St. Cecilia Academy News
Three Dominican Sisters Lead the Way for Young Women in Science and Math
What do a PhD in mathematics, a PhD in chemistry, and an astrophysicist have in common? They are all Dominican Sisters who are teaching at St. Cecilia Academy this year! Sister Nicholas Marie, Sister Mary Albert, and Sister Albertine bring to St. Cecilia an inspiring enthusiasm for all things STEM. We caught up with our busy Sisters this week to hear about their science and math journeys, and their day to day experiences with teaching young women.
Sister Albertine was raised in a family of scientists. Her mother is a physician and her father is a chemical engineer. With encouragement from both of her parents, she earned a B.S. in Astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a Certificate in Science Communication from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Sister speaks enthusiastically about the study of science as a close companion in the search for God. "Creation points to the Creator," she says. "Look at the life-giving chemical structure of a water molecule, or the fine-tuned physical constants in our universe that, if even slightly varied, would not have given birth to a habitable universe." Sister points to holy role models like St. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists, as shining witnesses "that the study of science is harmonious with a living relationship with the God of the universe, who loved us and gave Himself up for us."
Sister Mary Albert also grew up in a family with science-minded parents who have pursued careers in medicine and engineering, and remembers enjoying scientific experiments from as early as the third grade. Eventually, she received a B.S. in Chemistry from Wayne State, an M.S. in Organic Chemistry (the best kind of chemistry, she says) from the University of Chicago, a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Notre Dame, as well as a Master's in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas since entering the convent. Sister speaks enthusiastically about the complementary relationship between what we know by revelation and what we know from creation. "With faith and reason, we are able to better know the mind of God. By seeking Him in his works, we learn about Him, just as we learn about the painter by gazing at his/her painting." She maintains that faith and the sciences are not at odds, and emphatically states that the burden lies with the atheist to prove that there isn't a God. She spoke of a St. Cecilia Academy motto: To give Truth is the greatest charity. Sister Mary Albert observes that the all-girl environment of St. Cecilia is naturally disposed to seeing the integration of the disciplines, rather than compartmentalizing knowledge. All things are seen in the light of Faith. "There is one conversation, one understanding," she says. "Hand in hand with revelation, the created world is another book of Truth that leads us to God."
Sister Nicholas Marie, mathematician, is a native of Poland. Sister received a B.S. in Mathematics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. and PhD in Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is presently pursuing a Master's in Theology through Catholic Distance University. Her early memories of 4th grade math classes in Poland were of straight edge and compass constructions. Sister Nicholas Marie loves proofs, and quickly sees the solutions in her head, much preferring them to adding fractions. Sister says, "We are living in the time when science provides the strongest ever arguments for God's existence and the Catholic Church is the only institution upholding the dignity and power of human reason against skepticism, relativism and nihilism!" She believes that the witness of a strong faith united to knowledge of science is the best argument for the harmony of faith and reason.
Equipping the St. Cecilia graduates with the tools to find God through this harmonious relationship between faith and reason is a primary goal for these three "Super-Sisters". They definitively debunk any presumptions that boys are better at these pursuits than are girls. Each remarks on a unique approach to math and science that they observe in their students at St. Cecilia Academy. "Women are gifted with an intuitive approach to the world around them," says Sister Albertine. "Here at St. Cecilia in an all-girls environment, the girls can often begin to predict what ought to happen in a science experiment by drawing from that intuition."
All three Sisters express gratitude for the opportunity to work with each other as consecrated religious women, and to educate young women in these fields of study from that feminine perspective.