Sister Clarice Lolich
||A Sister's Passion for Science Education
For those who ponder the convergence of science and religion, there is Sister Clarice
Lolich, a Dominican nun in the Community of the Holy Spirit, a space-science education
specialist, and a retired NASA consultant.
Since 1989 Lolich has been using her time one week a month at JPL, offering the special
"Sister Clarice" tours of the Lab to school children. For 11 years she has led groups of
local elementary school kids on a space odyssey tour of the Lab. Recently, Lolich
announced that she is retiring from her JPL duties to be closer to her San Mateo home,
where she will work on a new outreach and education program idea at the nearby
NASA Ames Research Center.
On this day, Lolich is in JPL's 167 Café, talking to a room full of fourth-graders. She is
telling them all about the space shuttle and its components. She has them repeat after her
that the space shuttle "takes off like a rocket, travels like a spaceship, and lands like an
airplane." The children are mesmerized by her energy and her simple explanations. Next,
she hands out graph paper and has the children follow simple instructions on placing X's
and O's in designated squares. At the end of the experiment, every fourth-grader has a
picture of the orbiter, complete with external tank and booster rockets. Next stop: the
Space Flight Operations Facility, where they will find out about how the Deep Space
Network operates and why it is so important.
Born in San Francisco, Lolich entered the convent of the Dominican Sisters at Mission
San Jose, has two master's degrees and a doctorate in humanistic psychology. She was
called "the quintessential post-Vatican II nun" by a journalist referring to the changes in
the Catholic church brought about in the late 1960s, after Pope John's modernization
efforts. Soon after the pope's announcement, differences of perspective developed in her
community. Lolich was one of 14 Sisters who formed a new sisterly order, the
Community of the Holy Spirit, in 1970.
"The new sisterly order meant that we had to find jobs," she said. "I started in the science
business many years ago as a science teacher in the elementary and secondary schools
with my Dominican community, and building on that experience, I became director of
education for the California Museum of Science and Industry, now named California
Science Center." In short order, she was organizing educational tours to Florida to see the
launches of Apollo and Skylab missions. Her passion for education—particularly science
and the study of space—took her all over the country as part of NASA's effort to
disseminate the results of its space exploration as widely as possible. NASA provided
Lolich with a van, and she drove around the country visiting various school districts as
part of the Urban Community Enrichment Program. Lolich was bringing the excitement
and wonder of space exploration to inner-city schools. All the while, Lolich says that she
has tried to relate the spiritual into everything she teaches, because "one of the definitions
of prayer is the lifting up of mind and spirit. That is the reason for my being here."
In her lifetime of teaching science, and seeking to bring the wonder and opportunity of
learning to people in various walks of life, Lolich has traveled the world and earned many
awards. She has been named Aerospace Education's Teacher Educator of the Year by the
American Society for Aerospace Education; earned the Special Recognition Award from
NASA's Urban Community Enrichment Program; was given the Aviation Educator of
the Year Award by the California Association of Aeronautics Educators; and received
NASA's Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aerospace Education Services Program.
Last but not least, the Commonwealth of Kentucky commissioned her Honorable
Kentucky Colonel. She has traveled to war-torn Bosnia and helped bring some sanity to
children not able to go to school, living in refugee camps. She has been to Antarctica, and
is looking forward to her trip in July to Tex Mallaqia, in Puebla, Mexico, where she will
teach 60 children for two weeks about planets, math and science. She says the most
important part of her teaching is "the hands-on experiences."
The breadth of Lolich's experiences indicates that she loves to try new things. For her
75th birthday she went bungee jumping, and on her 80th birthday she jumped out of an
airplane. Lolich is not deterred by her age; in fact her retirement is part-time. "I intend to
continue my work with NASA Ames, bringing educational outreach programs to people
who cannot visit a NASA center, such as retirement-home residents, residential facilities
for the handicapped, jails and homes for juvenile offenders. I will also assist in training
docents at NASA Ames," she said. She emphasizes that bilingual education students need
a specific outreach effort directed specifically for them. "I want people to recognize that
life is full of opportunities and that there are many options in life." Lolich does not fully
discount the possibility of returning to JPL, perhaps in a limited capacity.
|Sister Clarice skydiving.
Back at JPL's Space Flight Operations Facility, Lolich motions to a 10-year-old boy
swiveling impatiently in a squeaky chair. "Come, stand here," she says, and places him
next to the giant poster of the planets. "You are the Cassini spacecraft. You are sending
information you have gathered about Jupiter to the Deep Space Network on Earth." The
boy motions with his hands as if handing over imaginary packages into the darkened
room. Sister Clarice then picks three girls, and positions them some feet away, standing
back-to-back, with elbows interlocked. "You are Spain, you are Australia and you are
California," she says, touching each girl on top of her head. "Now spin slowly, and call
out your name when you pass by the spacecraft." The girls wobble along, and call out
"Spain … Australia … California … Spain …" "Good," she says. She motions to another
boy. "Come stand here. You are JPL, and you are receiving the information from the
three satellite dishes and making it useful for everyone to learn what the Cassini
spacecraft has learned about Jupiter." The children act out their parts, and suddenly a
room full of fourth-graders understands the Deep Space Network and its importance.
At the end of the tour the children shout a resounding "Thank you!" to Lolich—
undoubtedly a refrain of the thousands who have visited the Lab in years past and have
enjoyed the wonders of science and space exploration because of her passion and
June 22, 2001