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College students study the stars, thanks to local Catholic parish’s hospitality
WAYNESVILLE — Eighteen astronomy students from the University of Dallas have been special guests at St. John the Evangelist Church for the past two weeks.
The students have been meeting in the parish hall in Waynesville for a two-week course entitled “Astronomy in the Smoky Mountains,” and attending daily Mass each morning with Father Richard Sutter, pastor. After an afternoon break and dinner each day, they have been going up into the mountains to peer up at the night sky for several hours.
Waynesville and the nearby Pisgah National Forest make an ideal location for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts because the area has clean air and very little light pollution. The area’s elevation ranges from 3,200 to 5,500 feet.
Under the instruction of their professor, Dr. Richard Olenick, students have been using an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope for their nighttime observations. They have been studying basic astronomy – including constellations, the life cycle of stars, the formation of planets and solar systems, and the structures of galaxies.
Students have also been enjoying the natural beauty of the western North Carolina mountains, going hiking, whitewater rafting, ziplining and more.
The University of Dallas is a private Catholic university in Irving, Texas, and the astronomy students said they have greatly enjoyed the hospitality they have received from the Waynesville parish community.
“I’d like to thank St. John the Evangelist for being such a welcoming environment to really dive into the study of the stars,” said junior Gabi Helms, adding, “It’s been awesome to have the opportunity to go into the church if we need to.”
The astronomy class ends June 5, but the connection between the Catholic college and the mountain parish may continue.
“It’s been a joy hosting the students from UD and their professor this summer,” said Father Sutter. “My hope is to arrange a college scholarship to UD for one of our teen parishioners at SJE each year through our support of their ongoing summer study program here in the Smoky Mountains. I also hope to offer a UD Campus Ministry Conference and Mission for them during their spring break next year. God willing, we will host this event at the Living Waters Catholic Reflection Center in Maggie Valley! A great relationship is building between UD and us.”
— Catholic News Herald