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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Michael Masteller (’13) Michael Masteller (’13)

Please say a prayer for Michael Masteller (’13), who, by God’s grace, will be ordained to the transitional diaconate this Saturday!

One of three alumni seminarians studying for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Mr. Masteller was originally scheduled to be ordained on May 23, but the Ordination Mass was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. At last, the Most Rev. Alejandro D. Aclan, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, will ordain him on October 10 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles.

“Even though we are living in difficult times, we know that the Lord has gone before us and that He always opens a path for our future and never fails to lead us to the Father,” Mr. Masteller reflects. “In my own life, I have known this to be true; the Lord found me when I was in darkness and brought me into new life and freedom. He has never ceased to lead me as I follow Him on my vocational path toward the diaconate and ultimately the priesthood.”

In making the next step down this path, Mr. Masteller is answering a call he initially discerned during his student days. “It was at the College that I received the first stirrings of vocation, and my friends from the College and the education I received there have continued to strengthen me over the years for this mission,” he says. “I look forward to my diaconate ordination and in making myself fully available for God and to be at the service of the Church. Please pray for us!”

Mr. Masteller will be the fifth alumnus ordained to the transitional diaconate this year, joining Rev. Mr. Ryan Truss (’16)Rev. Mr. David Allen (’10), Br. Matthew Maxwell (’08), and Br. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04). Deo gratias!


Alumnus attorney Raymond Tittmann (’94) is managing partner of the TittmannWeix law firm and — of particular interest at the moment — he was also a law-school classmate of Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s latest nominee for the United States Supreme Court. When critics of Judge Barrett began attacking her character, faith, and family, Mr. Tittmann decided to come to his friends’ defense.

Last week, a group of alumni from Judge Barrett’s undergraduate college — few, if any, of whom had attended the college at the same time as the nominee, let alone knew her personally — signed a petition against her nomination. In response, Mr. Tittmann and some friends began soliciting signatures from fellow members of the Notre Dame Law School Class of 1997 on her behalf.

Raymond Tittmann (’94) Raymond Tittmann (’94)“The fact that the media were trying to make something out of [the petition] was so upsetting to so many of us who knew [Judge Barrett] as one of the most intelligent, hard-working, and kind people we’ve ever known in our entire lives — and that is across political spectrums,” said Mr. Tittmann on a recent appearance on the Dana Loesch Show. (See video, above.) “So we’ve been working on a letter, and we should be issuing that letter within the next couple of days. As far as we can tell, [it will have] more signatures from the class of a Supreme Court nominee” than any other in the history of the United States.

Calling her “one of the most saintly people I know,” Mr. Tittman has nothing but praise for Judge Barrett’s character and intellect. “America is so lucky to have Amy as a nominee to the Supreme Court,” he said. “She’s so understated and so humble. She went about her work, was always looking out to help other students, and she would share her notes if they missed classes. She was competitive with herself, but there was no element of her that was competitive with the other students. She wanted to bring us all up together as a class. And I tell you, in law school, there is so much pressure to succeed, that is a very uncommon trait.”

Mr. Tittmanm also spent a few moments correcting widespread misunderstanding about Judge Barrett’s judicial philosophy. “When people think that she is going to decide a case like abortion or Obamacare based on her personal beliefs, that’s 180 degrees wrong,” he explained. “By definition, what she stands for — and what originalism stands for — is a rejection of the notion that you should vote against Obamacare, for example, in the Court, because you don’t like Obamacare.” Rather, he added, originalism holds that judges “should interpret the Constitution for what it says.”


Dan and Rose (Teichert) Grimm (both ’76) Dan and Rose (Teichert) Grimm (both ’76)

“I am sad to report that my mom has a small cancerous tumor in her liver,” writes Wendy-Irene Zepeda (’99) of her mother, Rose (Teichert ’76) Grimm. “Mama is pretty upbeat and hopeful; still, of course this is a blow. She'd be specially grateful for prayers to pursue the right treatment — and of course, for the treatment to be successful.”

Through prayer Mrs. Grimm has successfully battled cancer before. Please hold her in your prayers once more!


October
02, 2020

If, like recent graduate Jonathan Culbreath (’17) you are looking for words of wisdom from one of Thomas Aquinas College’s most beloved tutors, you are in luck! Alumnus Dr. John Francis Nieto (’89), a member of the California teaching faculty, has launched a blog, Half-Baked Books, which, as its names suggests, serves as a repository of Dr. Nieto’s musings, essays, and other literary endeavors.

