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Finding God on the periodic chart

The Denver Catholic Register will feature a summer reading series on Catholic-themed books with a Colorado connection. The series launches with a new book by Denver native Father Fred Gaglia, Ph.D.

While most people have likely never considered how that colorful chart that hangs on the wall of science classrooms could enrich their spiritual lives, Father Fred Gaglia has.

In a new book, “Periodic Chart of Virtuous Living for Teens—One Element at a Time,” Father Gaglia, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of California Riverside, draws on his experience of 51 years in the priesthood and 18 years in the biology classroom to demonstrate parallels between the order of elements in the chart, and an order for spiritual growth.

“Through my interest in biology and my priesthood I have always been utterly amazed by the whole concept of living things, how things are designed and structured,” Father Gaglia told the Denver Catholic Register from his north Denver home last week. “I always wanted to write a book on the subject that would be different and unique.”

In his book, released in April, he takes the symbol for each of the 92 naturally occurring elements of the period chart—from Chapter 1 “The Journey Through the Alkaline Metals,” through Chapter 12 “The Journey Ends with the Noble Gases”—and ties each to a virtue. For example, he kicks it off with the first element “H” for hydrogen and ties it to “holiness.” He explains the connection in a section titled “The Call.”

“(Hydrogen is) the simplest and lightest of all elements and the most abundant element in the universe,” he writes. “That should also be the makeup of our spiritual lives, that is, holiness should be the simplest thing in our complex world and the most abundant element of our relationship with God.”

The narrative continues with applicable Scripture verses and concludes with “The Challenge.” There, he provides practical application of the virtue for young people, such as spending time in adoration, serving the poor, or a simple reflection on lyrics from a Christian song.

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“My basic approach was to try and reach (young readers) in bite-size pieces,” he said. “I taught for a long time; I know how they operate.”

Father Gaglia grew up in north Denver, was ordained in 1963 and incardinated for the Diocese of San Bernadino. He served in education as a professor, principal and pastor in California before returning to Denver in 2003. He also taught homiletics at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, contributed to two books: “Guiltless Catholic Parenting” and “Sacraments from A to Z,” and is author and narrator of a CD “How to Pray the Rosary; a Teaching for Children.”

Today, at age 75, retired from active ministry, he is busy filling in for priests at Denver-area parishes nearly every weekend and continues as priest liaison with National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries, a ministry of Catholic missionaries aged 18-28; as well as with Life Teen, a parish-based youth ministry program used by more than 1,600 parishes nationwide.

“All kids today study science,” he said. “Maybe they’ll pick up the book because of their interest in science and it will get them more spiritually inclined.”

On the flip side, the book may reach kids who are less science-inclined and spark their interest in the subject.

“It can be a catalyst for them,” he said. “And bring both of those groups together to common ground.”

Ultimately he aims to demonstrate to readers what an incredible gift creation is.

“Somebody had to design this,” he said of the world. “It didn’t just appear… it’s a basis for why we believe in Creator God.”

Father Gaglia suggested the book as a useful complement in science classes and youth groups, as well as a resource for parents and Catholic educators.

“It can be a jumping point to take junior and senior high students out of the classroom setting,” he said, “and get them going in a different direction.”

“Periodic Chart of Virtuous Living for Teens—One Element at a Time,” with imprimatur granted by Archbishop Samuel Aquila, is available at www.Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.


Title: “Periodic Chart of Virtuous Living for Teens—One Element at a Time” (Outskirts Press, 208 pages)

Author: Father Fred R. Gaglia, Ph.D.

Available: Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble

Cost: $13.46 paperback, $8.99 Kindle edition


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