Monday, November 20, 2006

Jesuit seismologists in the Bronx.

Today's New York Times has a neat article on Fordham's 96-year-old Seismic Station, an earthquake-tracking facility long run under Jesuit auspices:
Last month, early on a Sunday morning, an earthquake struck the Hawaiian Islands, damaging schools, roads and businesses. It shook people awake, caused widespread power failures and jolted a machine about 5,000 miles away in the Bronx.

There, in an underground vault at Fordham University, a small steel cylinder picked up a tremor. This little device and generations of its predecessors have been recording the rumblings of the earth for nearly 100 years at the Jesuit university. Since 1910, when a chemistry instructor, the Rev. Edward P. Tivnan, installed a seismograph in the basement of the administration building, Fordham has been the site of the oldest seismic station in New York City.

It is an unlikely place to measure the earth's vibrations: inside a musty room 28 feet below the comings and goings of a borough of 1.3 million known for many things, but not tectonic activity. Yet over the years the university's William Spain Seismic Observatory has become a respected if little-known registrar of the world's natural and unnatural trembling, including earthquakes, China's first atomic explosion in 1964 and the more local seismic occurrences, Grand Central-bound trains.
After Father Tivnan, the Seismic Station came under the direction of another Jesuit, Father Joe Lynch, who seems to have been a remarkable figure. As the Times reports:
For more than 60 years, the observatory's keeper was the Rev. J. Joseph Lynch, an earthquake expert whom students, city officials and reporters frequently consulted for seismic instruction and information. "Earthquakes are like snakes," he told a reporter for the New York Times in 1952. "They avoid people more than is generally realized."

In 1960, a typical year, Father Lynch recorded about 250 large earthquakes. . . .

Jesuits, known for centuries for their interest in the natural sciences, were instrumental in the development of seismology, and Father Lynch was one in a long line of Jesuit seismologists whose faith in God infused his work. In the early 1950s, he conducted seismic tests in Rome to help the Vatican search for the tomb of St. Peter.
Though I'm not a scientist, I've always been inspired by the Jesuit Order's dedication to scientific research. I'm far from alone in this respect; I know many other non-scientist Jesuits who take great pride in the scientific work of the Society. I know at least one Jesuit who credits his vocation to the Society's ministry in this area. As a high school senior, he happened upon a Jesuit vocation advertisement with a photograph of a priest looking through a telescope. Though he had no scientific aspirations (he now teaches German) this future Jesuit knew that he had found his vocation. If these men can find God in scientific investigation, he thought, then I'd like to join them. I had a somewhat similar experience in my own discernment, as I shared in this September post. Reading about Jesuit seismologists in today's newspaper, I found another opportunity to give thanks for the gift of finding God in all things. AMDG.


At 11/24/2006 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, that's interesting Joe. I like what you say about "finding God in all things" too.


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