Dr. John Francis Nieto (’89) Dr. John Francis Nieto (’89)“In this blog, I think you will encounter the thought of a wise man,” writes Dr. Nieto’s colleague and fellow alumnus Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87). “A man of wide experience, talent, energy, and commitment, he has been a political activist, a playwright, a poet, a man of prayer, a schola director, an acclaimed amateur chef, a whiskey connoisseur, a linguist, a dedicated and revered teacher. … Above all, he has been a student of the great minds — ancient and modern, theological, philosophical, mathematical, scientific, poetical, and musical — in a particular way of St. Thomas and Aristotle.”

Half-Baked Books covers a range of topics as broad as its creator’s varied interests — including, as Dr. Seeley describes it, “metaphysics, quantitative abstraction, illumination, participation, being another Christ, poetry, Dante, and much more.” To name just a few of the posts: Clothes and Participation, On the Meaning of the Sabbath, The Object of Poetry and Its Truth, Matter as the Cause of Quantity, and Music and Morality.

Enjoy!


Br. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04) Br. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04)

Twenty years ago Br. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04), received the Sacrament of Baptism during his freshman year at Thomas Aquinas College. On Saturday, he will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders as he is ordained to the transitional diaconate at the Priory of Saint Albert the Great in Oakland — the third of four alumni to be ordained this year!

“What do I love more than anything in the world?” Br. John asked upon making his first profession as a Western Province Dominican friar in 2017. “I love the truth, and I love Jesus Christ, and I love the Church. I want to lay down my life sharing that love with others, sharing that truth with others.”

Less than a month ago, Br. John completed his entrance into the Dominican Order by professing solemn vows. Now, with his diaconate ordination — at the hands of the Most Rev. Alexander K. Sample, Archbishop of Portland in Oregon — he takes the last step toward the priesthood.

Saturday’s ordination, regrettably, will not be open to the public, owing to COVID-19 restrictions. The Mass will be available online, however, via the video player below, starting at 10:30 a.m. PDT.

Please keep Br. John and his fellow ordinandi in your prayers!


Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro

“The whole world knows and loves St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross,” begins the online description of Diary of a Country Carmelite: A Year in the Garden of Carmel — the latest offering from alumna author Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro. “But what about the dozens of other Carmelite saints?”

Diary of a Country Carmelite, by Cynthia (Six '77) MontanatoTo these lesser-known holy men and women Mrs. Montanaro dedicates her latest work, offering a heartfelt, extensive look into their lives. She “walks in the footsteps of those whose feasts brighten the Carmelites’ liturgical year,”  the book’s description continues, following “a pathway straight to the Heart of God.”

Throughout the work, Mrs. Montanaro also shares details of her own life as a Third Order Carmelite living in the Western Massachusetts countryside. “Inside the cover you will find a little glimpse of what it is like to live in the country, but more importantly, what it is like to pray in the country,” she says. “You could also learn to get to know many new friends, our Carmelite saints, who have lived in every corner of the world and in every period of history, many with difficult days similar to those we are living in now. Find some hope and peace and security in the pages.”

The of wife another alumnus, Andrew Montanaro (’78), a mother and grandmother, and a retired homeschooler and public librarian, Mrs. Montanaro has now published two diaries. In 2013, she released Diary of a Country Mother, which chronicled the life of her beloved son Tim, who died at the age of 15.

Mrs. Montanaro’s newest book has received the enthusiastic endorsement of a fellow alumna,  published author, and Carmelite secular: Suzie Andres (’87). “Diary of a Country Carmelite is a gift to the Carmelite Order and the whole Church,” writes Mrs. Andres. “Enough of short paragraphs that give us only a glimmer of the saints’ lives! Cynthia gives us whole lives, both her own and those of the Carmelite saints. These pages provide an invaluable resource for Discalced Carmelites, as well as a wonderful introduction to Carmel for the rest of the Church.”


Erik Bootsma's design of the shrine chapel

More than a year after the groundbreaking ceremony, work continues apace on a forthcoming shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha just south of Gallup, New Mexico, designed by alumnus architect Erik Bootsma (’01). Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the Southwest Indian Foundation, and the Diocese of Gallup, the shrine will include a chapel, a museum, and an outdoor Rosary walk consisting of 30 stations housed in adobe niches.

Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)“I went out this July and checked in on the project, and it’s moving along well,” says Mr. Bootsma. “They so far have a number of the Rosary ‘bead’ shrines up, and have just started planning for the Guadalupe ‘link’ shrine to start this fall.”

The site, Mr. Bootsma explains, is “designed in a Spanish Colonial style to note the Mexican heritage and connection to the Native Saint Juan Diego.” As such, it is being built mostly with all-natural materials and in keeping with Native construction technique. “We’re minimizing steel as much as we can and relying on adobe and wood,” Mr. Bootsma adds, “which, as the churches built in the 17th century in the area show, can last for centuries.”

Canonized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012, St. Kateri was a 15th century member of the Mohawk Tribe who converted to Catholicism. She is the first canonized Native American and the patron saint of indigenous people.

