Local professor receives grant for project on science and homiletics

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2020

This artist’s concept depicts select planetary discoveries made by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. A professor of Catholic Theological Union received a grant to partner scientists with homiliests to develop homilies incorporating science with the Mass readings. (CNS photo/courtesy NASA)

Capuchin Father Edward Foley is not a scientist by education or training.

On the contrary, he nearly didn’t make it through the one college-level math class he had to take.

But he is possessed of a natural curiosity about the world and a dedication to preaching in a way that is both interesting and accessible.

That’s why he spends roughly 10 hours preparing each Sunday homily he preaches, and why he subscribes to a number of e-newsletters from institutions such as the Smithsonian, which give him plenty of material to help his listeners put the Scriptures in the context of the modern world.

“You can’t just use the same homily that you used last time the readings came up in the Lectionary three years ago,” said Foley, Duns Scotus Professor Emeritus of Spirituality at Catholic Theological Union, where he taught for 36 years. “Every Sunday is a whole new world.”

Foley planned and will direct a new project at CTU, “Preaching with the Sciences: An Imaginative Approach to Roman Catholic Homiletics,” funded by a $200,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation.

The project will bring together five scientists and 10 homilists. The scientists will be available to the homilists as they generate outlines for 100 homilies keyed to different Sundays and feast days in the church calendar.

Four scientists — a pathologist, a climate scientist, a neuroscientist and an astronomer — have joined the project, as have 10 homilists. Two of the homilists are archdiocesan priests: Father Norman Moran-Rosero, pastor of St. Basil/Visitation Parish, 843 W. Garfield Blvd.; and Father Matthew O’Donnell, pastor of St. Columbanus Parish, 331 E. 71st St.

The outlines will be available for free online for homilists to use as they create their Sunday homilies, Foley said. The project runs from this October through May 2023.

The first 50 outlines are expected to be available in August 2022, with the rest available by the conclusion of the project.

The grant is an outgrowth of an earlier project funded by the Templeton Foundation that aimed to give men studying for the priesthood a solid background in science after a survey found that only about 8% of seminarians had studied science.

Part of the problem, Foley said, is that many priests simply aren’t exposed to science enough to feel confident including scientific topics in their homilies.

“There’s also a lingering effect, what we call the Galileo effect,” Foley said. “There is some suspicion about the sciences. You see it in politics today, where people say, ‘We don’t need masks. We have the Holy Spirit.’ Well, the Holy Spirit works through masks.”

“In our present cultural context where science and faith seem to be at odds in the minds of some believers, a project that brings together preaching informed by science is both crucial and potentially life-saving,” said Viatorian Father Mark R. Francis, president of CTU. “CTU is both proud and excited to be part of this project.”

Using science not only helps keep material fresh, it also can appeal to younger people, said Foley, who has preached at Sunday Masses at St. Mary, Riverside, and Old St. Patrick’s, 711 W. Monroe St.

“The largest growth in undergraduate degrees in the United States over the last 10 years has been in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math,” Foley said. “That’s where they young people are. If I want to hold their attention, this is one way to do it.”

Foley said he taught a similar class at CTU last spring, with students asked to generate similar outlines. Those could be added to the website, as can other outlines developed and submitted over the next few years.

“The goal is getting homilists to take this seriously week after week,” Foley said. “There are few groups more imaginative than scientists wondering what’s at the bottom at the ocean or how many insects are there in the world.”


  • science
  • catholic theological union

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