Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

"Prodigal Son" - photo credit: Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus Prodigal Son - photo credit: Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus

Writing on his personal blog, Mark Langley (’89) reviews an off-Broadway performance of a new play — written and directed by a Tony and Pulitzer award-winning author — about two late members of the Thomas Aquinas College family, Louise and John Schmitt.

Louise and John SchmittLouise and John SchmittThe Schmitts were the parents of seven Thomas Aquinas College alumni, including Mr. Langley’s wife, Stephanie (’89), and the grandparents of six graduates and six current students. Mr. Schmitt, moreover, joined the teaching faculty in 1974 and was instrumental in organizing the College’s first Commencement ceremony. He left in 1979 to found the Trivium School, a residential high school offering a classical curriculum in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Many Trivium graduates have gone on to attend the College, and several of the College’s alumni have gone on to teach at Trivium.

Yet the reason that Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt figure so prominently in John Patrick Shanley’s recently debuted Prodigal Son has to do with their work prior to their time at the College, specifically in the 1960s, when Mr. Schmitt was the founding headmaster of the St. Thomas More School in New Hampshire. One of his students was a talented but rebellious boy who found his time at the school to be transformative. That student was Mr. Shanley, who has gone on to great acclaim as the screenwriter of Moonstruck and Doubt.

Featuring music by none other than Paul Simon, Prodigal Son tells the story of Jim Quinn, a character based on the adolescent Shanley. The Schmitts show extraordinary patience and dedication to the young man, for reasons, the audience learns, having largely to do with their own great personal suffering. As Mr. Langley writes:

“Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt .. share a well concealed sorrow, a sorrow caused by the tragic death of their own son. This sorrow becomes the source of Quinn’s redemption. Their hearts softened by grief, and harrowed by suffering, impel them to see the good in Quinn, despite his many expellable indiscretions, and they are able to see him through to the end — drawing out his hidden talents and mercifully allowing him to graduate — thus providing him with a sense of self-worth and new opportunity. …

“The play revealed a hidden chapter in the lives of John and Louise Schmitt. The events occurred when my wife was only a year old. Perhaps strangely, yet somewhat typical of many in that generation, Stephanie’s parents did not air their personal lives. They never spoke about these events to me and rarely if ever to their own children. In point of fact, John and Louise Schmitt suffered through not just one, but the tragic deaths of two of their children.”

The founder and the academic dean of The Lyceum, a classical school in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Langley writes that Prodigal Son “is about the mysterious role that suffering plays in life — even the seemingly senseless suffering and heartbreaking pain that comes with the death of one’s own child, one’s own son.” His wife, and her siblings, he adds, are “grateful for the gift that Shanley had given them through this play,” as it has helped to give them “an answer about the mysterious workings of God’s grace in the deaths of their siblings … deaths whose explanations until now had been consigned to the inexplicable mysteries of God’s Divine plan.”


David DaleidenDavid DaleidenOn January 25 a Texas grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization that exposed Planned Parenthood’s program of fetal organ-harvesting. Prosecutors in Harris County filed charges against the two documentarians, alleging that they tampered  with a governmental record by using fake IDs to gain access to Planned Parenthood. Prosecutors further charged Mr. Daleiden with attempting to purchase or sell human organs as part of his sting operation against the abortion giant.

In the days since, Catholic scholars and attorneys have been divided over the ethics of CMP’s undercover operations as well as the justice of the charges against Ms. Merritt and Mr. Daleiden. Among those who have weighed in are two alumni of the College — faithful Catholics, committed champions of the unborn, and practicing attorneys, both — who have presented thoughtful perspectives.

Tim Cantu (’10)Tim Cantu (’10)Writing for the Catholic legal blog The Campion, Tim Cantu (’10) argues that the indictments are, even if unfortunate, legally sound and just. “David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt are charged with crimes of which they are almost certainly guilty. Were their intentions noble? Yes. Was it in service of a good cause? Yes. But to a prosecutor, one charged with carrying out the law instead of making it, that does not and cannot matter,”  Mr. Cantu observes. Appealing to the example of St. Thomas More, he notes, “The ends do not justify the means; if we wish to defy a just law, we must accept the consequences of that choice under the law. The law exists not only as a sword against the wicked; it is also our shield, and by misusing or disregarding it we weaken that shield at our peril.”

Katie Short (’80)Katie Short (’80)Meanwhile, Katie Short (’80), co-founder and vice president of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which is defending Mr. Daleiden in three civil suits, has found fault with the grand jury’s reasoning. “The tampering charge, which is a felony offense, is for the use of a California identification in order to enter the Planned Parenthood clinic for the purpose of investigation,” Mrs. Short tells LifeNews.com. Yet Texas law “provides a defense where the false information has ‘no effect on the government’s purpose for requiring the governmental record,’” she continues — and the purpose of the law in question is to prevent minors from purchasing alcohol, not to shield Planned Parenthood from undercover investigation.