“This shrine is particularly meaningful for Native American Catholics because it is dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha,” Rev. Henry Sands, director of the National Black and Indian Foundation, tells the Arlington Catholic Herald. “It’s an acknowledgement of the role that she plays in the Catholic Church, not just as an example for Native Americans, but for all Catholics.”

Several other members of the College community are also involved in the project. “Patrick Mason (’03) with the Knights of Columbus nationally is coordinator on that side, and Jeremy Boucher (’03) is managing the project on the ground,” notes Mr. Bootsma, adding that Bill McCarthy — chief executive officer of the Southwest Indian Foundation; husband of Cathy (Short ’77); and father of Brigid (Strader ’04), Therese (Monnereau ’05), Erin (Feeney ’07), John (’11), Aileen (’14), Liam (’18) — “is spearheading the whole project.”

Designing the shrine marks a professional change of pace for Mr. Bootsma, a classical architect who ordinarily specializes in church designs and renovations. “This is really unique because it is not necessarily purely liturgical, but devotional,” he observes. “It’s a good opportunity for creativity and to do something really great within [Native American] traditions.”

Erik Bootsma's design of the shrine plaza


Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15) Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15)

Three members of the Dominican Friars of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus made their first vows on Saturday, including two Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15). The Mass of First Profession took place in Oakland’s Priory of St. Albert the Great, video of which is available in the player below:

Deo gratias!


Sr. John Henry (Eddyblouin ’19), O.P.Sr. John Henry (Mary Catherine Eddyblouin ’19), O.P.Allison Eddyblouin writes in with the happy news that on July 22 her daughter, Mary Catherine (’19), “received the habit of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and the religious name Sr. John Henry.” Deo gratias!

Thus marks the end of Sr. John Henry’s postulancy, which began one year ago. She will now study in the novitiate for two years before taking first vows in July 2022. Of Sister’s newly appointed religious name, Mrs. Eddyblouin reports, “Her little brother John Henry is thrilled!”


Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98) Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98)

 

Actual Knowledge and Artificial Intelligence

 

By Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98)

Note: Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98) served as Managing Director of AI at Lionbridge until May 2020. She recently finalized a course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in cryptocurrency and blockchain, and is planning to work on new projects in the area of natural language processing. The following article is adapted from remarks she made to the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors at its meeting on November 16, 2019.

 

Back when I was in high school, when people would ask me about my college plans, they would say things like, “Do you want to go play basketball or tennis?” Or, “Do you want to study law?” And I would say, “No, I think I probably want to study philosophy.” And they would respond, “Why would you ever do that? That’s, well, kind of silly and impractical, isn’t it? What are you going to do with that?”

And so I thought, “Well, OK, maybe it is silly,” but somehow I knew that I needed to learn, and deep down I knew that, while maybe everyone wants to learn in some sense, I kind of wanted it more. I knew that I needed to learn how to learn, and that, if I did that, then I could pursue any profession that I wanted. If I decided to go into law later, that would be great, and if I decided to go into some other area, that would be fine. I would have the necessary foundation.

From TAC to AI

I was always interested in language, but when I graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, there weren’t many options in that field. I had studied French extensively and I had even lived in France for a while, so I thought maybe I would go back to France, continue with French, and see what I could do with that.

As I went to graduate school and then later into the business workforce, language was my focus. Back then it was really about translation, using translation services to take the products or software technologies that companies build in English, translate them into other languages, and then deploy them in other countries.

But as I was working I realized that technology was changing rapidly, and about seven or eight years ago, just as Artificial Intelligence (AI) was beginning to catch on, I started thinking about the role that language played in the development of technology. I saw an opportunity, and so I started an AI division within the language company where I was working.

What my team did, and what I have done, is structure an organization around supporting AI companies with data services. We developed the human side of the human-data input for AI. In language and speech, which are the most difficult parts of the process, we provided data services for developing language models, natural language processing, computational linguistics — all aspects of speech development for products — among others. We covered more locales than any other company. We specialized in finding people, even working in languages you’ve never heard of, and developing language technology across the world.

What’s funny, given the opposition I ran into in high school when I told people I wanted to study philosophy, is how philosophy proved to be the avenue that brought me to AI. And these days, many of my colleagues in the AI industry — very accomplished individuals who are creating the products and technologies that we all use day in and day out — often remark about my college education. They say, “It’s really the most interesting thing about you, that you studied Descartes, or Aristotle, or Kant.”

AI and Liberal Education

What’s more, they are beginning to see that the sort of education that I had is something like what they want for their own children. I have been involved in countless conferences and summits with different folks in the AI community over the years, and I have often heard industry leaders asked the question, “What should my child study in school to survive in this AI world?” What I find pleasing, but also ironic, is that these professionals who have spent so much of their lives — 20 or even 30 years — working on different areas of AI often see the perils of over-exposing children to technology.

