Convert and 3M research scientist Dr. Kevin Gotrik is pictured with his wife, Susan, for the baptism of their seventh child, a son, Théodon, at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Hudson. Gotrik spoke at a recent Gold Mass for scientists and engineers in St. Paul. (Submitted photo)
Catholic Herald Staff
On Nov. 15, the Feast of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of natural science, Gold Masses were held at more than a dozen sites across the United States and Canada and, later in the month, in Washington, D.C., and Poland.
These Masses are sponsored by the Society of Catholic Scientists and follow in the tradition of special Masses for those working in particular professions. The practice dates back to the 13th century, when Red Masses were offered for lawyers and lawmakers; White Masses for health care professionals and Blue Masses for those in law enforcement were introduced in the 1930s.
The first Gold Mass was celebrated in Boston on Nov. 15, 2016, sponsored by the SCS, which as an organization hopes to create spiritual fellowship among Catholic scientists, science educators and students. The society has now grown to more than 1,600 members, including members in more than 50 countries. While the majority still come from North America, Europe has begun to develop regional chapters as well as their own annual conferences.
A Wisconsin chapter is based in Madison. Their Gold Mass was held on Nov. 19 at Blessed Sacrament Church with a lecture offered by Professor Tim Carone of UW-Whitewater, who spoke on “The Human Simulacrum – The Good, Bad and Ugly of AI.”
On Nov. 15, one of these Masses was celebrated at the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul. After Mass, there was a gathering at which Dr. Kevin Gotrik, a member of St. Patrick’s Church in Hudson, spoke on “The Impact of a Catholic Life.”
The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Matt Shireman, parochial administrator for the parishes of St. Gregory in North Branch and Sacred Heart in Rush City. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2018. Fr. Shireman holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Marquette University and a Master’s of Science in Transportation from MIT. After some months working at the transit agency in Cleveland, Ohio, he left his job to follow the call he experienced over years and entered the seminary in 2011.
During his homily, Fr. Shireman commented on recent statutes released by Pope Francis for the Pontifical Academy of Theology, sharing he thought it was important for those working in the sciences. The pope asked the academy to shift their focus from strictly promoting dialogue between reason and faith to promoting transdisciplinary studies which would integrate philosophy, science and the arts, enabling, he quoted, “Theology to make use of new categories developed by other knowledge to penetrate and communicate the truths of faith and transmit the teaching of Jesus in today’s language with originality and critical awareness.”
He spoke about how St. Albert and St. Thomas Aquinas, Albert’s student, had been thinking, centuries ahead of their time, about the importance of coming to know all truth through knowing the Creator of truth itself. “St. Albert the Great incorporated a lot of different disciplines into his study – biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, metaphysics and mathematics.
“But, of course, as a priest and bishop, he was also a theologian and a would become doctor of the church … Ultimately, all truth, when it’s offered back to God leads to wisdom … wisdom with a capital W, that wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit …The understanding in learning as you do in the natural sciences is an image of the understanding that God wants to give us in the Holy Spirit … This day, we ask for an outpouring of wisdom from God to be able to work with his grace to solve those complex problems in the world, but always with that great understanding of ethics to ultimately work for the common good.”
SCS member Jamie Wheeler introduced Dr. Kevin Gotrik, a fellow colleague at 3M, who is a research scientist for the company and co-author of more than 100 patents. Wheeler shared the influence of St. Albert the Great during her own graduate studies and how important it was for her to belong to a group of dedicated Catholics in the sciences seeking to advance both in their field and faith.
Wheeler said how she knew Dr. Gotrik had converted to Catholicism in 2009 while studying for his doctorate at MIT, described him as “incredibly innovative,” someone who “always looks delighted about science” and is the proud father of seven living in Hudson, his wife Susan’s hometown.
The speaker admitted the evening’s event was his first to speak not directly related to his work as a scientist. He began presenting the Scripture story of Martha and Mary as a descriptive scene so as to visualize it with the mind’s eye.
Adding some personal biographical details, Gotrik shared that he recently learned this ability to visualize is an inherited trait from his Scandinavian family who fled from World War II to the United States. He shared that he’d grown up the oldest of his siblings in a family that lived in some extreme poverty; his father was a window washer and Protestant missionary who was a believer of Arianism, the heresy that denies the divinity of Christ.
