A Biochemist in a Theologian’s World

Author: Mr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C.

Problem sets, experiments, lab reports: this is what my life entailed as an undergraduate at Notre Dame. I was a biochemistry major, and my life was immersed in all things science. It was great, and I loved it! Even if it did mean some late nights, extra time in lab, and mind-numbing study sessions to figure out Orgo, it was totally worth it. Now, I’ve delved into something entirely different – theology!

I just professed my first vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on July 28 and returned to Notre Dame, a place that I associated with going to Jordan Hall of Science every day, working in lab and being in science classes of over 250 people. Now it’s an entirely different experience – a world of DeBartolo and O’Shaughnessy, pages and pages of reading and, yes, no class on Fridays (something I used to make fun of other people for in undergrad …. And look where that got me).

Jordan Hall on the campus of Notre Dame

I wasn’t sure how to take this change in atmosphere. Already on the first day, I read more than I had in my entire undergraduate career – and these papers aren’t exactly lab reports, either. Certain questions circled in my mind: Would I like this? Could I survive? Would I be able to understand the thoughts of Karl Rahner in relation to Bernard Lonergan, or would my brain automatically revert to Robert Boyle’s gas laws and Carl Linnaeus’s method of taxonomy?

Surprisingly, I’ve been adjusting quite well and have come to realize that my scientific brain can adapt to the rigors of theology. I’m taking a class this semester called Systematic Theology, which introduces students to the method of thinking in theology. I was under the impression that all theology was simply a set of doctrines and morals that one would simply memorize and try to apply to one’s life. Although this has some truth to it, much of it entails intricate thinking and making connections – not much different than science. I find myself making concept maps, seeing how one thought or idea is linked to another in the composite whole, and using critical thinking – all of which make me feel right at home. 

Stained glass window in O'Shaughnessy Hall

But of course, these next few years in theology will teach me many new skills. I am intrigued at the art of reading a thousand pages in two days – one that I feel inclined to study as a scientist, yet something I have not yet mastered. There is also this strange notion of “fluff,” which supposedly denotes a vague conglomerate of words that one inserts into a paper when one does not know what else to say on the topic at hand in order to make the page limit. Novel and creative ideas, indeed!

Yet, I do look forward to this new venture in the world of theology. I know it will have a lot to offer me in formation for the priesthood, and hopefully I will have something to offer it. Even though science will always remain on the top of my list, theology is slowly becoming cooler and cooler, and it is a field that this scientist is excited to figure out.   

Mr Ryan Pietrocarlo, CSC

Mr. Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C. is in his first year of temporary vows as a seminarian at Moreau Seminary. He and other seminarians at Moreau post twice each month for the Spes Unica Blog, sharing on their life and formation at Moreau. Meet our other men in formation, and learn more about seminary life in Holy Cross, and specifically about the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary, which constitutes the first year of religious and priestly formation in Holy Cross for college graduates.

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