When it comes to the question of including science in seminary studies, scientist-seminarians need no convincing of its importance. Entering seminary only after completing degrees in the sciences, these seminarians understand better than most how important the sciences can be to priestly formation.
BR. MATTHEW GUMMESS, O. CARM.
B.A. in Physics and Philosophy, Yale University M.A. in Systematic Theology/minor in Biblical Studies, Catholic Theological Union; in formation for the Carmelites
“The beauty of the equations, the perfection of nature’s laws — I could believe in a God behind and through them. They spoke to me of divinity. … Only the scientifically literate will be able to attract and welcome those who do not want to — who cannot — check their minds at the doors of the Church.”
Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry/ Nanoscience, University of Pittsburgh; Seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh
“If ordained a priest, I would use my scientific background to evangelize the faithful in the pews about the differences between faith and science [and] … the need for scientific research given that this inquiry is governed by a moral compass.”
Ph.D. in Quantum Information Theory, University of California at Santa Barbara; Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles
“Some philosophers have faulty notions such as that scientists are ‘positivists,’ rejecting anything that cannot be measured, and that the use of data is theory laden. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
PAOLO PUCCINI, C.S.P.
B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin; in formation for the Paulist Fathers
“To advance the Church’s mission of spreading justice, we need priests who understand science and can teach others to evaluate the consequences of technologies we take for granted … [and] make the necessary sacrifices to bring about a more just and sustainable world.”
KEVIN EMBACH, S.J.
B.S., Pre-med major, University of Notre Dame; M.P.H. in Epidemiology, University of Michigan; M.D., University of Virginia School of Medicine; in formation for the Jesuits
“God communicates to us through the physical universe,” says Dr. Kevin Embach. “To be well-versed in science, whether that’s where your talents lie or not, is a way to understand God as a priest and helps others to find God. To help find God in science, in philosophy, in the traditions of the Church, in scripture, in theology — the more you study science the more you realize there’s something behind all of this.”
Embach did not always think seminary was in the plan for him. From childhood, his plans were to become a doctor. It was only many years later, after receiving a Master’s in Public Health and then completing medical school, that Embach answered the call to religious life. “I loved practicing medicine and teaching medicine — for 18 years I practiced in a teaching hospital and loved that. I was also being drawn to the priesthood — they were parallel vocations.”
His Jesuit brothers have been supportive of his pursuit of these “parallel vocations.” “There’s nothing in science that is incompatible with our Catholic faith,” he points out. “God is always right there behind everything. He works through science.”
“When you look at the human body, the ability to be a rational being, the blood clotting system, the immune system, the gastrointestinal system, the reproductive systems, the great vast order that exists in one human body, it’s such a beautiful creation. For this to exist so perfectly without a God does not seem plausible to me.”
Ultimately, says Embach, doctors know better than anyone how important science is to their work, but they also recognize its limits. “When we take care of patients, the big-ticket items, life and death, are very much out of our control. We do what we can, we’re up to date on our medical skills, and then when a patient comes in we do everything we can … but there still comes a point when you do everything for a patient, and you can’t control what happens next. You have to step back and see what God has in store.”
For Embach, the most important part of being a Jesuit physician is the ability to model the compassion Jesus shows in the Gospels when he heals the sick and the marginalized. “All the healing arts, whether medicine, or nursing, or behavioral sciences, or physical therapy; all of these are close to the heart of Christ.”