Faith in Action Blog
In 1993, one year after one of its former medical students died of cancer, the University of Alaska Anchorage created an award in his honor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of that award, named for Jon B. Syren, a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1987.
The university website notes:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.…
Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine.
Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly is a member of the College’s Board of Governors. She has spoken eloquently about the blessing that accompanied her first husband’s holy death for those around him:
When Jon died, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I saw the effect that our education at the College had had on him. It was absolutely beautiful. And there was a ripple effect on the entire medical community and all that knew him and watched him suffer — in a way so beautifully, not dismayed or broken by it. His suffering was so faith-filled that it was just triumphant.
Twenty-one years later, Jon Syren’s life and death continue to touch lives. May he rest in peace.
While many Catholics across the country, including numerous Thomas Aquinas College alumnae, have protested the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate by citing religious freedom, others are also challenging it on a more fundamental level. They are questioning not only the federal government’s power to force Catholic employers to provide contraceptives and abortifacients, but also its stated reasons for doing so. “Is it really,” they ask, “in the best interest of women, marriage and family, society, or the environment to promote the use of oral contraceptives and other such medications?”
No, says Dr. Pia de Solenni, an ethicist, theologian, member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1993, and recipient of the 2001 Pontifical Prize of the Academies. Last Saturday Dr. de Solenni spoke at The Pill Kills 2012, a national symposium held in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by the American Life League and 30 other pro-life groups. Presenting the teachings of the Church, Dr. de Solenni drew on references ranging from popular culture to St. Thomas Aquinas, noting how modern conceptions of love and sexuality are inherently truncated and unfulfilling.
“All of our cultural references, and all of our examples of ‘chick lit’ — from Bridget Jones to Sex and the City to Bridesmaids — they’re all manifesting a deep dissatisfaction, a sense that you have to do things this way because that’s the way it’s done. And yet they’re all yearning for something more,” said Dr. de Solenni. “When the Church is looking at sexuality, there is a context here, and it is a context shaped by love. Contraception impedes the sexual act between spouses because it holds back fertility. It’s not a gift of self.”
Dr. de Solenni’s presentation is available in the above video, and the rest of the symposium can be found on the American Life League’s YouTube Channel.
Alumnus Greg Pfundstein (’05) has a new article in National Review Online about the alarmingly high incidence of abortion New York City. The column recounts a catalogue of horrors with its zip-code-by-zip-code breakdown of the city’s abortion rates. It also offers some salient insights pertaining to the current controversy over the HHS contraceptive-abortifacient-sterilization mandate, specifically:
“The abortion industry, most notably embodied by America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, contends that it has the solution to the problem it created in the form of ‘increased access’ to universally available contraception and wider distribution of its marginally effective radical sexual-education programs. Such a contention displays a startling lack of imagination. Note that New York City passed out 40 million free condoms in 2009, requires coverage of contraception by all insurance plans, and has had radical sex ed in the schools for some time (and now mandates it). Interested observers would do well to actually listen to the women who do not avail themselves of the ubiquitous and free contraception and try to understand what complex social dynamics are at work.”
Mr. Pfundstein is the Executive Director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, non-profit philanthropy in New York. He holds a licentiate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, and serves on both the Patient’s Rights Council and the Pro-Life Commission of the Archdiocese of New York.
While the battle to preserve Catholic values in American health care has reached fever pitch with the recent HHS contraceptive mandate, it has endured, often quietly, for years. Throughout that time, two alumni of the College — Katie Short (’80) and John Damiani (’84) — have been at the forefront of that fight.
Mrs. Short is a founder and the legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which provides legal aid to those who need help in their efforts to protect the unborn. Dr. Damiani is president of the Christus Medicus Foundation, which works to ensure the right of conscience for health-care workers, promote the Culture of Life in American health care, and assist in the establishment of Christ-centered health-care centers.
Now, through their respective organizations, Mrs. Short and Dr. Damiani are collaborating on a conference dedicated to defending life and religious liberty. “Make Straight the Pathway: An Integrated and Unified Solution for Catholic Healthcare Reform” will be held in San Francisco on March 29-31. Hosted by Life Legal Defense Foundation and Christus Medicus Foundation, the conference is sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco; the Dioceses of Oakland, Santa Rosa, and Sacramento; and several other pro-life and medical organizations.
