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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Be sure not to miss these recent articles by alumni writers:

  • K. E. Colombini (’85) K. E. Colombini (’85)In Crisis, K. E. Colombini (’85) ponders The Future of Ownership in a digital society where, paradoxically, an increasing number of goods are now immaterial, and yet our homes are bursting with ever-more possessions. “Lacking in the vast majority of these discussions in the mainstream media is the spiritual side of the equation,” he writes. “Even in talking about the benefits of minimalism, we often take a secular approach. By shedding our possessions, we become liberated from them, freer to travel and spend our money elsewhere. If there’s anything ‘tiny houses’ are built for, it’s not for large families, nor for entertaining and showing hospitality to large groups.” In a consumerist society, he asks, “What should be our relationship with our possessions? Do they own us, or do we own them?”

 

  • Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)Also in Crisis, alumnus architect Erik Bootsma (’01) writes about the newly dedicated Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee — a hopeful sign, he says, that Restoring Sacred Architecture Will Reaffirm Theological Truth. “The richness of the architecture of the new cathedral points to and beautifies the sanctuary,” Mr. Bootsma argues, and that is key to both architectural and theological renewal. “The sanctuary, which took its form from the Holy of Holies, does not just symbolize the past, but is a conscious prefigurement of the Heavenly City to come and Christ’s eternal presence. We begin to understand, too, that God was present in earlier times, in the Temple, and will be present in heaven, but also that he is present now.”

 

  • Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold Sophia (Mason ’09) FeingoldFinally, in the National Catholic Register Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold considers What “Forgive and Forget” Really Means — and finds the oft-dispensed maxim wanting. “To forgive and to forget are not the same thing,” she observes. “The judge who sentences a man to life in prison has not necessarily refused to forgive him; he has simply determined that the prisoner’s character requires remediation, or society protection. The parent who sends a child to their room to ‘think about’ the nasty thing they said to Aunt Jessica is not necessarily unforgiving; they genuinely want their son or daughter to take five and come to a child’s-level understanding of how their words were hurtful. Forgiveness and punishment can and do coexist. Otherwise the Catholic doctrine of purgatory would be risible on the face of it.”

Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., (’94) is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live. Photo: @catholiccom

“You’ve been in Massachusetts because you’re a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College,” began host Cy Kellett on a recent episode of Catholic Answers Live.

“That’s right,” replied Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), a professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado California. A regular guest on the apologetics radio program, Fr. Sebastian appeared on the November 5 episode to discuss religious freedom. But before getting to the topic of the day, Mr. Kellett wanted to know about the Norbertine priest’s alma mater. Among “all of us out here on the West Coast,” he said, “there’s a general amazement at the quality of students that are being turned out by Thomas Aquinas College.”

And so Fr. Sebastian described his recent trip to the Bay State, where he spoke on the College’s New England campus at a celebration of its recent approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “Thanks be to God, the College received the gift of a campus — with a number of buildings and so forth on a 100-acre property,” he said. “I was there to give a Mass and a little talk … and it was a very good, wonderful event.”

To which Mr. Kellett replied, “Congratulations to your alma mater embarking on this new endeavor. We can all pray that it’s successful!”

The entire interview — including Fr. Sebastian’s commentary about religious freedom — is available via the Catholic Answers website.


Marcus R. Berquist Marcus R. Berquist

 

Note: Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01), vice-president of education at The Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, recently re-published the following tribute to late Thomas Aquinas College founder Marcus R. Berquist on November 2, the eighth anniversary of Mr. Berquist’s death. Dr. Peterson originally published the article in 2010.

 

Thoughts on Marcus Berquist, May He Rest in Peace

by Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

Dr. Matthew J. Peterson Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

His family no doubt bears the weight of his absence, and our prayers and love are with them. The rest of us share in this loss in lesser degrees, as they shared him with us.

Our sorrow at the death of great men is our sorrow, not their own. Our sorrow arises in part from a recognition that such men are completely and utterly irreplaceable. They are absolutely unique and ultimately inimitable. They do not merely discharge their obligations; they fulfill them to the overflowing, stretching the scope of their duty to fit the extent of their talent. They do not pass on their fire to a few or one other, but they enkindle innumerable flames with the fire they first received. They do not just complete their race, they complete their race in a manner well adapted to their person and circumstance in a way that moves all those around them towards the finish line. Human life is a preparation for death, and their last gift is inevitably the example of their own death, bequeathed to us, the living. They leave this world victorious, leaving us to marvel at the consistent purpose which marked the particular way they walked upon the earth. Their leaving is sorrowful on account of the overwhelmingly awareness we have of the absence of their presence, which had previously existed in an accessible manner for us — even if only as some fixed, guiding star.