One of the people I respect the most in AI is Andrew Ng, who was one of the founders of Google Brain; later he was a key person at Baidu, and he started Coursera, which is one of the most successful online education companies. He said at an EmTech conference, in answer to a question along those lines, “You know: for my children, if I could pick what I wanted, I would want them to learn how to learn.”

What pleased me, of course, was that I had essentially made that choice as a teenager — and now Andrew Ng was validating it.

Steve Jobs famously prohibited his children from using an iPad, and one of the reasons he did so is because these devices can be a huge distraction from focusing on the right things. Technology, in and of itself, might not be a problem; it helps in many practical aspects of life. But, as far as education is concerned, distractions from the focus on actual knowledge and learning can be a very big problem.

The emergence of AI is pushing everyone into understanding what education ultimately means, what learning is, and what knowledge is. And I do see, in the Silicon Valley in particular, that more people are trying to teach their kids languages; they are trying to get their children to read more, to decode what knowledge is. The people I have often encountered at big tech companies see that learning how to learn is really the most important part of education. The ability to think is essential to the smooth operation of business, and that becomes ever more apparent the more technical an area becomes. We are in a technology revolution of sorts right now, and we don’t have a choice about that. It is happening, and how we navigate and educate ourselves in and around that is absolutely crucial.

One of the ways in which I think this trend will evolve is that AI is going to force more true learning. It is going to heighten the value that society places on creativity, broad thinking, and the liberal arts. People with a liberal arts background typically end up being very good in a business environment because they are used to thinking about things from different angles, in different frameworks, and figuring out how to discuss complex topics. In business and technology, a liberal arts background is a kind of natural advantage. That will be even more true in an increasingly AI-driven economy. It will push people to figure out what makes humans different from machines — what ultimately makes humans valuable — and, as a result, knowledge itself is going to become a commodity worth purchasing.

Premium on Philosophy

A couple years ago I spoke to students at the College and shared with them a story about a friend of mine who developed “Magic: The Gathering,” which is a famous game that was later bought by Hasbro some years ago. The story has to do with a discussion we had about the hiring practices at his company, which was worth something like $300 million at the time. “What are you looking for in students coming out of college?” I asked him. “Are you looking only for candidates with degrees in gaming?” And he said, “Well, we’ve got PhDs and master’s students from gaming programs, but they have not been our best hires. What we have come to figure out is that we really need to hire philosophy majors. Those are the guys and gals who are creating next-level games and characters and storylines — all the exciting, interesting things that lead to success in this industry.”

That story is, I think, representative of what is happening in the marketplace right now. Philosophy is no longer an impractical piece of your education; it actually may be the most important piece.

An enormous amount of human data is required to make AI and related technologies work, and an obstacle to using that data properly can be labeling and categorizing. Now, TAC students know well that Aristotle spent a lot of time going through all kinds of data empirically, labeling and categorizing the natural world around us. In a sense he is the number-one thinker in AI, and many of the great AI thinkers reference him and talk about him as an important part of building any kind of machine-learning model. He is also one of the initial data collectors. So he went about observing nature and observing everything about the world that he could in order to use empirical means as a form of validation.

What I tried to communicate to the College’s students was their value as philosophy students, which is now recognized as an important criterion by people looking for the next generation of professionals — especially in areas such as management and marketing, and particularly in AI. Thomas Aquinas College graduates are well positioned for these sorts of positions and can interview very effectively. The ability to discern and navigate complex matters is the most crucial trait that our economy needs right now — in other words, critical thinking.

What Thomas Aquinas College is doing in the lives of its students is invaluable not only in terms of the good it’s achieving for American higher education, it’s vital for preparing the next generation to navigate the AI world. And the folks in AI are looking for candidates exactly like those coming from Thomas Aquinas College to help them, not only in developing their products, but in figuring out how those products should function and how they should be applied.

As I have spent much time in AI with accomplished engineers, I have come to realize how precious my own education in philosophy is — and that has been recognized by the folks I work with in Big Tech everywhere. They have all noted that. So thank you for your support of Thomas Aquinas College. It’s been amazing. 


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Isabella Hsu (’18) on integrated curriculum

“It is amazing to read all the different works from a wide range of disciplines, and see the same truth popping up again and again — whether it’s in Euclid, or theology, or natural science. It all comes together to form a full picture.”

– Isabella Hsu (’18)

Redondo Beach, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“Thomas Aquinas College has always been thoroughly Catholic in its identity. It's an outstanding program of studies, founded on a loyalty to the Chair of Peter and to the Magisterium of the Church.”

– Raymond Cardinal Burke

Prefect Emeritus, Supreme Tribunal

of the Apostolic Signatura