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The Whole In The Tapestry

Elizabeth Osgood has gone from being an engineering contractor for NASA to a novice nun with the Congregation of Notre Dame. Not such a giant leap, she tells Convivium’s Hannah Marazzi: just bringing together the strands that make God’s tapestry whole

6 minute read
Topics: Community, Faith, Joy, Loves, Wisdom, Women
The Whole In The Tapestry November 20, 2017  |  By Hannah Marazzi, Elizabeth Osgood
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Convivium: You’ve been described as “the NASA Nun,” your story having garnered national interest and attention as Canadians learned about your unique transition from engineer to an engineer also entering into consecrated life. Did you always know you wanted to be an engineer?

Elizabeth Osgood: My dad is an engineer, so we grew up tinkering in the garage and outside, building little rockets and such. I got to go to space camp as a kid, and then in high school I knew I loved math and science, math and physics, so it was an easy transition to engineering.

C: You’ve worked as a contractor on NASA satellites and while currently on sabbatical, serve as a professor at the University of Prince Edward Island where you’ve taught over a dozen courses. What do you find to be the most enduring conversation unfolding within the scientific sphere as it relates to faith?

E: As an engineer and a professor in the realm of science, it surprised me how little religion came up. I think you used the word sacred; we didn't discuss much of that directly, but what I think was really interesting was that the fruits of it really came out a lot. In our engineering courses, we discussed social justice and sustainability. Many of the Catholic social teachings came up, but without the direct naming of God or Divine or anything like that.

C: If you were to articulate the intersection of the sacred within science as you’ve discovered it, how would you describe it?

E: It's so interwoven. I used to refer to it as the intersection of science and religion, and what I'm realizing now is it's so much more of a tapestry. Where the threads might weave from one direction in science, looking at the why and describing the nuts and bolts, the results, the experimentation. The threads from religion are more related to the unseen why. Religion is asking, “What does this mean? Why do we care? Where does this lead us?”

I find it a really beautiful tapestry of the two working together, and the reality is that science and religion do work together, whether or not you're aware of it. The two are both there no matter what our beliefs are.

C: Was there a tipping point or particular moment of clarity that contributed to your recent decision to pursue the consecrated life?

E: There are a lot of little moments. For me, it was very much a quiet, persistent whisper that I kept ignoring. There really was a tipping point, and that came when someone revealed to me that I wouldn't be losing anything. The secular world perceives this process as one of giving up.  You’re giving up money; you're giving up your free will; you're giving up all that stuff. When I realized I could continue to be an engineer, and I could continue to teach engineering and not be limited by what we as a society see the role of women in the Church, that was wonderful.

C: You’ve joined the Congregation of Notre Dame for your time in the novitiate. For those unfamiliar with the work of the Congregation of Notre Dame, would you share more about the intention and ministry undertaken by that community?

E: We were founded in Montreal in 1658 when Marguerite Bourgeoys our foundress came from France. She was this brave, fearless sort of women. She moved to Montreal when there was basically nothing there. There were a handful of other people, and a bunch of soldiers. She was there in the early days of setting up the city. When these young women came to marry all these soldiers to start Canada, she would take them in and teach them how to survive the Canadian wild. She signed many of the marriage certificates as the promissory to say to these men, "I'm watching you. You're going be good to these girls."

The charism of the order is liberating education. She embodied that in such a big way. She initially went over intending to be a teacher, but there were no kids to teach because Canada was too harsh. It took a number of years until they were able to have a school. So the Congregation of Notre Dame, over time, has been teachers, but much more recently the focus is on liberating education. The definition is much more broad, and it includes engineering.

C: You found a visit from Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno inspiring due to his belief that “science and religion could coexist.” Tell us the vocation that Brother Consolmagno undertakes?

E: Brother Guy came at a time that I really was questioning whether or not a scientist could be anywhere in the realm of religion. I have reconciled it so easily since, but he definitely helped to knit those ties. At the time he was working for the Vatican Observatory Foundation. There are scientists, mainly Jesuits, working there year round, on their own research discovering as much as they can.

Brother Guy came around talking about the institute and really helping to reconcile what so many perceived to be a gap between science and religion. He showed everybody this history of hundreds of years of working with ease in the realms of science and religion. For example, Father Georges Lemaître was a Belgian priest who, when he looked at Einstein's Theory of Relativity said, "Wait, there's something missing here. There must have been a beginning." He was the first to propose the Big Bang. Yet, he's not credited for it.

C: We’ve heard from another novice Marlena Loughheed, who has recently joined the Sisters of Life in New York, that she wanted to be clear her decision to pursue consecrated life was motivated not by lack but by love. You have described this way of life as being marked by “fullness rather than emptiness.” Has there been an enduring theme in the conversations that have arisen since you have made clear your intention to pursue consecrated life?

E: I think people are much too polite to ask about that. It really doesn't come up, like in a face to face conversation. People don't start with, "Oh, so vow of celibacy, how's that?" I think money falls into that taboo sort of topic too. Free will? Same thing.

They are very curious about what I actually do on a day-to-day basis. I kind of envisioned it would just be a time aside, like a cave out in the desert, but inside a house in the city. With time for just me and God to figure stuff out.

I do get to do that one hour a day, when we have personal prayer, but this experience is a lot less contemplative, and much more educational, working with other people in formation, with other novices from other communities. I’m really learning, living, and understanding what it means to be religious. So, I've been taking a couple of courses at university. One on the Old Testament, and one on Cosmology, my love! We haven't actually got to the vows yet!

We've been talking a lot about community, and what does it mean to be in community, because that's one aspect that I think I was somewhat blind to coming in. Living in community is different than a family, it's different than having roommates, you know?

C: In your piece for The Record you say, “I feel so whole. It feels like there was all these different puzzle pieces before and they just all fit together now. How has your perspective on wholeness volved throughout this discernment process?

E: Ilia Delio, a member of the Franciscan Servants of the Holy Child Jesus, did a lot of writing on this. She writes about this idea of Catholicity, which is whole making, this idea of becoming whole. We don’t speak as a society about our movement towards the whole.

I think what wholeness is that recognition, that understanding, of ourselves well enough to focus on what God can help us with, and what we can help God with to achieve His dream of really having Heaven on earth. When we look at the Kingdom of God, we're supposed to be bringing that about right here on earth by serving one another. I think if we looked to each other for that wholeness, if we looked to each other to develop that whole person of who we can be, this is key. It really is going take all of us looking around and helping each other first.

You know, when Mother Teresa talked about love, she talked about loving those around you first, helping those around you first. Often our seeking is focused on something so immediate and concrete. We say, "Oh, if I only lost 5 pounds," or, "If I only do this therapy, then I'll be fixed." "Or “Oh, if only I had that job." or whatever. Wholeness is so much bigger than that. Wholeness a content-ness with who you are, and where you are, and what's happening, and how you're helping everyone around you to fulfill God's mission. 

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