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JESUITICA: An eye on the heavens

jcurley_01In 1841 there were only two places in USA for the study of stars and planets. James Curley SJ, born in Roscommon 45 years earlier, decided to build an observatory in Georgetown University where he taught. The Procurator thought it an absolute folly. The Provincial quoted financial  problems. James came from a family of mill-builders in Athleague, and though known as “a meek and shy man”, he drew up the plans, supervised the observatory’s construction, bought instruments from Europe, and completed the job in 1844 for $15,000. Despite a patchy education, he was a passionate mathematician and experimenter, the first to calculate the latitude of Washington DC, his adopted city. His observatory is still operational.