The conference follows a similar event that Dr. Damiani arranged last year in Detroit. That conference proved so successful that Medicus’ episcopal advisor, the Most Rev. Robert F. Vasa, Bishop of Santa Rosa, asked that one like it be held for the Western region of the country.
“The current trajectory of public health policy points to a future where the phrase ‘Catholic health care’ will be an oxymoron,” warns Mrs. Short. “This conference aims to equip medical professionals, policymakers, and others to help our country make a desperately needed course correction.”
Adds Dr. Damiani, “Our Holy Father, in his Ad Limina address to the bishops, warned of the rise of secular humanism. He reminded the bishops of their baptismal and consecrated vows to not let the gates of hell prevail against the spread of the Gospel to all. He pointed out that our founding principles enshrine that freedom. Therefore we must not let the state restrict or worse, define, what is the proper living out of our call to faith. The laity need to respond to the urging of the Holy Father and support the bishops in fulfilling their charge from the Holy See by educating themselves on these issues and organizing for action in the sphere of their own community.”
Information and registration forms for the conference are available online.
One of several alumni of the College who have taken a leadership role in opposing the HHS contraceptive mandate, Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93) appeared as part of a panel on the subject at the Heritage Foundation on February 27. The panel, entitled Women Speak Out, featured notable experts from various religious, women’s, and public-policy groups.
“This goes much broader than most religious groups because it’s about freedom per se,” said Dr. de Solenni, owner of Diotima Consulting, LLC. “It’s about whether or not individuals have the rights to make decisions for themselves.”
Please pray for Rosie Grimm (’10), daughter of Rose and Dan (both ‘76), who has been diagnosed with cancer. We recently received the following update from her sister:
Dear friends and family,
Rosie met with an oncologist in Ventura [Friday], and learned that the cancer has spread … she has three nodules in one lung and one in the other. She will probably start immunotherapy next week. Please pray for all aspects of her treatment to go well. She (impressing me greatly) continues in pretty good spirits ... I’m sure supported by your prayers. Thanks yet again for them, and for continuing them ... as you can imagine, this is a pretty hard time! But it is greatly helped by the aid God has given through your prayers. May He reward you as He knows how.
Love in Christ,
Wendy-Irene (Grimm ’99) Zepeda
Please take a moment to say the following prayer through the intercession of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman:
God our Father, you granted to your servant Blessed John Henry Newman wonderful gifts of nature and of grace, that he should be a spiritual light in the darkness of this world, an eloquent herald of the Gospel, and a devoted servant of the one Church of Christ. With confidence in his heavenly intercession, we make the following petition:
For a successful treatment for Rosie and for her speedy and complete healing.
For his insight into the mysteries of the kingdom, his zealous defense of the teachings of the Church, and his priestly love for each of your children, we pray that he may soon be numbered among the saints. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It has come to our attention that back on December 21, 2011, two alumni of the College were signatories to a statement organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to oppose the HHS contraceptive mandate. The statement (PDF) appeared as a full-page advertisement in that day’s New York Times and Washington Post.
Among the signatories, who included some 150 Catholic leaders from across the United States, were Dr. John Damiani (’84), president of the Christus Medicus Foundation, and Mr. Jeremy McNeil (’96), president of the Catholic Professional & Business Group.
The statement reads:
“We, the undersigned, strongly support access to life-affirming health care for all, and the ability of secular and religious groups and individuals to provide and receive such care. That is why we have raised objections to a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services forcing almost all private health plans to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including drugs that may cause an early abortion.
“As written, the rule will force Catholic organizations that play a vital role in providing health care and other needed services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services. This would harm both religious freedom and access to health care.
“The HHS mandate puts many faith-based organizations and individuals in an untenable position. But it also harms society as a whole by undermining a long American tradition of respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In a pluralistic society, our health care system should respect the religious and ethical convictions of all. We ask Congress, the Administration, and our fellow Americans to acknowledge this truth and work with us to reform the law accordingly.”
The statement was also signed by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and the Most Rev. José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles.
The latest alumnus to pursue a career in medicine is Timothy Jay (’10), shown in the picture to the right with his wife, Hayley (Cowhig ’10), and their son, Peter. The photo comes from Tim’s recent white coat ceremony at the University of Minnesota Medical School, an event where all new medical students are formally welcomed and inducted into the professional and medical community. Congratulations to Tim and the entire Jay family!