Moreover, a press release issued by Mrs. Short’s Life Legal Defense Foundation contends that the law against attempting to purchase or sell body parts has been, at the very least, unevenly applied. “Daleiden was … charged with human organ trafficking, a misdemeanor charge, for allegedly offering to purchase fetal body parts from Planned Parenthood,” the statement reads. “Inexplicably, Planned Parenthood was not charged with the corresponding crime of offering to sell human organs.”

That disparity, Mr. Cantu acknowledges, may hint “that this was a politically motivated indictment designed to punish Daleiden and Merritt for having the wrong cause,” although the “mere existence of the indictment does not establish that.” Still, he adds in a footnote, “There is a good counterargument that this is a case ripe for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and [the district attorney] should drop these charges.”


Viewers of the Super Bowl may remember the lighthearted Doritos ad about the unborn baby who, at his or her ultrasound appointment, develops a craving for the bag of nacho-cheese chips that Dad is eating nearby. (See video, above.) The 30-second clip, which was the most shared ad from this year’s game, drew chuckles from most Americans — except for the pro-abortion scolds at NARAL. The ad, the pro-abortion lobby complained on its Twitter feed, employed the “antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses.”

Katrina Trinko (’09) Katrina Trinko (’09)Writing for the Daily Signal, Katrina Trinko (’09) observes that NARAL, its humorlessness notwithstanding, may be on to something. No, the ad is not political, as NARAL suggests it is, but it does reflect a cultural reality that the pro-abortion lobby surely dreads.

“Moms and dads are now developing relationships with their children long before the due date, sometimes even announcing both name and sex to friends and family before the baby is born,” writes Miss Trinko, the Daily Signal’s managing editor and a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors. “And that’s what’s frightening to NARAL and other pro-abortion advocates. … [The] increasing awareness that these unborn babies are growing and developing does raise questions about current abortion policy in the United States.”

The Doritos Super Bowl ad, Miss Trinko concludes, was effective not because it engaged in political advocacy, but “because it resonated—and that should terrify pro-abortion advocates.”


Bl. Mother Teresa presents the 1982 Commencement Address at Thomas Aquinas College. Bl. Mother Teresa presents the 1982 Commencement Address at Thomas Aquinas College.

Sean Fitzpatrick ('02)In anticipation of Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has penned an article for Crisis about two women who loom large in America’s ongoing debate about the morality and legality of abortion — Bl. Mother Teresa and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mother Teresa, who will be canonized this year, was an ardent defender of the unborn; Mrs. Clinton, who will likely be on November’s presidential ballot, is an unstinting champion of abortion “rights.” Yet few might remember that, nearly two decades ago, their paths crossed, and the soon-to-be saint had a notable influence on the would-be president.

Mr. Fitzpatrick recalls a poignant exchange between the two:

“Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their lunch at the White House.

The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.

“Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.

Yet even though Mother Teresa was direct, even blunt, in her language, she had the insight and wisdom to find common ground where she and Mrs. Clinton could work together. Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:

Although Hillary Clinton was, and remains, a supporter of legalized abortion, she agreed with Mother Teresa that adoption was a preferable alternative. Speaking to her afterwards, Mother Teresa told Mrs. Clinton of her desire to continue her mission to find homes and families for orphaned, abandoned, and unwanted children by founding an adoption center in Washington, D.C. .... Hillary Clinton did the necessary legwork and succeeded in opening The Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children in 1995 in an affluent section of Washington, D.C.

To appreciate fully the grace and influence of Mother Teresa, one must read Mr. Fitzpatrick’s fine article, Marching for Life, Mother Teresa, and Mrs. Clinton, in full. The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mr. Fitzpatrick writes frequently for Crisis. This is the second year in a row that he has written an article pegged to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. (See last year’s Funeral March for Life.) He concludes this year’s story on a hopeful, inspiring note:

This Friday, pro-life Americans march to … convert the hearts of those like Hillary Clinton. Mother Teresa would have Americans do no less. She herself showed us how to protest against abortion fearlessly. She herself marched peacefully but purposefully, to save the lives of children in any way she could. She shook the walls of the White House with her entreaties, and the Gates of Heaven with her prayers. The marchers in DC gather to rekindle the perfect and patient passion of Mother Teresa — a power that broke through, even to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Members of the Thomas Aquinas College community will be participating in both this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco. Please join us!


Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)

Writing on the website of the Institute for Catholic Education (ICLE), Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87) decries the tendency to regard mathematics as little more than a tool of calculation. “In the ancient world, the mathematical disciplines were honored among the arts essential to the education of free men, and to the road that leads to wisdom,” writes Dr. Seeley, a tutor at the College and ICLE’s executive director. But most of today’s textbooks and standardized tests, he laments, leave “very little time for exploring why the rules for calculation work, and why anyone would want to be calculating in the first place.”

As a hopeful antidote to this all-too-common trend, Dr. Seeley tells the tales of classical educators who are thinking outside the teach-to-the-test box, presenting mathematics in ways that encourage wonder, instill virtue, and inspire thought. Among those educators are two other graduates of the College.

The first is Michael Van Hecke (’86), president of the ICLE, headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, and president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project. “To solve problems consistently, students have to learn to be orderly and to pay attention to detail,” Mr. Van Hecke tells Dr. Seeley. “They have to develop logical thought processes. When you proceed carefully, if you arrive at x=7, it’s undeniable.” Mr. Van Hecke thus encourages his middle-school math students to do their work in an orderly fashion that helps them to understand why they arrive at the correct answers to their problems. He even uses classroom banter as a means of conveying to students the importance of attention to detail in all facets of life.

The second alumnus to appear in Dr. Seeley’s article is John Stebbins (’84), who teaches AP Calculus at St. Augustine Academy. Through most of the year, Mr. Stebbins concedes, he strictly prepares students for the AP exam, which, although useful, can be constraining. What he “really looks forward to,” writes Dr. Seeley, is “May, when the course is done and he can focus on introducing his students to the marvels and beauties of higher level mathematics.” In exploring these wonders, Mr. Stebbins enables his students to appreciate how the boundless complexity of mathematics can yield theological insights — and teach humility. “The universe, even the mathematical one, is vastly greater than our best minds.”

Writing about these educators, Dr. Seeley concludes, reminds him of some of his own experiences at the College:

“In the lunch line at Thomas Aquinas College recently, I met a happy freshman. She had visited the College for a few days before deciding to apply. I asked her what has been the biggest surprise for her. She responded immediately, ‘I love math!’ That was a delightful answer, and brought back happy memories of many academic retreats, where humanities teachers have found that the session on Euclid was their favorite, completely contrary to their expectation. Her reason, however, was novel: ‘In high school math, I would always have to check the answers, because I never really knew whether I was right. With Euclid, I can see and understand the steps and know that I am right.’”

The full article is available via the ICLE website.


Who Designed the Designer

Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92)Writing in the National Catholic Register, John Grondelski sings the praises of Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence by Thomas Aquinas College alumnus and tutor Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92).The recently published book, writes Mr. Grondelski, is an effort to explain God as the First Cause, in order to explain how our universe needs an uncaused, intelligent designer.” Dr. Augros, he says, “proceeds, step by step, using the examples of ordinary experience to slowly, relentlessly and solidly explain how the universe requires a First Cause and what that First Cause necessarily means.” 

Who Designed the Designer, Mr. Grondelski continues, is simple, but not simplistic. “For those interested in confronting the contemporary challenge posed by the New Atheism, this book is a great place to start,” he observes, but “it is not designed for speed reading,” and “Augros will require you to think.”

Grondelski’s highest praises, however, comes in his assessment of the book’s author as educator. “What’s new about this book is Augros’ style,” he writes. “I wish philosophy students were exposed to more thinkers like Augros!”

At least at one college, Mr. Gorndelski, they are!

Related:


Joseph O’Brien (’93)Following up on our recent posts about alumni journalists Christina (Andres ’82) Deardurff and Lauretta Brown (’13), is the news that Joseph O’Brien (’93) is now the managing editor of the Adoremus Bulletin. Published by the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, the journal is dedicated to the authentic renewal of the Sacred Liturgy according to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

An experienced journalist, Mr. O’Brien has been writing about Church matters for nearly two decades. After earning a master’s degree in English at the University of Dallas, he taught high school and middle school before becoming a writer for The Catholic Times, the diocesan newspaper of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1999. He has also worked for various publishing houses, most notably Tuscany Press. At Adoremus, he is responsible for editing the journal’s text as well as some light writing. (Recent work includes two interviews with Rev. Dennis Gill, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, who helped coordinate the liturgies for Pope Francis’s recent visit to that city. See parts one and two.)

“It’s no secret that the liturgy around the country needs a lot of work, and our hope with Adoremus is to be able to give priests and other readers a good understanding of what the Church is. We hope to reflect that,” he says. “We’re not trying to spark a revolution, so to speak, as much as to continue the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and all the popes, especially Benedict XVI and continuing with Pope Francis. The Liturgy brings Heaven to earth, and being part of that is a real joy.”


