Sharing an Ever-Ancient Beauty

A family gift: A new fund provides for two scholarships annually for seniors and juniors majoring in mathematics or computer science.

Sharing an Ever-Ancient Beauty
Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J., and his sister Janet Newell. / Image provided by the Smolarski family

Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J., ’69, M.Div., S.T.M. ’79,  is explaining how integral mathematics and science are to the Jesuit Order he joined in 1969.

As far back as the late 1500s, St. Ignatius, in the Jesuit Constitutions, urged Jesuit seminarians to study natural sciences, logic, physics, and math, as foundations to understanding everything from the stars, music, land surveying, and more. Not long after, Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius, S.J., helped convince Pope Gregory to change the Julian calendar to be more aligned with the astronomical year. And did you know there are 35 craters on the moon named for Jesuits? That’s because prior to the Scientific Revolution of the 1500 and 1600s, Jesuits were among the few scholars studying mathematics, astronomy, and science.

In writing articles about the integral role of mathematics and science to his beloved Jesuit Order, Smolarski seeks to shine a light on the ways in which the study of mathematics and science brings one nearer to the knowledge of God.

“When I stand back and marvel at the coherence, the beauty, the abstract truth I find in computer-generated numeric results,” he wrote in one such article in 1998, “I sometimes find myself echoing St. Augustine: ‘O eternal truth… Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.’”

Now Smolarski, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and also director of Campus Ministry, is seeking to share that eternal truth and ever-ancient beauty with future scholars of mathematics and computer science at SCU.

Using $250,000 of his share of the proceeds from the sale of his family’s home in Santa Monica after the passing of his parents, he and his sister Janet Newell established the Genevieve and Chester F. Smolarski & Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J. Endowed Family Scholarship Fund. Named after their parents, the Fund provides for two scholarships annually for undergraduate students with financial need—for juniors or seniors majoring in mathematics or computer science.

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The Smolarski family /Provided image.

“I was the recipient of a scholarship from SCU when I was in school, so I thought it would be good to help committed students who were juniors and seniors, starting with my own department,” said Smolarski. He and his sister thought it would be fitting to honor their parents, Chester, who was a longtime telecommunications worker and salesman, and Genevieve, a stay-at-home mother.

The devout couple helped both their children become Jesuit-educated—Smolarski at SCU and Newell at Loyola Marymount. And Janet’s daughter, Christina Newell is also a Bronco, graduating in 2002 with a degree in art and art history.

Because Jesuits take a vow of poverty that includes handing over family inheritances to their Jesuit Province, Smolarski sought and received permission to use part of his own inheritance to honor his parents with this scholarship.

Smolarski graduated with his own Santa Clara mathematics degree in 1969, and went on to receive an M.A. in mathematics from University of California, Santa Barbara in 1975; two theological degrees from Jesuit School of Theology in 1979; and a Ph.D. in computer science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982.  During his summers prior to ordination, he was involved in community organizing in Oakland, retreat work in Texas and Los Gatos, and studies in Eastern Christianity in the Bronx. He was ordained a deacon in November 1978 in Oakland and a priest in June 1979 in Hollywood.

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As a Jesuit, Fr. Smolarski made a special request to receive his inheritance in order to create a scholarship honoring his parents. / Provided image.

Smolarski also has published widely in the area of liturgy and worship, with five books from Paulist Press, three from Liturgy Training Publications, and one from Liturgical Press. His translation of the Song of Farewell has been included in many hymnals and missalettes for use during the funeral Mass. He is a member and current past-president of the International Jungmann Society for Jesuits and Liturgy, having served as president 2016-2018.

His popular 1986 book, now in its third edition, How Not to Say Mass: A Guidebook for All Concerned About Authentic Worship, tackles the proper way to conduct liturgy that he felt got lost in the transition between Latin Masses of the 1570 Tridentine Missal and those after Vatican II using the revised Missal of Pope St. Paul VI in 1970.

Smolarski says his intent is not to be persnickety about things like which way to bow or how high to hold up the bread and wine after consecration, but rather to ensure that everyone who participates in Mass feels engaged and empowered to understand the reasons why Mass is conducted as it is —in ways not possible pre-Vatican II, when Smolarski was growing up.

“After Masses were conducted more and more in English, it began to come alive for me,” he says, referring to his experience in the late 1960s. He embraced the post-Vatican II Mass “because it’s a more interactive version of the liturgy, people are constantly interacting with the priests or deacon. They buy in more because they do more.”

Two phrases associated with the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, are “finding God in all things” and “for the greater glory of God.” As he concluded in his 1998 essay, “by my presence as a religious and a priest, I demonstrate that all things, including math, science, technology, and computers, can be used to better the world for God’s greater glory.”

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