Then presenting the talk’s title, “The Impact of a Catholic Life,” Gotrik joked that he should just offer the conclusion – as many scientists present their conclusion immediately after a paper’s title because no one actually reads the content.
His introductory conclusion was this: “Living a Catholic life leads to a lot of prayer.” Prayer that has a lot of impact although not always obvious, he could attest to having seen it strongly in his life of conversion from “ex-heretic to devout Catholic.”
“We feel prayer,” Gotrik said, “Like the wind. It’s invisible, but we see the effects.”
He then described some of the “winds of behavior in our lives,” including the increase in crime in the metro Twin Cities. He tied that crime, and the lives of those who commit it, to trauma, saying, “The more likely you are to have experienced trauma – that ramps up the likelihood that you’ll act out,” and connected trauma with one of its common causes in young people, divorce and absent fathers (both physical and emotional absence).
“When you profile people going into prison – absent fathers account for 90 percent,” Gotrik said, including that homelessness shares similar statistics. “That’s a strong connection. We’re having to put band-aids on something so closely connected to the reality of a child growing up with or without a father.”
He asked for a guess on how much that “band-aid” costs the U.S. government every day and confirmed that, between prisons and law enforcement, the daily price tag is near one billion dollars.
Gotrik raised the question, “What is a connection with something simple that could help with this?”
“Couples that pray together daily,” he responded, “have less than a one-percent divorce rate. That’s a powerful number – one percent,” in light of the 90 percent he cited just moments before. He explained the theory that communal prayer offers stress relief, a sense of unity, strong values, enhances intimacy and helps with conflict resolution. He added, “If you take one thing way from this talk – let it be that incorporating daily prayer into your life can have an impact.”
The presented recalled the Image of Martha and Mary he began with noting that in in the Gospel of Luke it is at the end of Chapter 10. Chapter 11 begins with the disciples asking him to teach them how to pray. Gotrik mused about how interesting it is to see this other connection and that brought it full circle to his personal experience again; that of witnessing the family prayer of his wife’s family while they were still dating.
“Fast forward this crucible prayer – it has been a flourishing of life,” he said and acknowledged his father-in-law, who was present for the talk, and the 29 grandchildren they have so far. “An explosion of life,” Gotrik iterated, and added that when Jesus teaches his followers to pray by calling God, our Father and asking for his kingdom to come, “I think that kingdom looks like a 90 percent reduction in crime…
“But, if you follow social media, prayer gets a bad rap. There’s the growing voice of those who don’t want prayer, they want action. If they knew math, and the connections between the importance of community bonds and how prayer can help. But if they haven’t lived prayer, it’s hard to understand its real impact.”
Offering some historical context for the Jewish family prayer structure that carried over into early Christianity and the social impact it had under Emperor Constantine, Gotrik said, “Our church has experience with societies in flux.
“Thank God this model of the Holy Family was given to us to emulate and counter some of the winds in the culture.” He recognized that it took hundreds of years to take hold and continued, “We’re on a journey that’s much larger than our lives now which can help put things into perspective,” adding that only 50 years ago, most children were still growing up with both parents at home with that statistic being only about 50 percent nowadays.
Gotrik incorporated the virtue and practice of gratitude in with his encouragement for a practice of prayer and offered more numbers to back it up. He said that a single act of gratitude can lower feelings of depression by 30 percent. This “difficult concept for Americans” to grasp can impact families across every income bracket.
With a reference to the work environment and the necessity of the virtue of humility, also a fruit of prayer, Gotrik shared how deadly envy can be in a community where real collaboration and teamwork is needed for success.
He added the family prayer can also be “hilariously entertaining and bring joy” sharing some anecdotes of his two- and four-year-old children. “Thanksgiving is the most natural form of prayer for children,” he affirmed.
Weekly church-goers report better mental health across the board, Gotrik said. “What looks like doing nothing – like Mary – is actually doing something.”
Gotrik then made a plug for weekly Eucharistic adoration, saying that really looks like what Mary was doing at the feet of Jesus.
“How many lapsed Catholics say they stopped going to Mass because they weren’t getting anything out of it?” he asked and answered his own question. “It’s such a statement on our Martha-mentality, that craving of busyness and activity.
“When you frame something as actually doing something – like exercise, that’s also difficult but worth doing – somehow makes it more motivating to fit into your schedule.”
More information is available about the Society of Catholic Scientists at www.catholicscientists.org.
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