World-renowned astronomer’s grave found in Spring Valley’s tiny cemetery
Who would have guessed that a world-renowned astronomer lies within one of the tiny cemeteries managed by the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn?
Not only was he an astronomer, but he was also one of our Catholic priests!
The Reverand Fr Gregor Hagemann was born in Germany when Kaiser Wilhelm II was on the throne and later ordained a priest in Rome in 1935, not long after the Nazis came to power in his home country.
Yet during the 1930s/40s, he also studied mathematics and science in Vienna and Berlin, obtaining a doctorate in astronomy in the latter.
By 1940, he was in China, combining his spiritual and astronomical callings as the Professor of Astronomy and Meteorology at Fu Jen Catholic University in Peiping (now Beijing).
He emigrated to Australia in 1948 and a small 1951 article in the Canberra Times records he had escaped from China as the communists swept to power.
He came to the national capital following his dual pursuits, ministering in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn and working at the Mt Stromlo Observatory.
He was well known as an astronomer and the observatory’s Dr Brad Tucker told the Catholic Voice that Fr Hagemann was noted for publishing several scientific papers on the properties of stars and how these properties are used to measure the nature and history of the Milky Way Galaxy.
According to Dr Tucker, Fr Hagemann worked at the observatory until he retired for health reasons in 1958.
After later parish appointments and a stint as chaplain at St Edmund’s College in Canberra, he moved in 1970 to the “Hermitage” at Spring Valley southwest of Goulburn to minister in retirement to the Spring Valley community and the nearby town of Tarago. He died at Goulburn in 1981.
Today, he lies at rest beneath the stars in Spring Valley’s little cemetery in the grassy plains east of Lake George, one of about twenty similar cemeteries managed by the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
We pass by many of these tiny places without giving them a second thought.
Yet how many of them contain stories like those of Fr Hagemann, stories of the pioneers and the pious, of the families and the individuals, of the triumphs and tragedies of the faithful in our near and distant past?
How many of them could hold lessons for us, like those of the astronomer priest, who looked to the Spirit and the stars to ponder what lies within and what might lie above?