Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.”

Br. Augustine, O.S.B. (’13)Br. Augustine, O.S.B. (’13)

The College has received the joyful news that on September 8 — the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Philip Wilmeth (’13) made his simple vows at the Monastero di San Benedetto. He is now Brother Augustine, O.S.B., and a novice at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica.

“I was so grateful to be there and share this beautiful celebration with the monks of Norcia,” writes Br. Augustine’s mother, Anne T. Wilmeth. “They are a wonderful community of brothers who exemplify God’s grace.”

Among those present for the profession Mass were four Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., one of Br. Augustine’s fellow Benedictines; Deneys Williamson (’10) and David Allen (’10), seminarians who are studying in Rome for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and the Norbertine Fathers in Silverado, California, respectively; and Br. Augustine’s brother, John Parker Wilmeth (’14), who is studying classical architecture in University of Notre Dame’s graduate program.

Br. Augustine, meanwhile, recently enjoyed a home visit, during which he took a break from his duties as the manager of the Benedictines’ brewery and gift shop. His voice can be heard on the community’s new musical album, Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia.

Deneys Williamson (’10), Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B.,  Br. Augustine Wilmeth, O.S.B. (’13), and David Allen (’10)
Deneys Williamson (’10), Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., Br. Augustine Wilmeth, O.S.B. (’13), and David Allen (’10)

Saints Zelie and Louis Martin
Saints Zelie and Louis Martin

Suzie (Zeiter ’87)Suzie Andres (’87)

Fresh after writing her testimonial to St. Junipero Serra, alumna novelist Suzie Andres (’87) has authored a tribute to the Church’s two most recently canonized saints, Louis and Zelie Martin. The Martins “are quite near to us,” Mrs. Andres observes, and this proximity makes their holiness tangible — and attainable — to us, their faithful contemporaries. As such, they are a valuable and much-needed model for our time:

“Louis and Zelie’s message isn’t new; it’s the same message their daughter has been spreading so handily for the last 120 years, the message of the Gospel. But if we ask where Saint Thérèse learned her little and very ordinary way of sanctity, the answer comes back from the Church: she learned it first in the home of her parents, whose way was absolutely ordinary. …

“The message of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin is simply this: Sanctity is not beyond our reach — it is Christ’s doing, and He thirsts to do it in us. The Church will not rest until she gets this message through our very thick heads: the saints were human like we are, and we need not be daunted by their greatness. It is just such greatness that Jesus has in mind for us, the greatness of the little ones. Without Him, we are nothing, and when He makes us great, it is simply His greatness shining forth in us.”

His Holiness Pope Francis canonized the Martins this past weekend on World Mission Sunday. Saints Louis and Zelie, pray for us!


Classmates: Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99) and Director of Alumni Affairs Mark Kretschmer (’99)
Classmates: Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99) and Director of Alumni Affairs Mark Kretschmer (’99)

Sixteen years after his graduation, Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99), returned to Thomas Aquinas Tuesday night to present a vocational talk, “The Life of a Dominican Priest.” Some 20 young men came to the discussion, in which Fr. Michael, the pastor of the 2,500-family St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, described his journey to Thomas Aquinas College, his vocational discernment, and a “typical day” of shepherding souls in a busy urban parish.

Fr. Michael graduated from the College in 1999, and joined the Western Dominican Province shortly thereafter. He then studied at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, earner master’s degree in both philosophy and theology. Since his ordination in 2007 he has served various parishes in the Bay Area before becoming the pastor of St. Dominic’s Church.

Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99)“What led me to the Dominicans and the Dominican life,” he reflected at Tuesday’s dinnertime discussion, is “very similar to the reason why I came to the College.” When he was a teenager, his parents enrolled him in a fundamentalist Protestant school where his peers challenged his faith, he says, and “I became the Catholic answer guy, but I had no idea how to be the Catholic answer guy.” Seeking a college experience “that would help me think about my faith in a kind of deeper, personal way,” he came to Thomas Aquinas College, he says, drawn by the strong sense of Catholic community and robust sacramental life” — qualities that ultimately drew him to the Order of Preachers, as well.

Over the course of his talk, Fr. Michael took questions and spoke frankly about both the challenges and blessing of his vocation. “Let me give you my schedule from two Saturdays ago,” he said. “I got up, and we celebrated the 8:00 a.m. Mass. Then I had a baptism at 10, followed by a funeral. Then we had a wedding. Then there were confessions before the 5:30 Mass. Then came the vigil Mass, after which I got a phone call, because we are on call for three hospitals in the area. Someone had had a heart attack while swimming in the Bay and was basically on life support” — and so the priest had to rush to the scene to perform an anointing.

“I have to say, at the end of the day, no doubt, I was taking a deep breath,” he recalled. “But I just said, O Lord, what a life — to be able to be rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.”

As a pastor, he continued, he has the privilege of being an alter Christus in the lives of the faithful. “A lot of these folks I don’t even know personally, but when you’re a priest, when you’re a Dominican, when you wear this habit, people know you in a sense. They have that sense of connection, and you can be personally Christ for them. It’s not like they know who I am; they know who Christ needs to be for them. For me, there is nothing more inspiring, delightful, and wonderful.”

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

Campus Statue of St. Junipero Serra

To celebrate His Holiness Pope Francis’s canonization of California’s patron, St. Junipero Serra, Wendy-Irene (Grimm ’99) Zepeda has written the following hymn:

To the tune of “For All the Saints”

O faithful saint! Apostle to the West!
Founder of missions, striving without rest!
With you we sing, Junipero the blest:
Siempre adelante! Siempre adelante!

Though suffering illness, violence and fear,
You gave His love to those God brought you near;
Your footsore journeys spoke the Gospel clear!
Siempre adelante! Siempre adelante!

