Catholic Word Report: From the Laboratory to the Lord, and Back Again

Father Austriaco with students in his lab.

Father Austriaco with students in his lab.

What makes a rising star in the world of cell biology research, with a PhD from MIT, turn away from a prestigious laboratory and the promise of a career on the cutting edge of cancer research? The call of Christ.
“I remember walking away from the conference, thinking, is this all there is to my life?” Father Nicanor Austriaco, OP told me about his days just before his life devoted to science took a dramatic change. We were sitting in the cafeteria at Providence College on a balmy day, the last day of September. Fall had arrived, but you wouldn’t have known it.

Providence College is just off I-95, in the middle of Rhode Island’s capital. It was founded in 1917 by the Dominicans with the support of the city’s Archbishop Matthew Harkins.

Today, while the college does get students from states as far as Alaska and Hawaii, most are from the mid-Atlantic states and New England.

Providence also features the Development of Western Civilization program, a key component of the core curriculum for undergraduates that requires intensive study of philosophy, history, literature, and theology.

But Father Nic teaches biology. While he has to lecture like all professors, to get his students hooked on science, he gets them into the lab as soon as he can. “A couple of hours a week, at first,” he says. “They’ll be mentored by my older students, who are here all the time.” But students get to work on real projects, not just exercises to help them pass exams. Father Nic believes getting students to do real science is the best way to get them interested in it as a career.


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