Eclipse illustrates God’s creation to astronomers of all ages

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. – Psalm 19:1

When darkness descended on East Tennessee in the early afternoon of Aug. 21, astronomers of all ages looked to the sky to see the alignment of the moon between the sun and earth. And for those who ventured into the path of totality, that alignment was perfect, creating a sunburst of light around the moon called a corona.

Everyone in the continental United States saw at least a partial eclipse on Aug. 21. The center line of the celestial phenomenon crossed through 12 states, beginning with Oregon and continuing through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, finishing with South Carolina. It was the first total eclipse in the United States since Feb. 26, 1979. The next one, on April 8, 2024, will cross the country from Texas to Maine. After that, U.S. eclipses will occur in 2044, 2045, and 2078.

Parts of the Diocese of Knoxville were ground zero for totality, the exact point at which the moon completely obscures the sun. Totality lasted only about 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

In Lenoir City, St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner Vicente Diaz, a retired chemist and now an amateur astronomer, set up five telescopes around his computerized backyard observatory. He invited nearly 200 friends and fellow parishioners to view the solar eclipse.

At St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Pastor Father John Orr welcomed people from around the diocese and the world who traveled to Madisonville to be in the path of totality. St. Joseph the Worker hosted a group of students from St. Mary School in Johnson City and their pastor, Father Peter Iorio, and Father Orr led a liturgical procession around the church in advance of the eclipse.

“The day was great. The morning Mass was for the eternal repose of Father Peter’s late mother at the request of a parishioner. Then people from all over, including Mexico, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Ohio, were united to behold the magnificence of God’s creation, the sun, moon, and earth in perfect alignment,” Father Orr said. “The prayer of the litanies during our procession was moving on many fronts. People shared their food (100-plus sandwiches made by parishioners, not including hot dogs, hamburgers, and cookies) and drinks while enjoying the hospitality of the open church and hall at St. Joseph the Worker. The 70 students (with their teachers and parents) from St. Mary School in Johnson City did science experiments all day.”

Father Iorio said the day was filled with excitement, learning, fun, fellowship, and mostly admiration and awe of God’s creation.

“I continue to be so impressed with our St. Mary’s School community. The teachers and the parents are so dedicated to have driven from Johnson City to Madisonville with our students so that they could see the special event in the path of totality. They had 12 stations of experiments to check data before during and after the total eclipse. I learned so much more from them than I ever would if I just looked up at the sky with my special glasses. It was an added bonus for me to be at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, where I had been pastor. I am so grateful to Father John Orr and Sue Mangiaracina, the parish secretary, for having welcomed all of us in such a big way. It’s a great little community of faith,” Father Iorio said.

“Our St. Mary’s School teachers had asked me to contact them (St. Joseph the Worker) a year ago in preparation for this event. I had no idea at the time that it would be so huge. I do not think that they did either. They (St. Joseph the Worker) hosted people from all over. We had morning Mass and also a special procession. The parish provided drinks, snacks, bathrooms, and air conditioning.

St. Mary School Principal Randi McKee said the trip to St. Joseph the Worker was a wonderful learning experience for the students, not only about science and witnessing God’s greatness, but also fellowship with other Catholics from around the diocese, the country, and the world. She said the trip was a success, even though it took them more than six hours to return home because of traffic congestion from the thousands of people who journeyed to the area to view the eclipse. Normal traveling time for the students and parents from Johnson City to Madisonville was 2.5 hours.

In Maryville, a group of young people in the Frassati Fellowship for Young Adults gathered around a swimming pool to mark the occasion with fun, fellowship, and the wearing of eclipse glasses.

Frassati member Haley Dirmeyer hosted the viewing party.

“It was wonderful being able to share such an experience with amazing friends,” said Miss Dirmeyer, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa.

“I enjoyed it. It’s something I probably only get one, two chances in my lifetime to see,” said Tim Truster, a parishioner at All Saints in Knoxville.

From their location in Maryville, the young adults could witness the totality of the eclipse and the changes in nature — the darkening of the sky, the orange glow of the horizon in every direction, the sounds of cicadas and birds.

“The beauty of the eclipse, to understand and see how the solar system works, how we are here in the vastness of it all — to me points to a higher power, that we are so small,” said Andrew Giminaro, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“Really, it was a great way to see God’s hand in creation and Him in the universe and the mark that He’s left,” he said.

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