Come, ring the bell you rang in days of yore,
Come, plant the Cross again upon our shore!
Bring California to Christ’s heart once more!
Siempre adelante! Siempre adelante!

 St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!

Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres“My husband teaches at a college where her Emma is read senior year by every student,” writes Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, wife of tutor Dr. Anthony Andres, in a new essay for Crisis magazine. “I object, but only because I think the work to introduce [Jane Austen] in such a universal way ought to be Pride and Prejudice, accessible to the uninitiated but still brilliant to the reader who already knows her well.”

From there proceeds a glowing tribute to the author whom Mrs. Andres heralds as “The Divine Jane,” and “The Novelist.” Jane Austen, she observes:

“… charms 13-year-olds as well as 30-year-olds, 16-year-olds and 60-year-olds, 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds. Who can say whether the gladness one feels upon first reading her is greater or less than the mature joy one feels when returning to her for the who-knows-how-manyeth a time? You may as well compare the happiness of the convert with the beatitude of the life-long grateful Catholic, a Chesterton and a Belloc. It is safest simply to say, her charm endures.”

The Paradise ProjectInspired by Austen’s works, Mrs. Andres has spent the last four years composing her own recently published novel, The Paradise Project, which she describes as a “paean,” but more than “a simple retelling” of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern times. Its protagonist, Liz Benning, bears a certain resemblance to Elizabeth Bennet and, like Mrs. Andres, she is a devoted reader of Jane Austen. The Paradise Project, says its author, is “a story of those, like us and so many before us, who love Jane and are nourished by her books.”

The Paradise Project is Mrs. Andres’ first work of fiction, following on her two previous books, A Little Way of Homeschooling and Homeschooling with Gentleness, which are available via She is also, most recently, the editor of The Selected Sermons of Rev. Thomas A. McGovern, S.J.

Rev. Jonathan Perrotta (’95)Rev. Jonathan Perrotta (’95)Four years after his ordination as a priest in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, Rev. Jonathan Perrotta (’95) has been named the pastor of not one, but two parishes.

As of July 1, Fr. Perrotta is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Durand and St. Joseph Parish in Gaines. His new positions come after four years at Holy Family Parish in Grand Blanc, where he began as the parochial vicar before being named the parish’s administrator in 2014.

Fr. Perrotta sees the hand of Providence at work in his being reassigned from a parish named for the Holy Family to churches that fall under the patronage of St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mother. “I have to share with you the blessing I felt when I realized that God is still keeping me under the protection of the Holy Family,” the pastor wrote in a letter to his new parishioners. “This special protection and guidance of the Holy Family started before coming to Holy Family parish, and now, it continues as I will be shepherding us at St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the One Shepherd. God is good.”

An audio archive of Fr. Perrotta’s homilies is available via the St. Mary’s website.

Cara Buskmiller (’11)“Consecrated virginity is lived in the world, which fits my desire to serve and to heal in corporal works of mercy,” says Cara Buskmiller (’11).

On June 20 Miss Buskmiller embraced that vocation by making perpetual vows as a diocesan consecrated virgin before the Most Rev. Doug Deshotel, Auxiliary Bishop of Dallas, at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Shortly thereafter, she began her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine.

“The residents together cover all the women’s services in the hospital, from cancer surgery to labor and delivery,” she writes. “Right now, I’m working nights, which means I’m on call every night for patients staying in the hospital, and covering our six-bed women’s ER.”

In a recent interview with, Miss Buskmiller explains that her calling to consecrated virginity was in keeping with her desire “to live radically, completely at the disposal of others, especially my family and patients.” Hers is “a bridal vocation, which fits my desire to be in love, to belong to Someone, and to be deeply known. At the same time, it is a quiet vocation: I will wear no habit except a ring. It is a maternal vocation, which fits my desire to carry souls, in imitation of Mary.”

As an aspiring obstetrician and gynecologist, Miss Buskmiller plans to serve the needs of women and children in accordance with Church teaching and in recognition of the innate dignity of all in her care. “Practically speaking, living faithfully as an OB/GYN means that I do not prescribe contraceptives, provide primary sterilization, or participate in abortions,” Miss Buskmiller says. “It further means that I get to offer women fertility awareness and natural family planning, which get more exciting with every paper that comes out about their good effects.”

Yet she is not concerned about the potential difficulties of maintaining a faithfully Catholic practice in a society that is often hostile to the culture of life. “Even in a largely pro-choice culture, integrating faith in my career is not the hardest struggle I have,” she notes. “That distinction goes to integrating faith with myself. … I want to be full of faith, hope, and courage to live as if God existed, as if sin was worse than death, and as if I was destined to be a great saint with an unrepeatable mission. If I can do that, integrating my faith and my career is no problem: I just drive to work.”


Grace Kelly (’12)Grace Kelly (’12)
Photo: Santa Paula Times
Just three years after her graduation from Thomas Aquinas College, Grace Kelly (’12) has been named a parochial-school principal in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

A story in the Santa Paula Times reports on Miss Kelly’s new career, which began as a first-grade teacher at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Oxnard. While teaching, she earned a master’s degree in education at Grand Canyon University and underwent training in the Archdiocese’ Catholic Aspiring Principals Program. “I loved my days of teaching,” she tells the Times, “but all that time I felt a pull that there was something more to do.” Encouraged by her own principal and mentor — fellow alumna Brenna (Scanlon ’06) Chapin — she applied for, and received, the position at St. Sebastian School in Santa Paula.

Miss Kelly is now responsible for some 150 students and nine teachers at the K-8 school just blocks from her childhood home. Please pray for her as the school begins its new year!