Father Angelo Secchi, Jesuit and Scientist

Issue 1808

23 July 2018

This year marks 200 years since the birth of the Jesuit Fr. Angelo Secchi (Reggio Emilia, June 28, 1818 Rome, February 26, 1878). He was an astronomer, geodesist and founder of spectroscopic astronomy. From the year 1849 he directed the Observatory of the Roman College, completely rebuilding it with the construction of the first astrophysical observatory in Europe: for this he is considered the founder of stellar and solar astrophysics.

On February 26, 2018, a solemn celebration in his memory was held in the church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Campo Marzio. Here we present the homily of Luis Ladaria, SJ, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who recently became a cardinal.

We commemorate this year the bicentennial of the birth of Fr. Angelo Secchi and, precisely today, February 26, we mark the 140th year from his death. He was the last in a long line of Jesuit scientists who were formed and worked at the Roman College. At the same time, he was the first representative of a new scientific tradition that is still alive today in the field of modern astrophysical research, both in Italy and worldwide. His witness as a Jesuit priest and scientist remains very significant today.

In sketching the characteristics of the personality of Fr. Angelo Secchi, I would like to cite the words that Pope Francis enunciated when speaking of him to the participants at the Symposium promoted by the Vatican Specola, September 18, 2015: “He was an important example, even today, for those religious who dedicate their lives to being right on the frontier between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science.”

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