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Catholic Parishes, Schools, Institutions in Western NY Prepare for Rare View of Solar Eclipse

People watch the solar eclipse from the observation deck of The Empire State Building in New York City Aug. 21, 2017. After April 8, 2024, the next total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. will happen in August 2044. (Photo: OSV News/Brendan McDermid, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Although the Diocese of Brooklyn is not in the 100-mile-wide path from Texas to Maine for totality of the solar eclipse on April 8, parts of Western New York are right inside this path and Catholic schools, colleges, retreat houses, and parishes there are gearing up for the rare few minutes of daytime darkness when the moon completely blocks the sun.

New Yorkers will be able to view the spectacle in some capacity between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

In the New York dioceses of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, within the path of the eclipse’s totality, watch parties, talks, and retreats are scheduled as are closures so people can avoid anticipated traffic jams.

Many are eager to see this year’s solar phenomenon — when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, totally or partly obscuring the sun — because it will be quite some time before this happens again. The next total solar eclipse visible in the United States will be in 2044 and only Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota will be on its path of totality. A year later, another total solar eclipse will cross the U.S. from coast to coast.

Crowds have been gearing up for this year’s viewing and are planning to make their way to areas in the country in the eclipse’s totality so residents of these areas are getting ready for an onslaught of visitors.

In the Buffalo Diocese, Catholic elementary schools will be closed, and the diocesan vicar general has recommended that parishes close as well due to traffic concerns.

“We are hoping for clear weather at least,” said communications director Joseph Martone, referring to the cloud cover that is now expected in some regions of the country on the day of the eclipse.

A consultant for the Buffalo Diocese Catholic Schools wrote in the diocesan schools’ office newsletter March 5 that even though schools will be closed April 8 for Easter vacation, teachers should think ahead and integrate discussion of the eclipse into science, math, religion classes, and even art and music classes.

That kind of broad discussion was similarly scheduled to take place during a solar eclipse faculty panel at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit-run college in Syracuse.

During an April 8 panel, university professors planned to do a deep dive into eclipses from a religious, historic, and scientific framework including how the Gospel accounts of Christ’s crucifixion described the darkened sky at the time of Jesus’ death and how eclipses were mentioned in Shakespeare’s works.

Nearby, students at St. Mary’s in Baldwinsville, just outside of Syracuse, also planned several eclipse activities for the afternoon. Although the school is closing at noon that day, school officials invited students and their families to come back to the campus that afternoon to view the eclipse, with special glasses of course, and to take part in science games and visit the science fair. The school also invited parishioners to join.

Flyer from St. Mary’s School in Baldwinsville, New York, about school activities for the celebration of the April 8 solar eclipse.

Denise Hall, the school’s principal, told The Tablet April 3 that the elementary school sold close to 200 glasses for participants in the day’s events. She said she remembers viewing an eclipse at her school as a child through a pinhole box and she hopes these students will have fun being together for this major event and also always remember they were together for it.

In the Rochester Diocese, a few parishes are closed due to crowd anticipation, but others are opening their parking lots to the masses and selling commemorative T-shirts and eclipse glasses.

The Sisters of St. Joseph are hosting a gathering on their motherhouse grounds throughout the afternoon of April 8 with music and use of a telescope. At least two parishes are hosting afternoon eclipse parties: St. Monica Parish in Rochester and St. Marianne Cope Parish in Henrietta.

A bulletin announcement for St. Marianne Cope’s event called it a once in a lifetime experience and encouraged parishioners to join in the fun with neighbors and friends for hot dogs, refreshments, and games. The parish is also supplying free hot cocoa, coffee, and eclipse viewing glasses.

Some other church-related eclipse events are of a more spiritual nature. St. Bernard’s School of Theology in Rochester is beginning its eclipse celebration with Eucharistic adoration followed by a taco lunch and walking to the Sisters of St. Joseph’s motherhouse to join their gathering.

Prior to the eclipse, Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua is offering an eclipse-themed retreat called, “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God,” led by Michelle Francl-Donnay, an adjunct scholar of the Vatican Observatory and chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr College, outside of Philadelphia.

The online sign-up page for the retreat describes the total eclipse of the sun as “an awesome and unsettling sign in the heavens,” noting that solar events inform scientists about how the universe works but also “have something to say to us about creation and the Creator.”

Francl-Donnay, who is leading the retreat, told the Catholic Courier, diocesan newspaper of Rochester, that she plans to enjoy watching the eclipse not just “as a scientific phenomenon” but also to “appreciate God’s role in setting the universe in play.”

She said many people find faith and science incompatible, but she believes they are “linked together in very strong ways,” and that the upcoming eclipse will demonstrate that. 

“I think we sometimes underestimate our need for experiences that disquiet us in some ways, that get us thinking, get us moving, get us wondering about God at work in the world,” she added.

And while considering movement of the sun and moon and God’s message in this solar activity, those who intend to view the eclipse must remember not to look directly at it without special solar eclipse glasses as it could cause permanent eye damage.

If eclipse glasses are sold out, this CBS link shows how you can make a homemade pinhole camera from a cereal box to get the idea of what is happening in the sky.