Asking the big questions, instilling a sense of wonder

Youths visit the St. Ambrose University observatory as part of a youth group meeting near Dixon recently. Father Andrew Rauenbuehler, parochial vicar for Our Lady of Victory Parish and chaplain for Assumption High School, both in Davenport, spoke about science and faith prior to the visit.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

While teaching at Assumption High School in Davenport, Father Andrew Rauenbuehler explained that the relationship between faith and science work together, not apart. “I think instilling a sense of wonder is a great first step in leading someone to faith,” said the priest, who also serves as parochial vicar for Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. “It causes us to ask the big questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why am I here?”

Questions like these led to a road trip May 1 to St. Ambrose University’s Menke Observatory near Dixon. The participants included Father Rauen­buehler, 45 students from Assumption and Our Lady of Victory youth ministry, and Assumption teachers and faculty.

The evening began at Our Lady of Victory with dinner and a presentation there by Father Rauenbuehler. He told the group about the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mt. Graham in Arizona.  Priests staff the observatory there. Father Rauenbuehler said he asked the group: “Why might priests, and therefore Christians in general, have an interest in studying astronomy?”  The group then viewed some of the universe’s stars, “comparing them to the size of the earth to try and contextualize the size and scope of the universe.” That led to contemplating “how it might impact our understanding of God or what can we learn about the Creator by looking up at what he has created.”


Robert Mitchell, a St. Ambrose professor of astronomy and physics, led a tour of the observatory while Quad City Astronomy Club members helped attendees with the telescopes and answered questions.

Our Lady of Victory Youth Minister Abbey Heinrichs and Father Rauenbuehler led small groups at the end of the evening in lectio divina, reflecting on Scripture passages that speak of the night sky. “We had some group discussion questions to connect the sky we looked at with our faith,” the priest said.

The clear, dark night made for optimal viewing. “This was rescheduled from a cloudy night before. All week it looked like the chances of rain and clouds would ruin our chances of seeing anything, but we lucked out. Our prayers were answered.”

Ben Leinart, an Assump­tion sophomore and member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, said, “I thought it was crazy to learn how small we are compared to the universe. It’s amazing God created every single detail of it.” Assumption sophomore Jack DiIulio of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, said, “I learned how complex and huge space really is and it is proof to me that God exists.”

Father Rauenbuehler said of his first visit to the observatory, “I was very happy to be there as Msgr. Menke, who helped found it and for whom it is named, is a relative of mine.”

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