September 1, 2017

School students see wonders of nature, God during eclipse trips

With nightlike darkness all around, a statue of Mary on the grounds of the Auburn, Ky., headquarters of the Fathers of Mercy religious order, stands on Aug. 21 beneath a total solar eclipse with the sun’s corona shining around the edge of the moon that passed on the afternoon of that day between the sun and the Earth. Students from Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Indianapolis traveled to Auburn to view the eclipse. (Submitted photo)

With nightlike darkness all around, a statue of Mary on the grounds of the Auburn, Ky., headquarters of the Fathers of Mercy religious order, stands on Aug. 21 beneath a total solar eclipse with the sun’s corona shining around the edge of the moon that passed on the afternoon of that day between the sun and the Earth. Students from Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Indianapolis traveled to Auburn to view the eclipse. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Millions of people from around the world had the experience of a lifetime when they gathered on Aug. 21 in a 70-mile wide band that stretched across the country from coast to coast to witness what many dubbed, “The Great American Eclipse of 2017.”

People in that band saw, hopefully with proper eye protection, the moon pass between the Earth and sun, briefly making the early mid-afternoon seem like night.

Among those who experienced what has been called eclipse “totality” were Catholic school students from across central and southern Indiana who traveled to southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee for the event.

Other students across the archdiocese stayed at school and witnessed a near total eclipse.

In both cases, while the wonders of the wider universe drew them together, the students and their teachers and chaperones discovered that the eclipse had meaning on a social and spiritual level, too.

Nearly 40 students of Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville rode on a bus to Triple Creek Park in Gallatin, Tenn., for the eclipse. They were joined there by viewers from states across the U.S. and more than 50 countries.

“Honestly, it exceeded my expectations,” said Providence junior Adriel Nacpil. “Everyone was just so excited there. It was a good environment.”

That impression was shared by Isaac Richert, a junior at Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Indianapolis, who viewed the eclipse with his fellow students at the headquarters of the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order headquartered in Auburn, Ky.

“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Isaac. “I honestly thought that the moon was just going to cover the sun and it was going to be black, like a normal night. But the sun radiated around the moon in such a fashion that it kind of looked like silk. I thought that was pretty incredible.”

Like Adriel, Anne-Marie Frisy, also a junior at Lumen Christi, appreciated viewing the stellar event with other people.

“Totality was only about two minutes,” said Anne-Marie. “So, it is good to have other people around. Otherwise, there is not much of an event to it. If you’d just go by yourself, you’d drive there for hours, sit around for about an hour, watch two minutes of something interesting and then drive back.”

Because of the social nature of the eclipse, with people from around the world wanting to view it, Providence science teacher Laura Swessel had to start making arrangements for her school’s field trip a year ago.

“To me, this was on my bucket list,” she said. “I had seen a partial eclipse in 1994. It was definitely a great experience for me personally. But I enjoyed it so much more because everybody was talking about it. Everyone there was there for the same purpose.”

The students from Providence and Lumen Christi stood in awe with the millions of others who viewed the eclipse in the wonders of creation before them.

But they also saw the event through the eyes of faith.

“It was definitely a marvel of creation as well as science,” said Lumen Christi junior Nathan Hatley. “Seeing it through a Catholic perspective just shows the wonder and beauty of the cosmos, and the way it’s all very well put together through God’s infinite wisdom.”

“There is a lot of unique stuff that God has given us,” said Adriel. “Even like a rainbow—every time you see one, it’s so beautiful that you thank God for creation. This is one of those times that you can be thankful to see something so special, so unique. It was really awesome.”

The experience was similar for students who stayed at their schools in the archdiocese and experienced a partial eclipse.

In Clarksville, 96 percent of the sun was covered by the moon and made the early afternoon appear dim to Providence junior Madison Kruer.

Although some of her fellow Providence students were disappointed by how much light still shone around them, Madison took a different perspective, seeing how much God can do with so little.

“That blew my mind,” said Madison. “If God isn’t real, how would that happen? We see God in so many small things. He does so much for us.”

Jose Ocampo, a parent of a Lumen Christi student and a former teacher there, went on the eclipse trip and thinks that this message resonated with the students.

“It was a moment to show them the greatness of God,” he said. “It is difficult to describe. It’s kind of out of this world. It shows how powerful God is. There is a powerful force that is in total control so that this could happen.”

When Swissel teaches her science classes, she regularly encourages her students to bring their faith to their studies, something she thinks happened during this field trip.

“The whole purpose of a scientist is to learn more about the world that God has provided, to ask questions and understand things better,” she said. “God created this wonderful world, and he wants us to know about it. It’s not like he hides it under a blanket.” †

 

Related reflection: The surprise of impossible beauty

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