Mr. Berquist’s quiet manner was the surface of deep-seated humility and discipleship. The docility of his soul toward truth served as an unshakable foundation from which the strong and steady gait of his mind moved indomitably toward wisdom. He did not simply fulfill his vocation as teacher; he became a founder of a college, birthing and then shaping and guiding a community of friends united in pursuing that same truth, partaking in the same common goods. Others may have enkindled wonder and love of truth in us, but the very stance of his soul towards the universe taught generations of us what it meant to act upon a love of wisdom with the highest part of ourselves, and how this action might further enflame such love. He ordered his life such that he habitually contributed his talent and person toward the reestablishment of a tradition of thought revolutionary to the modern world. The founding of Thomas Aquinas College was a tremendous creative act: the bringing together of the study of the great books, the liberal arts, and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in a manner adapted to the needs of our era. His participation in this founding gave generations of students a beginning that made their own quest for wisdom and virtue possible, grafting them into the vines of the Western tradition of Christian thought.

These are the sort of gifts which, once given and received, are entrusted to us; they are not the sort of gifts which can be paid back. They are, rather, gifts we can only attempt to pay forward, and most likely not in kind. They are the sort of gifts which we must protect, treasure, and become good stewards of, adding to them in whatever small, complementary ways we can. Even should we give similarly priceless gifts to others, our gifts will never be the same ones he gave, which is partly why we feel sorrow at his absence.

***

In many ways, I am among the least of his students, and many, perhaps most, of the rest of our community knew him better than I. Yet despite an awful performance in his sophomore lab class, I learned as much listening to him in that class as I have in any other, and perhaps more. The power of his thought for those who listened and asked questions of him was such that he molded the way in which our souls receive what is. A friend and fellow student, Glen McCarthy, arranged for him to guide a small group of us through St. Thomas’ treatise on law the summer before my senior year. This too was formative in many ways that cannot be expressed, nor even sometimes remembered directly as time goes by, but it nonetheless profoundly shaped the thought of those present, both through what he taught and how he taught it.

I have watched and interacted with many professors since, in my business and in the academy. Some were great speakers. Some have CVs 30 pages long filled with their accomplishments. Mr. Berquist never finished his Ph.D., and to my knowledge he never published so much as a book review in a scholarly journal. He did not have the polished or hyper-engaging rhetorical style that many other popular professors I’ve met do. He came across as shy at first. Yet no one I have ever met, nor do I think anyone I ever will meet in this life, could answer a question like he could. Once you approached him, it became clear that he wanted you to ask him questions, or at least he was always kind enough to give this impression. A friend and fellow student, James Chastek, pointed out what at the very first was not obvious to incoming students, and later became self-evident: He truly delighted in being asked questions, and answering them. He treated every question with respect, as if you were his equal. He listened intently to what you asked. And then, given an internalized mastery of his subject, he gave you an answer. He was so good at this that only years afterward, when you realized how young and ignorant you were, did you think about how patient he was. His response always accomplished more than pointing you directly to the truth of the matter. Inevitably, his answer taught you how to think about it. His answers revealed the path one needed to take to get to the truth of the matter. In short, he gave reasons.

There was a simple and direct earnestness about him, reflecting his humility, that is far more important than all else one could say in describing him, but for me this is not easily explained in words. Suffice it to say that, if you watched and listened, this facet of his character would bring you closer to God.

Senior year, under the growing realization that I was soon to leave the Thomas Aquinas College community, and grappling with the depth of the debt I owed to it, I happened to meet him coming down from the old tutor offices on the way to his car. I told him, in the emotion of the moment, the truth: Although I hadn’t been the best student in his class, he had taught me what it meant to be a philosopher. More particularly, a Catholic philosopher. I’m not sure what he made of that, given my own failings, but I am sure, as a community, that the students, faculty, alumni and administration of Thomas Aquinas College could say the same.

He was our teacher.

