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LaSallian educators gather in Cincinnati

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Nov. 25, 2010
By David Eck
CATHEDERAL DEANERY — Jesuit Father George Coyne gave the nearly 200 people at the Huether Lasallian Conference in Cincinnati Nov. 18 an in-depth lesson on the development of the universe, but he left it to them to ponder God’s role in creation.

The Nov. 18-20 conference, held at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel, was geared toward teachers and administrators from Lasallian schools across the country and Toronto. This year’s theme focused on promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the schools. 

Father Coyne discussed the relationship of science to religious faith in his keynote address. He encouraged participants to distinguish between science and faith, but also to have conversations and dialogue about issues that arise. Science does not conflict with religion, and it can enrich a person’s faith.
He posed the question: Did creation come about by chance or necessity?
“If it was by chance, who needs God?” he asked. “If it was by necessity, who planned it?”
The 77-year-old Jesuit went on to explain that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and contains billions of stars. Images from the Hubble telescope showed stars and galaxies, Father Coyne said, adding that the photos show only a small sliver of the universe.
Science explains how life began and that it took three generations of stars to produce the energy for the earliest life forms. Science can explain many things, but one issue remains.
“Did God do it?” asked Father Coyne, who was the director of the Vatican Observatory for 28 years. “Science cannot address that question.”
As a religious believer, however, Father Coyne uses science to help reaffirm his belief. Creation, he said, makes more sense when we believe in God. He likens God to a parent caring for a child — not driving the universe, but guiding it. 
Father Coyne was the first keynote speaker at the annual conference. He holds a doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University and has worked at the University of Arizona, where he has been director of UA’s Catalina Observatory and associate director of the school’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He is director emeritus of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. He was appointed director of the Vatican Observatory by Pope John Paul I in 1978.
Melissa and Nick Livermore, a married couple who teach at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria, Minn., enjoyed Father Coyne’s passion and energy for astronomy 
“He was able to take very complex scientific theories and break them down into layman’s terms in an entertaining way,” said Melissa Livermore, a math teacher. “He’s a model of a way [science and religion] are complementary to each other.”
Livermore said the conference provides good information that teachers can take back to their classrooms. It also supports networking among Lasallian educators across the country.
Other keynote speakers were Alex Cirillo, a retired vice president from 3M Corporation, and retired astronaut Story Musgrave, who flew on six spaceflights, including the space shuttle Challenger.
There were also16 breakout sessions with additional group and panel discussions during the event. Topics included engineering curricula for high school and college students, recruitment and retention of science educators, funding for STEM programs and techniques for helping students excel in these subjects.
The conference began in 1973 when Lasallian Brother Francis Huether organized a workshop to provide a forum for educators to address educational concerns. The gathering was held in Chicago for decades, but is now moved to different cities; past conferences have been held in San Francisco, St. Louis and Cincinnati. 
The 2011 and 2012 events are planned for Washington, D.C.
Jesuit Father George Coyne
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