Lauretta Brown (’13) interviews Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2014. Lauretta Brown (’13) interviews Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2014.

With the new year close at hand, Lauretta Brown (’13) finds herself commemorating two significant anniversaries. It was a little over a year ago that she became a fulltime reporter at the Cybercast News Service (CNS) — and shortly thereafter that she unsettled House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with a frank question about abortion.

Just weeks into her job at CNS, Miss Brown went to Mrs. Pelosi’s weekly press briefing to query the California Congresswoman about her opposition to the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Eschewing the distracting political angles, Miss Brown cut to the chase, asking, “Is an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy a human being?”

When the Minority Leader responded with the usual pro-abortion boilerplate, Miss Brown’s CNS colleague pressed further. “My question is pretty simple,” she began. “Legislation aside, when it comes to the matter of whether or not an unborn child is a human being at 20 weeks’ gestation, what is your personal take on it? If it is not a human being, then what do you believe it is?”

A simple question, to be sure, but one to which Mrs. Pelosi refused to provide a straightforward answer. “She was dumbfounded, offended. She would not answer,” Miss Brown recalls. “She said she had been around a lot longer than I had. She said she was a Catholic mother, and she knew more about having babies than the Pope. She raised up all kinds of tangential issues, but never answered directly.”

Asking the tough and important — but too often overlooked — questions, Miss Brown says, is among her greatest joys as a political reporter. “I try to find stories that maybe are not being reported on as much,” particularly those that touch upon matters of the right to life, religious freedom, and the plight of Christians in the Middle East. “That’s our mission, to find stories that aren’t being reported as widely, and bring those to life.”

Yet when she graduated from the College in 2013, Miss Brown did not envision a career in journalism. She intended to become a lawyer, and was considering offers from law schools when a friend told her about an internship at CNS — a short-term commitment, or so she thought when she agreed to take the position. She soon, however, developed a love for journalism and set aside all thoughts of law school. In short order, her internship turned into a trial position that, last December, became a fulltime job.

Since then, Miss Brown has worked to report the untold stories from Capitol Hill. She has interviewed numerous notable figures political, cultural, and religious, including presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, entertainers Geena Davis and Leona Lewis, and Church prelates such as His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and His Excellency William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore.

When cutting through politician’s all-too-common dissimulations, she says, she finds herself drawing upon her Thomas Aquinas College education. “Smart reporting is always improved through critical thinking, looking at statements, and saying, ‘OK, what is factual about this?’” she observes. “I have been shocked at how much, in conversations and in my writing, I’ve been able to draw back on my experience from the College. It has been a tremendous help.”


Christina (Andres ’82) DeardurffChristina (Andres ’82) Deardurff“The Jubilee is a time of joy,” writes Christina (Andres ’82) Deardurff. “It is a time of remission of sins and universal pardon.”

Published on the Inside the Vatican website in May, shortly after His Holiness Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy, Mrs. Deardurff’s story is an informative account of the significance of the current Jubilee and the graces that it makes available. “The Pope himself opens the door in St. Peter’s Basilica,” in a symbolic gesture, she writes, that “reflects the exclusion of Adam and Eve — and of the whole human family — from the Garden of Eden due to sin, and the readmittance into grace of the penitent of heart.”

A homeschooling mother of 10, Mrs. Deardurff recently joined the staff of Inside the Vatican as an editorial assistant at the magazine’s U.S. office in Front Royal, Virginia. Before taking a leave from writing and editing to raise her children, she worked in journalism and public relations, serving as an editor and contributor to Child and Family Review. She and her husband, Richard (’84), have also been active in promoting Catholic Montessori education and care for the mentally handicapped, particularly those with Down Syndrome.

An archive of Mrs. Deardurff’s other stories for Inside the Vatican is available on the magazine’s website.

 


When asked to submit a video that explores “various aspects of wood” for a contest sponsored by the International Wood Culture Society, filmmaker André Fox (’05) thought of two of his fellow Thomas Aquinas College graduates, Dominic O’Reilly (’12) and Alex Tombelli (’13). Mr. O’Reilly is the head winemaster at Topa Mountain Winery in Ojai, California, where he works alongside Mr. Tombelli, a winemaker and carpenter. By combining his two crafts, Mr. Tombelli has developed an innovative new form of artistry — carving oak furniture from discarded wine barrels — that is the subject of the above video.

The video, which earned an honorable mention award in the category of “Wood & Humanity,” includes an original score by another alumnus, Jake DeTar (’11). Mr. Fox, the owner of André Fox Productions, shot all the photography and edited the documentary. His work can also be seen on the College’s recently released video, Praying Twice: The Thomas Aquinas College Choir.