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Issue Date:  March 21, 2008

-- CNS/Courtesy of the Templeton Prize

Fr. Michael Heller
Scientist-priest wins 2008 Templeton prize


Michal Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Roman Catholic priest whose commitment to combining the insights of science and religion stretches back to his youth in war-torn Europe, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

The $1.6 million award is the largest annual monetary prize given to a single individual, for work in connecting the realms of physics, cosmology, theology and philosophy.

Heller, 72, is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków, and has fond memories of discussing science and religion with a young Karol Wojtyla, the archbishop of Kraków who later became Pope John Paul II.

John Paul invited Heller to give a talk at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. He talked on “elemental formations.” John Paul, Heller said, “grasped a little bit of the scientific mentality, and that was an extraordinary thing for a pope.”

In prepared remarks at the March 12 announcement of the award, Heller said he had “always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence.”

In nominating Heller for the prize, Karol Musiol, rector of Kraków’s Jagiellonian University, said the scientist-priest has “brought to science a sense of transcendent mystery and to religion a view of the universe through the broadly open eyes of science.”

Heller’s current work focuses on the fields of noncommutative geometry and groupoid theory in mathematics. More broadly, Heller has been interested in such foundational questions as “Does the universe need to have a cause?” and has been able to engage intellectual sources from different academic disciplines, the John Templeton Foundation said.

Britain’s Prince Philip will formally give Heller the award at a May 7 ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.

In an interview, Heller reiterated his belief that the worlds of religion and science are not at all at odds, saying that without the meaning afforded by religion, “science would be meaningless.”

Heller said he would use the prize money to create the Copernicus Center to further research and education in science and theology as an academic discipline. The center would be run in conjunction with the Pontifical Academy of Theology and the Jagiellonian University, Poland’s oldest university, established in 1364.

Information from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008

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