Rain Does Not Dampen Spirits at Benedictine's Eclipse Event

Rain Does Not Dampen Spirits at Benedictine's Eclipse Event

Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The overcast skies above Atchison cleared just enough on Monday for the multitude gathered at Benedictine College to get a look at what they had come for…the total solar eclipse. Although cloud cover and rain presented challenges to eclipse viewers throughout the morning, they got a break as the scoreboard clock in Benedictine’s Wilcox Stadium wound down to zero and darkness descended on the campus. 

“The crowd did the final countdown and everything went dark,” said Steve Johnson, director of marketing and communications for Benedictine College. “And then the clouds broke up and we saw totality...briefly. The crowd roared at the first glimpse, and then everyone settled in and watched in wonder as we caught repeated glimpses of the phenomenon through the clouds.”

More than 5,000 people came to the Benedictine College campus to be part of the eclipse viewing. Students, faculty and staff of the college, plus thousands of outside visitors, had the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities. Benedictine’s own Dr. Ryan Maderak, head of the college’s Astronomy program, spoke to the crowd and explained some of the science of the eclipse. Two Vatican astronomers, Fr. Christopher J. Corbally S.J., President of the National Committee for Astronomy for the Vatican City State, and Fr. Paul Gabor, S.J., Vice Director for the Vatican Observatory Research Group, gave presentations on campus.

“I am so grateful for the enthusiasm of the crowd," Maderak said. "When I began planning this over a year ago, my greatest hope was simply that our guests would have a memorable experience. And even with the rain, I know that everyone went home very happy. I think the experience of watching the final minutes before totality through the clouds was a totally unique experience that few other places got to have. I’m very proud of what we achieved. So now I’m going to work towards making our new observatory a great resource for the community, so we can continue to offer great astronomy experiences."

Attendees also listened to the faculty band, Lucid Intervals, as they performed a selection of 70s tunes on the football field. Kids played balloon toss, Ultimate Frisbee, and other games as they waited for the eclipse. Finally, the Benedictine College Music Department wrapped up the day with a Celestial Concert in the Abbey Church that evening.

Benedictine also used the eclipse as the theme for freshman orientation and all the incoming freshmen were in the stadium leading up to and through totality.

“We welcomed our freshmen with a memorable event,” said Nick Bock, a Benedictine junior from Eudora, Kan., who was one of the orientation leaders. “It was a great day and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone.”

Frank Paolucci, a Benedictine junior from Denver, agreed that they had all experienced something special. 

“Just to experience the darkness is something I’ll always remember,” he said. “And we were lucky enough to get a few breaks in the clouds to see the partial eclipse and totality. The clouds even worked like a solar filter, so we could see it very easily. I think the anticipation and having to wait for each small break in the cloud cover made it even more thrilling for everyone.”

Benedictine College first offered science majors in 1916 and had been celebrating the Century of Science throughout the 2016-2017 school year. The year included the construction of an observatory on a hill west of campus, as well as the complete renovation and expansion of Westerman Hall, the science and engineering building.

“It is appropriate that we would have the celestial event of a lifetime here as we conclude our Century of Science,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis as he addressed the crowd in the stadium. “The completion of the observatory and the work on Westerman Hall are not only a part of the Century of Science, but also demonstrate our commitment to STEM education. This is the largest capital project in the school’s history and when it is complete, Benedictine College will have the finest science and engineering facility of any small college in America.”

The science mission at Benedictine College states that the institution seeks to be the Catholic, liberal arts college that educates aspiring engineers, doctors, scientists and health care professionals for the 21st century.

“We believe faith, morality and ethics are just as important in the sciences as in every other part of our lives,” Minnis said. “That is why it is so important to train future doctors, engineers and scientists at a place like Benedictine College that understands the essential role of faith, morality and ethics in the sciences.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.