Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Following his series of dispatches from Rome (see parts one, two, and three), Michael Van Hecke (’86) recently sat down for the above interview with the Cardinal Newman Society. “Two things struck me particularly,” he said of the conference. “One was the real commitment and passion by virtually every speaker about the importance of really making sure everybody keeps Christ in Catholic education, and [two] that Catholic education is still worth fighting for.”

An American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education, Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school in Ventura, California. He is also the president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project and the president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

Below is the third in a series of reflections by Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City. (See parts one and two.)

View from Inside Rome

Michael Van Hecke (’86)Michael Van Hecke (’86)By Michael Van Hecke (’86)
World Congress on Education
Castel Gondolfo/Vatican City
Thursday, November 20, 2015

“This is a very important work!”

These were the kind and encouraging words we received from the prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education, His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi. I met him earlier in the afternoon, then happened upon him in an empty lecture hall, paging through our All Ye Lands book. That was when he told me, “This is a very important work!” He will now take the textbook and our other Catholic Textbook Project materials back to the Vatican offices and review them some more.

This was a nice ending to another long day that featured a great variety of speakers on a wide range of topics. The morning sessions were particularly germane to us in our work at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and for me personally as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy. Much of the morning was devoted to outlining the process and importance of forming those who form teachers — college teacher-formation programs and headmasters’ building the learning communities in their own schools. What was heartening was the clear and passionate appeal to make a theological and spiritual formation the centerpiece of any formation, be it of educational leaders, teachers, or students.

It was following these presentations that I had an opportunity to address the assembly. Introducing myself as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, I spoke of my own efforts to build a sound, Catholic faculty who teach from a classical perspective. I invited everyone to consider the importance of remembering the great history of our Catholic intellectual tradition.

At this congress, like many professional conferences, there is a preponderant emphasis on the latest research and newest trends, as well as appeals to address the most current issues. And yet, if we are to celebrate the great anniversaries of Church proclamations on Catholic education, documents which stand on the shoulders of our intellectual custom, we need to look at today’s and tomorrow’s challenges from a vantage point of tradition. If we remain moored in our contemporary viewpoint, we will drift far from our potential. The rich traditions we have received in the Church were built on the experience of the centuries — an experience that, in every century, addressed problems in light of the wisdom the Church has received.

The first hint I had that I said something good was when a Canadian archbishop gave me a nice compliment on his way past my seat. Following my talk, I received many similar compliments. Despite the contemporary focus of the academic element of the Congress, it seems that many educators still understand the importance of our Catholic intellectual tradition. Another reason for hope. …

This is the end of our lovely sojourn at Castel Gandolfo. Tomorrow brings us to the closing gathering. A final report to follow.

Blessings to you all.


Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, leads his defense team at federal court in San Francisco.
Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, at federal court in San Francisco.

When David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress first devised his plan to expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of harvesting and selling the organs of aborted babies, he knew he would need legal advice. So the undercover journalist turned to San Francisco’s Life Legal Defense Foundation and its co-founder and vice president, Katie Short (’80). Mrs. Short and others helped Mr. Daleiden to prepare for the inevitable legal challenges and to navigate the myriad laws in several jurisdictions.

Katie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressKatie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressNearly three years later, that effort has proved to be a tremendous success, drawing national attention to Planned Parenthood’s gruesome practices and fueling a Congressional movement to strip the abortion provider of federal funding. Predictably, the abortion industry’s premier trade group, the National Abortion Federation, has struck back with a lawsuit designed to ruin Mr. Daleiden and suppress his findings. And so the young filmmaker has turned to Mrs. Short once again, asking her foundation to defend him against a fevered legal onslaught.

“We at Life Legal have fought for decades to guarantee the First Amendment rights of pro-life activists,” says Mrs. Short. “Usually this happens on a small scale right in front of an abortion mill. Now we are seeing the same drama play out on a grand scale in the public eye, as the NAF throws its resources into crushing David Daleiden’s witness. There’s really little else that they can do, as David truly has the goods on the abortion industry in general and on Planned Parenthood in particular. Only by doing our all at this crucial juncture can Life Legal keep the truth about Planned Parenthood available to the public.”

A home-schooling mother of nine children, Mrs. Short has written numerous briefs for state and federal courts, including petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court. She co-authored the text of Propositions 73, 85, and 4, California ballot initiatives aimed at requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. She additionally served as co-counsel in People’s Advocate v. ICOC, a suit challenging the constitutionality of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency established by Proposition 71 to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Last week Mrs. Short was at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, leading Mr. Daleiden’s pro bono defense team during his deposition — one small step in what promises to be a lengthy, exhausting, and expensive legal battle. “The case has extremely high stakes for all participants,” says Mrs. Short’s husband, Bill (’80), a fellow attorney. “Please pray for Daleiden, the project, Katie, and the rest of the legal team, and encourage others to do so as well.”

