About Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.

Writing Letters

Yesterday I sent off 15 letters, one to each of the students in my just-completed course on contemplative traditions in the West. I wrote to give them comments on their final projects and on their overall academic performance, but I closed each note with a few lines appreciating the particular gifts the student had shared with the class. I thanked the student who could be relied on to have brought a map when we were […]

Little Gestures

Eight years ago, when I came back from making the 30-day retreat, a friend sent me an article about the Spiritual Exercises which featured an arresting still from the film The Mission, in which a priest tied to a cross is sent careening over a waterfall. What had I gotten myself into, she wondered. Perhaps that was one of the reasons I made the Exercises, I told her, to grasp more deeply what I was […]

Pilgrims and Students

I’m ready to start teaching again. Syllabi are set, with handouts and lectures ready to go for the first week. And my hiking shoes are nearly broken in. I don’t need them to walk the halls, but to climb mountains. One of the courses I’m teaching includes going on a field trip to Japan, where we will walk some of the historic 88-temple pilgrimage circuit on the mountainous island of Shikoku. If past trips are […]

Touching the Stars

Bob Macke, SJ, the curator of the Vatican Observatory’s meteorite collection, is rooting around in a drawer. He pulls out a plastic bag with a nondescript rock about the size of my fist, and cupping it in his hand, wonders aloud at how wild it is to wrap your hands around something that—at four and a half billion years—is older than the planet, almost as old as the sun itself. I, too, am in awe. […]

Imagine: A Lesson from Science Class

This spring I am teaching an introductory course in quantum mechanics. It’s a tough course. The concepts bely my students’ everyday experience—electrons that can tunnel through space and systems that consume energy only in fixed amounts, no matter how high you turn up the power on the laser. The mathematical apparatus can be equally mysterious. Partial differential equations sprout families of answers, while Hermitian operators somehow wring real information from imaginary functions. The biggest challenge […]

An Examination in Love

Last weekend, I was the altar server at the funeral Mass of a parishioner. When the time came for the second reading, the deceased man’s grandson walked to the ambo, opened the lectionary and began, “Love is patient, love is kind…” The quintessential reading for weddings, it was a surprising choice for a funeral Mass. I can’t help but remember my own weddings whenever I hear this passage from First Corinthians. My mother painstakingly embroidered […]

The Spiritual Case for Dust

Last week, I pushed my office door open and flicked on the lights, to find it looking wan and grey under a six-month shroud of dust. In the middle of last May, I packed up my plants and left a note on the board outside my door: “On sabbatical. Back in January 2016.” It’s been an incredible and productive time. The first draft of a book is done. I had the privilege of visiting the […]

Hearing Places

I heard it before I quite realized what was happening. A brief slurp, a quick sucking noise, and my right leg was swallowed up to the knee. A few weeks ago my husband, Victor, and I were winding our way up to the top of a 300-meter cliff on the northwestern Irish coast. The path near the top was muddy and torn up by mountain bikers. Not quite long-legged enough to step over a large […]

One Word at a Time

The interior of the church* looked like it had been torn from the pages of Isaiah, “I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” The air was still, heavy with the heat of early summer and anticipation. I settled into my pew, tore my eyes from the distracting beauty that surrounded me to focus on […]

The Spiritual Exercises and the Importance of Looking Back

On a scorching day last summer, my sister-in-law took me on an architectural tour of her neighborhood in the hills of west Los Angeles, guiding us through a hundred years of local history and a few hundred feet elevation change. The stairway that took us down into the arroyo was stolidly utilitarian—bleached white concrete with steel banisters, gritty dirt underfoot, and a few tenacious weeds trying to establish a beachhead on the landings, 125 steps […]

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