Students, others marvel at solar eclipse

Hugging two close friends as the sun dropped its blinding light into a blazing white corona around the blackened orb of the moon, Alondra Padilla couldn’t stop gazing, and smiling.

"Jesus is making this happen," said the seventh-grader from Ss. Peter and Paul School in Omaha. "It’s pretty amazing he did this."

And pretty amazing that Padilla and her friends – classmates Ariana Tamayo and Dayanara Gaytan – had the chance to see the once-in-a-lifetime event Aug. 21 on a farm field with about 650 other Catholic school students near Tecumseh, Neb.

Heavy rain fell only hours before the event began, and clouds continued to obscure the sky as the moon began slipping across the sun. But the clouds parted, leaving a faint haze and placing in plain sight the 2 minutes, 29 seconds of total eclipse in Tecumseh.

Only the sun’s corona could be seen, blazing white around the blackened moon. A circle of dusk-like darkness enveloped the field, while miles away the sun still shone, outside the darkest shadow of the total eclipse.

Cries of joy and delight, gasps of awe and wonderment greeted the sight, rising from the crowd almost physically, like the wind.

"I’m absolutely amazed … I feel blessed that we were able to do something like this," said Marlan Burki, principal of All Saints School in Omaha, who with his family played host on their property to every student at his school, as well as students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Sacred Heart, Holy Name and Jesuit Academy in Omaha.

In addition, Burki invited seventh- and eighth-graders from the five schools in the archdiocese’s Catholic School Consortium: Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Thomas More, all in Omaha, and St. Bernadette in Bellevue.

Burki also collected donations from several groups and individuals to pay for special T-shirts, emblazoned on the front with the words, "O.N.C.S.E. IN A LIFETIME," with Omaha Nebraska Catholic solar eclipse in capital letters on the back.

Parents, friends, teachers and about 20 professors and students from Creighton University in Omaha ballooned the number of people on the farm to about 900. People visited several stations set up under tents by the university for lessons in gravity, light and other facets of science. Lunch was served before the eclipse, and using a portable sound system, Father Damien Zuerlein, pastor of St. Francis Cabrini Parish in Omaha and president of All Saints School, led the group in prayer.

"Lord God," he prayed, "we thank you for the wonders of this earth, the amazement of the universe … We thank you and ask you to make us good stewards of your great land."

Across the archdiocese, students at many schools had special solar glasses to protect their eyes and took time to see the partial eclipse. Some traveled to towns within the 70-mile-wide band that included Tecumseh to experience the total solar eclipse, when the glasses could safely be removed and the sight beheld with the naked eye, during the moments of totality.

Michael Ashton, superintendent of Catholic schools and a former science teacher, came to the farm. God reveals something of himself in the complexity and wonder of creation, he said.

"It’s God showing off," Ashton said.

"It was phenomenal. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen," said Amy McKenzie, who with her husband, Greg Lyons, is a member of St. Thomas More Parish. They came to Tecumseh to see the eclipse and be with their seventh-grade son, Andrew McKenzie of St. Thomas More School.

"I think God works in amazing ways," she said.


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