Samantha Flanders, Joanna Kaiser, and Tori Miller

Three members of the Class of 2015 — Samantha Flanders, Tori Miller, and Joanna Kaiser — have recently returned from a post-graduation mission trip to Port au Prince, Haiti, where they worked with the Missionaries of Charity. Writes Miss Flanders:

Port au Prince“We began every morning at 5:00 a.m. in the chapel with morning prayer, meditations on Scripture, and Holy Mass; after which I would go and help take care of the 115 babies (mostly suffering from malnutrition) that the sisters provided care for in the compound. Once a month I would help the sisters with a food distribution to 900 needy people. We would give them 10 cups of rice and beans, 30 cups of cornmeal, 1cup of oil, 1can of tomato paste, and 1chicken. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, I would help out at the sisters’ St. Joseph wound clinic. The poor people of Haiti would come in long lines and wait for us to dress their wounds, mostly third-degree burns covering their arms and legs, and injuries such as machete hacks and bullet wounds.

children in Port au Prince“The weather was very humid and balmy. Every day my clothes would be drenched in sweat, and in the afternoon the heat was usually unbearable. It is truly incredible how much the MC sisters endure. Not only do they put up with the heat but they also live in such a detached way — it is truly a beautiful vocation. The trip was an amazing experience, and I am so grateful to God for all of the benefactors who supported it, and especially to all the angels He put on my road. I was able to meet a lot of other wonderful volunteers in Haiti.”

Miss Flanders and Miss Kaiser are currently continuing their journey with a 33-day pilgrimage to Spain, where they are backpacking 800 km. of the Camino de Santiago.

Greg Pfundstein (’05), president of the New York-based Chiaroscuro Foundation, recently appeared on the Canadian television program Context with Lorna Dueck to discuss the recent visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United States. (Interview begins at the 1:08 mark.)

Greg Pfundstein ('05)Answering a question about the ostensible tension between mercy and doctrine, Mr. Pfundstein responded, “The interesting thing about mercy is that there is no mercy if there is no justice. If there is no law, if there is no sin, why does anyone need any mercy? There is nothing to forgive; there is nothing to be sorry for. So there is always this balance between upholding what is true about human nature — and what we are all called to live in our lives as Christians and as human beings — and, on the other hand, embracing people where they are, in their own struggles and their own weaknesses, and trying to draw them in.” The Holy Father’s approach, Mr. Pfundstein continued, is like that of Our Lord’s comments to the woman caught in adultery, offering mercy while at the same time upholding truth. “It’s a delicate balance,” he continued, “and this pope, I think, has struck it very well.”

Mr. Pfundstein also cautioned against the tendency to force papal statements into a narrowly political framework. “The American political situation is a small part of the wider world, and the Pope is speaking … to the whole world and to the Universal Church,” he said. “His comments transcend our political categories, and I think it’s a mistake to think of them only in those terms. If anyone feels completely comfortable with everything he says, they’re probably not listening carefully. He’s got something that should challenge all of us.”

His Holiness Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia, as photographed by Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan
His Holiness Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia, as photographed by Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan

The College has received reports — and photos — from a number of alumni who were present for parts of His Holiness Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. Among them are Emily (Barry ’11) and Joe Sullivan (’09), who serves on the parish council for the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Below, the Sullivans are pictured with their two daughters before the World Meeting of Families Mass:

The Sullivan family before the World Meeting of Families Mass
The Sullivan family before the World Meeting of Families Mass

Mrs. Sullivan, who works for Endow, a nonprofit organization that writes study guides for magisterial documents to be used in women’s study groups, participated in a World Meeting of Families panel, “Woman: God’s Gift to the Human Family,” about the feminine genius and St. Edith Stein. A last-minute substitute for another speaker, she “literally had 10 minutes’ notice” that she would be presenting, she reports. “Thank God for four years of learning how to articulate theological ideas well!”

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) waits for the Popemobile to pass by in PhiladelphiaRev. Ramon Decaen (’96) waits for the Popemobile to pass by in PhiladelphiaAmong the other alumni in Philadelphia were Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), the pastor of the Parish of Cristo Rey and diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry in Lincoln. Fr. Decaen traveled with a group of some 100 fellow Nebraskans to the City of Brotherly Love, where he had the honor of concelebrating at one of the Holy Father’s Masses. … Sr. Teresa Benedicta Block, O.P. (’02), joined by three of her fellow Ann Arbor Dominicans, led a pilgrimage of 12 high school students from San Francisco to the city. … Jacob Mason (’10) a seminarian for the Diocese of Arlington, attended a brief talk from the Holy Father at Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Mr. Mason is a student and Pope Francis stayed during his visit. … Other alumni on hand for the Holy Father’s trip to Philadelphia include Sarah Jimenez (’10), who works in the chancery for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Becky (Daly) and Greg Pfundstein (both ’05), executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation in New York City.

Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam., before the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra
Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam., before the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra

Meanwhile, several alumni were able to attend the Holy Father’s canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam. (’78), pictured above, served as a concelebrant. Among others in attendance were Aaron Dunkel (’06) and four alumni who are graduate students at the Catholic University of America: John Brungardt (’08), Joshua Gonnerman (’09), Emily McBryan (’11), and Kathleen Sullivan (’06),who provided the photo below:

Kathleen Sullivan (’06) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Kathleen Sullivan (’06) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Sara Majkowski ('14), front right, and fellow members of Catholics in Action
Sara Majkowski ('14), front right, and fellow members of Catholics in Action

Less than one year since her graduation, Sara Majkowski (’14) is living just outside of Phoenix, where she is an educator by day and — in her spare time — she is learning the ropes of film production and finance.

This entrée to the movie business comes as a surprise. Like several other recent graduates, Miss Majkowski went to Phoenix to teach in the city’s rapidly expanding consortium of Great Hearts charter academies, classical schools that are, as she puts it, “very academically rigorous, with high standards in terms of behavior and academics.” But upon settling into her new city, she found herself a church — St. Anne’s in Gilbert — with ties to an emerging lay apostolate, Catholics in Action.

Directed by the pastor of St. Anne’s, Rev. Sergio Muñoz Fita, Catholics in Action is an American offshoot of Catholic Action, an international apostolate of the Secular Institute Servi Trinitatis. CIA, as it is known, is “about lay people obtaining sanctity in their lives as lay people,” Miss Majkowski explains. “We pray together in adoration. We receive spiritual formation. We reach out to the community, the poor, and young people who need formation, everything Christ directs us to do.”

Although a new member, Miss Majkowski is already heavily involved in CIA and its good works. She is helping to organize a trip to the 2016 World Youth Day in Poland, and she is busily raising funds for an upcoming film, Footprints.

The genesis of Footprints came about last summer, when two groups from St. Anne’s — one men, one women — made 40-day pilgrimages along Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela. A camera crew accompanied the men’s group, obtaining footage for a film that aims, Miss Majkowski says, “to document their spiritual experience, undergoing psychological trials and harsh physical demands.” There will be a premier screening in June and a general release, they expect, within a year. “I’m working on raising funds to complete production through a Kickstarter campaign, selling merchandise, approaching businesses, and spreading the word,” she says.

Meanwhile, Miss Majkowski thrives at Arete Preparatory Academy in Gilbert, where she teaches history and Latin to elementary-school students. “There is so much that goes into teaching — finding ways to make the lessons ‘stick,’ holding students’ attention, being responsible with grading, working with parents, and planning events,” she says. “I like it. I like it a lot.”

Jillian Cooke (’04)Please pray for alumna Jillian Cooke (’04), who, by God’s grace, will soon be making her perpetual profession of vows with the Father Kolbe Missionaries of the Immaculata. “From the seeds planted at TAC,” she recently wrote in a note to College President Michael F. McLean, “the Lord has worked wonders in my life.”

Miss Cooke is a consecrated member of the Fr. Kolbe Missionaries, a worldwide secular institute of pontifical right, having previously taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In this capacity, she once observed, she seeks to live “the intimacy of the cloister in the world of secular society.”

Noting that she is “praying for the faculty, staff, students, board, benefactors” of Thomas Aquinas College, and that she is “thanking God for the many blessings received during my four years” on campus, Miss Cooke writes that “all are sincerely invited to share” in her sacred day. Her perpetual vows will take place on March 21 at St. Christopher Church in West Covina, California, during the 1:00 p.m. Mass.

Thanks be to God!


Abi Retallick (’14)Thanks to all for your many prayers for Abi Retallick (’14), which appear to have borne good fruit. Brigid McCarthy (’04) reports:

“Last night Mariclare Lessard (’14) messaged me on Facebook relaying that the last update she knew of was that Abi ‘got through surgery’ and was ‘doing OK.’ ...

“Abi herself sent me a message on Facebook at 7:07 a.m. this morning: ‘I really appreciate all of the prayers. The TAC Community is so wonderful.’ She went on to say that she will ‘be heading home sooner because of this, but it should be a quick recovery.’”

Your continued prayers are greatly appreciated!

Senior tutor Dr. Thomas Kaiser (’75) asks for prayers for his brother Ken (’78), husband of Patricia (Grimm ’79) and father of William (’03) and John (’07). “Ken has pancreatic cancer,” writes Dr. Kaiser. “He is seeing specialists at UCLA, and they think they have caught the disease in its early stages and it is treatable.” The family will know more about Ken’s condition next week. “In the meantime,” adds Dr. Kaiser, “please keep him in your prayers.”

Meanwhile, the College has learned that Abigail Retallick (’14), who is on a six-month mission trip at an orphanage in Brazil, is suffering from acute appendicitis. As of this writing, she is in surgery, but due to the remoteness of her location, she may have arrived at the hospital too late for effective treatment. Please join us in praying the Memorare on Abi’s behalf:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.