Fr Greg Jacobs SJ: a servant to the ‘Queen of the Sciences’

Guests made to feel welcome at Holy Family Parish, Mount Druitt.
Fr Gregory Jacobs SJ with an image of St Ignatius and the ‘cis-Rose oxide’. Photo: Jordan Grantham.

By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, November 2016

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Father Gregory Jacobs SJ is a kind-hearted and enthusiastic priest. A library of books and many degrees line the walls of his office. Years of learning are worn lightly, as he makes guests feel welcome at the office of Holy Family Parish, Mount Druitt.

Science, religion and the environment are his key interests. Fr Greg introduced the topic to the parish. This interest “is something I want to engage people with, maybe not as passionately as I am!” Other strong passions include sacred music, serving the poor and the Collingwood Magpies AFL team.

Mount Druitt is a far cry from the University of Edinburgh, where Fr Greg completed a Master of Science, on Science and Theology. The connection is greater than many assume. Theology was known in the Middle Ages as the ‘Queen of the Sciences’, in the sense that a science is a field of knowledge.

He has been in the parish for two years and his down-to-earth demeanour endears him to the local community. Mount Druitt can be a difficult assignment; previous parish priests have been assaulted inside the presbytery.

Fr Greg’s Jesuit identity grounds his vocation, wherever it takes him. The possibility of joining the Society of Jesus emerged while he was working in a hospital pathology lab.

“This was a way to combine those two great loves – science and religion,” Fr Greg explained. The Jesuit order is renowned for intellectual firepower and a fundamental contribution to many scholarly fields, including astronomy, geography and mathematics.

Recent encounters between theology and modern science often explore the meaning of the environment. “Much has been done about finding God in the desert, in the garden, but not so much about finding God in the city,” Fr Greg said. This was the focus of his thesis at the University of Edinburgh.

Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour and the Passionist Fr Thomas Berry, and of course Pierre Tielhard de Chardin SJ are scientist-theologians who inspire Fr Greg.

His love of science grew from his first degree, on chemistry. He then worked in a hospital pathology laboratory. The chemistry enthusiasm persists; a complex molecular model sits on Fr Greg’s coffee table. ‘cis-Rose oxide’ from the scent of a rose, was assembled from a ‘Molecule of the Week’ email list he receives.

The Jacobs family has Dutch Catholic roots, coming from the town of Tegelen. The town has a large passion play, recreating Our Lord’s crucifixion. The family has supported the play, with Fr Greg’s Grandmother playing the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first production.

In 2008, Dutch relatives flew in for Fr Greg’s ordination at Sacred Heart Church, Kooringal, in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.

The family was based in Wagga Wagga for much of Fr Greg’s childhood and culturally aligned to Melbourne, hence the barracking for Collingwood.

As an Air Force family, they had previously been stationed in Malaysia, Richmond and Melbourne. The family was living in Ballarat, where Fr Greg – and his identical twin brother Chris – were born the day after their father entered the RAAF.

The itinerant childhood prepared him well for the priesthood, as St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, said, “a Jesuit is a man with one foot in the air” and the Jesuits are affectionately known as the ‘SAS’ of the priesthood.

Sacred music also inspires Fr Greg’s faith. Back in Melbourne, he joined the St Francis Church Choir, whose repertoire includes sacred masters such as Palestrina and Vittoria.

Who Did You See? by Australian Jesuit composer Christopher Wilcock is one of Fr Greg’s favourite pieces.

Holy Family’s four choirs inspire Fr Greg, as they express the cultural breadth of the parish, united in worship.

5 Facts about the Society of Jesus

1. 35 moon craters are named after Jesuit scientists.

2. The Jesuits educated former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and Bill Shorten.

3. Descartes, Voltaire, Moliere, Castro, Joyce and Hitchcock also benefitted from a Jesuit education.

4. The Holy See suppressed the Jesuits from 1773 to 1814.

5. Jesuit linguists wrote the first grammars for many African, Asian and American indigenous languages.

To read Jordan Grantham’s story One big holy family at Mt Druitt Parish in the November 2016 issue of Catholic Outlook, click here.

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