National News

Parish Grounds Were at Center of Solar Eclipse

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, watches the solar eclipse Aug. 21 at St. Theresa Catholic School in Des Moines with John Hunyh, director of Faith Journey at the Diocese of Des Moines. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Des Moines)

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (CNS) – Science teacher Jane Irwin isn’t often left without words, but the total solar eclipse left her in a quiet reflective mood.

“Awesome. God’s amazing” was the best she could muster after the sun reappeared from behind the moon after totality Aug. 21.

Irwin was among about 50 people gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville, the town near the point of maximum eclipse.

Joining her was one of her students, Tim Sunderhaus, eight, a third-grader at the parish school. He was accompanied by brothers Luke, 12, in seventh grade, and Peter, 10, in fifth grade, and father Todd. Luke called the eclipse an amazing sight.

He found the sun’s corona – the intensely hot outer atmosphere visible from Earth only during a total eclipse – most interesting to observe. “I was thinking it finally happened because people have been talking about it for such a long time,” he told Catholic News Service.

Cheers and whistles erupted in the parish parking lot where viewers had gathered as darkness approached and the corona appeared around a black hole. Three bright red prominences appeared along the right edge of the sun during totality.

People called out the planets as they appeared. First there was bright Venus to the west of the sun and then Mercury very close to eastern limb of the star. Crickets began chirping, thinking night was approaching. The air cooled several degrees as the moon’s shadow deepened.

The entire event was impressive for Franciscan Father Richard Goodin, vocation director for his order’s St. John the Baptist Province based in Cincinnati. The Kentucky native drove from Cincinnati overnight to see the eclipse after a redeye flight from Las Vegas where he preached at Masses making a mission appeal.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I like to brag I’m all things Kentucky,” he said as a blue University of Kentucky cap shielded his bearded face from the hot sun. “What better and more fitting place for this to be than in Kentucky?”

Hopkinsville officials and business owners had worked for nearly two years to capitalize on the eclipse. They billed their town as “Eclipseville.” Located near the point of maximum eclipse, the city of 33,000 wanted to showcase its friendliness and the quality of life it offers in largely agricultural Christian County.

Eclipse chasers started arriving Aug. 18 and by the morning of the event traffic crawled along city streets.

Some of those travelers made their way to a field the parish owns across the street from the church. Spots were going for $10. Some stayed overnight, camping in tents or in the back of their vehicle.