Fr. Adam Hincks

St. Mike’s reaches for the stars to fill Sutton Family Chair

  • July 18, 2020

Putting an astrophysicist in the company of medievalists, literature scholars and historians may not seem like a natural fit, but it’s a perfect match as far as David Sylvester is concerned.

The University of St. Michael’s president and vice chancellor figures he has the best person to make the combination work — Fr. Adam Hincks, a Jesuit and cosmologist whose study of the universe included working at the Vatican Observatory.

He is the inaugural holder of the Sutton Family Chair in Science, Christianity and Cultures at St. Michael’s at the University of Toronto. The Sutton Chair places Hincks as a working scientist in the middle of the St. Mike’s Christianity and Culture program, talking with undergraduates about science, culture and religion all at once.

“It’s all about the spaces between disciplines,” said Sylvester. 

“When you get a guy like Adam Hincks — who is incredibly gifted, who is not only promising but is early-established in his career as a very good cosmologist, but who also has theological formation — think of the gifts that individual brings to my campus,” Sylvester said. “Here you have a person who embodies that wholistic understanding of why we exist — or the search for it. He doesn’t have the answers, but he’s searching. Do you know what a gift that is for my students?”

The 38-year-old Hincks is a 2004 graduate of St. Michael’s who won the St. Michael’s College Gold Medal for the highest cumulative GPA (grade point average) in sciences. He went on to Princeton, earning a PhD in 2009 before entering the Jesuits. He studied philosophy at Toronto’s Regis College and did a Bachelor of Sacred Theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. While in Rome he was one of the scientists at the Vatican Observatory. He also did postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia.

Hincks, who sees the job as a “unique opportunity,” is anxious to learn from the students and faculty he will meet at St. Michael’s.

“I think it’s great that I’m in a program that has medievalists; that has, for example, Stephen Tardif. He’s a Gerard Manley Hopkins expert. As a Jesuit, it will be great to be able to pick his brain about that, just out of personal interest,” Hincks said.

Hincks also looks forward to the working with historian of science Jean-Olivier Richard.

“In teaching some of these courses, I think we would complement each other quite well,” he said. “He knows the history of science. He knows the source texts. What I bring is an expertise in what’s going on now in cosmology, in astrophysics.”

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