'm a Jesuit priest and a scientist and an astronomer."

The first Jesuit pope, Jorge Mario, or Francis, was announced last week as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, he is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years.

"It's remarkable the new Pope is a Jesuit. And both from the Americas -- certainly a sign that the church is not just Europe. It's been an important birthplace for the church; the church is worldwide. I think it's wonderful," Corbally said. "While Europe is important, while Italy is important, while Rome is important, the Catholic church is all countries, even all worlds."

Corbally's invitation to the University of Charleston is part of the UC Speaker Series, which is in its 11th year and is sponsored by the Dow Chemical Foundation. Each year, the Speaker Series brings speakers and events to town. Past speakers have included astronaut Sally Ride, crusader Erin Brokovich, comedian Dave Barry, White House chef Walter Scheib and Time Magazine editor Nancy Gibbs.

"Father Corbally fits perfectly in the UC Speaker Series as we strive to bring timely, thought-provoking guests to the Kanawha Valley every year," said Scott Castleman, director of communications for the University of Charleston.

Corbally was born near London and entered the Society of Jesus in 1963. He has degrees in philosophy, physics, astronomy and theology. After ordination, he earned a Ph.D. in astronomy. Since then, Corbally has been a research astronomer of the Vatican Observatory and was its vice director for the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson until last year.

Father Corbally is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, the American Astronomical Society, the President of the National Committee for Astronomy in the Vatican City State for the International Astronomical Union (IAU). He was the president of the IAU's Division IV (Stars), 2009-2012. He is a member of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science and was president from 1999 to 2002.

There is limited seating for the UC-Beckley event. Interested parties are asked to call 304-929-1478 to RSVP.

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at


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