A native of New York, Robert Barbera moved to Southern California in 1955. He earned an accounting degree at California State University, Los Angeles, in 1958. The dean of the accounting department took him under her wing, helping him to secure some scholarships that would make tuition affordable for the young newlywed. The experience instilled in him a heightened sense of the value of education and a tremendous appreciation for the benefactors who make it possible — and whom he has since strived to emulate.
The founder and CEO of Barbera Property Management, which owns several businesses in the San Gabriel Valley, Mr. Barbera is a dedicated philanthropist, giving generously to numerous educational organizations. Having come to know Thomas Aquinas College well over the last 15 years, he is particularly impressed with its unique academic program. “It is only in liberal education that we can truly further ourselves,” he says. “With liberal education you broaden the mind.”
This assessment has been confirmed, he adds, by his meetings with the College’s students. “You couldn’t be more impressed with a better quality of people. At Thomas Aquinas, you really see the best of the best.”
The Barberas have for many years been faithful and generous friends of the College. Their gifts include the funds for the design and construction of the prayer garden on the south side of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. Calling his appointment to the Board “a great opportunity” to be part of “a great place,” Mr. Barbera looks forward to working on its behalf. “I just hope that I can do my part for Thomas Aquinas, and to encourage other people to help in the process,” he says.
There are many reasons why Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly has “a passion,” as she puts it, “to promote Thomas Aquinas College.” She is an alumna who considers her time on campus to have been “an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual high.” Her eldest daughter, Catherine, is a member of the Senior Class. And Mrs. Connelly has seen, in a very personal way, how the College prepares its students for life both in this world and in the world to come.
When she came to the College in 1983, Angela met up with a fellow freshman and former childhood acquaintance, Jon Syren (’87). “He was immediately my soul mate,” she recalls. The two went through the program together and married shortly after graduation. When Jon applied to medical school, Mrs. Connelly remembers, his alma mater was one of his strongest assets. “Every interview revolved around it; it was very attractive to the medical schools.”
Tragically, during his third year of medical school Jon was diagnosed with non- Hodgkin lymphoma and died shortly thereafter, leaving Angela and two small children behind. “The College prepared him so well for his death; he was so ready, even though it was so hard. He knew God. He knew beauty and goodness. I can’t imagine a more practical purpose,” she says. “And given the Communion of Saints, he is so with us. He is with Catherine and Joseph all the time, and I know he is with Thomas Aquinas College.”
In 2004 Angela married Jack Connelly, an attorney in Tacoma, Wash., and the couple has since been blessed with seven more children. They are enthusiastic champions and generous benefactors of the College, having hosted receptions at their beautiful Puget Sound home. They are also involved in numerous civic and Church organizations, for which Mrs. Connelly has served on several boards. “But there is a difference when an organization represents your deepest passions, and you can just assent intellectually and with your will to loving and supporting the mission,” she says. “Thomas Aquinas College is a firsthand experience for me that I know to be true and good, and it’s an amazing joy to help.”
Few people know Thomas Aquinas College as extensively as does Glen Coughlin. He is a member of one of its first graduating classes (1981), and he has served on its teaching faculty since 1987. He was the College’s dean from 1996 to 2003, and he is the father of two current students and three alumni.
“As a tutor and dean I have seen how important it is that the school remain faithful to its character, both the Catholic character, of course, but also the discipleship to St. Thomas and Aristotle,” he says. “And as a parent I have seen more clearly how good the school is.” He also has gained a greater appreciation for the College’s generous financial aid program and the sacrifices families make to afford a Catholic liberal education for their children.
Dr. Coughlin earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in philosophy at Université Laval in Quebec, after which he taught briefly at Champlain Regional College in Quebec and St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M., before returning to the College as a tutor. In 2006, St. Augustine’s Press published his widely praised translation of Aristotle’s Physics, which has become the standard among students at Thomas Aquinas College and elsewhere.
He and his wife, Maureen (Ivers ’79), live in Santa Paula with the four of their nine children who are still at home. “I am honored to join the Board of Governors,” he says, “and I will be glad to do what I can to keep the College on track and help in any way possible.”
“I am so blessed and thankful to be in such a beautiful place, one that inspires me to inquire about, observe, and love God’s creation.”
– Michelle Lawless (’13)
“I am most grateful for Thomas Aquinas College’s resolute fidelity to the Church and her teachings. The young people whom you serve certainly are being formed to think with the Church and to defend the Faith with courage and charity.”
– The Most Rev. William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chair of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty