Kikwaya is a member of the Vatican Observatory, a scientific body for astronomical research entrusted to the Jesuits
by Lucie Sarr | January 4, 2019
"My astronomical research focuses on what are commonly referred to as shooting stars, which are not really stars but meteors," says Jesuit Father Jean-Baptiste Kikwaya, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Father Kikwaya has studied celestial bodies, including asteroids and comets that have recently passed by Earth, for more than 10 years.
Indeed, even as a child, he liked to gaze at the sky."I was very interested in religion," he recalls. "When I looked at the sky, I felt a kind of closeness to God and I was seeking that proximity."The popular explanation for meteors in Congolese culture failed to satisfy the curiosity of the future astronomer." In the popular imagination, shooting stars were regarded as vehicles used by sorcerers in nocturnal expeditions," he says. "Clearly, that was as frightening as it was attractive to a child". After becoming highly involved in the Catholic Church as a teenager, Jean-Baptiste decided to join the Society of Jesus after completing high school at 18. He was sent to study at the Cyangugu novitiate in Rwanda before moving to study philosophy at the St. Peter Canisius Institute in Kimwenza, south of Congolese capital Kinshasa.
Father Jean-Baptiste Kikwaya
After a year at the University of Kinshasa, his superiors enrolled him at the University of Namur in Belgium, where he continued his mathematics studies. Passion for the stars while preparing for his master's there, he found an opportunity to redevelop his passion for the stars. He then decided to specialize in celestial mechanics, which brought him a step closer to astronomy. After completing his master's degree, however, he was forced to temporarily abandon his scientific studies to pursue his training for the priesthood by studying theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris from 1994 to 1997.
He then taught mathematics and computer science at the Agro-Veterinary Higher Institute and at the St Peter Canisius Institute in DR Congo for two years. In 1998, he was ordained a priest before beginning his career in astronomy a year later. The Vatican Observatory was seeking to rebuild its team and recruit younger staff. When it asked Jesuit communities to propose candidates, Father Kikwaya's profile quickly stood out.
Following his diploma of advanced studies in astronomy at the Paris Observatory and a master's in theology, he enrolled at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, obtaining a doctorate of astronomy in 2009. Over the years, Father Kikwaya has collaborated with many astronomers and gained international recognition in the process. A joint research project with the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (Nasa) added to his renown in the field, resulting in his name being given to an asteroid." The work I was carrying out was recognized as an important scientific contribution to astronomical research," he says. "That is why they named an asteroid after me."
Source: LaCroix International