 


Michael Swanson (’93), city attorney of Klamath Falls, Oregon, with his wife, Sharon Michael Swanson (’93), city attorney of Klamath Falls, Oregon, with his wife, Sharon

The city of Klamath Falls, Oregon, has a new City Attorney: Michael Swanson (’93). The City Council named Mr. Swanson, who previously served for 20 years as a deputy district attorney, to his new position at its September 17 meeting. He began the very next day.

“We are extremely excited to bring Mr. Swanson on to our City of Klamath Falls team,” said Council President Phil Studenberg. “He brings over two decades of commitment to this community and many strong partnerships.”

Upon graduating from the College in 1993, Mr. Swanson enrolled in law school at the Willamette University College of Law. “It just seemed like a natural outgrowth from what we learned at TAC,” he says, “as far as the logic and philosophy, reading texts closely, forming arguments, and being able to support them from the text. It appealed to me.”

A native of Oregon City, he then joined the District Attorney’s Office in Klamath Falls. “I wanted an opportunity to give to a community,” he recalls. “Being a deputy district attorney allowed me to serve people who had been harmed in our community, and at least let them get some closure for what had occurred to them.”

Yet after 20 years of practicing criminal law, he is grateful for a change of pace. As city attorney, he is responsible for all of the city’s legal affairs, including contracts, employment, and land use. “Every day there is a challenge,” he says. “There is something different to review, something to look at. I’m rediscovering my research skills!”


Photo of the Hilol Rojo program, taken by David Trull (’15) Photo of the Hilol Rojo program, taken by David Trull (’13)

 

David Trull (’15) David Trull (’13)Early this year David Trull (’13) took three months from his career as a financial-services professional to serve as a volunteer for Hilo Rojo, a Peruvian nonprofit that aids communities afflicted with extreme poverty. There he worked on the outskirts of the city of Trujillo, where, he says, “government services do not reach,” and many of the residents “do not possess official documentation of any kind … and thus find themselves perpetually locked out of productive activity and participation in the larger society.”

Although he was initially brought on to assist with fundraising and development, he quickly found himself “teaching both music and English in the elementary school,” he says. He also assisted physiotherapists in aiding the local disabled population, which ordinarily struggles to get by with little or no medical care.

“Though trying at times, the experience illustrated to me the importance of human connection, and of attempting to make this connection whenever and wherever we are able,” says Mr. Trull. “Though many of the sources of poverty in the Third World are structural, the examples of many other volunteers and those who run Hilo Rojo have convinced me of the power of simple love and friendship to effect change. Though my time there was short, I feel humbled to have been part of such a wonderful operation, and plan to participate again in the future.”

As a Christian and, particularly, as an alumnus, he considers such service to be something of a calling. “There are many people in the world who feel that they have been forgotten,” he says. “Those of us privileged with a formation from Thomas Aquinas College are in a perfect position to spread the message that that is not the case.”


Maggie Conklin (’17) Maggie Conklin (’17)On their Facebook page, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles report the wonderful news that, on September 14, they welcomed Maggie Conklin (’17) as a new postulant. Miss Conklin entered the community as a candidate in August of 2017 and, having completed her first year, she is taking the next step in her vocational discernment. She now may wear the Sister’s blue-and-white uniform, but not (yet!) the habit.

“We are so happy to have Maggie with us in Carmel,” the Sisters write. “Thanks be to God!”


Beau Braden, D.O. (’00) Beau Braden, D.O. (’00)“IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Not long after Beau Braden moved to southwest Florida to open a medical clinic, injured strangers started showing up at his house. A boy who had split open his head at the pool. People with gashes and broken bones. There was nowhere else to go after hours, they told him, so Dr. Braden stitched them up on his dining room table.”

So begins an extensive feature story in the New York Times about the efforts of Beau Braden, D.O. — a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2000 — to establish a hospital in this impoverished rural community. The owner and managing physician of the Braden Clinic in nearby Ave Maria, Dr. Braden studied medicine at Midwestern University and holds two masters degrees in public health from the University of Southern California. Since leaving a faculty position at the University of Colorado in 2014 and coming to Ave Maria, he has observed serious, unmet medical needs in the region — which, he tells the Times, has “fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan.”

Thus Dr. Braden proposed establishing a 25-bed hospital to serve the 50,000 residents of the area, spending $400,000 from a family trust on legal, consulting, and filing fees. Yet his efforts have been obstructed, possibly even for good, due to unforeseen opposition. A large hospital, some 35 miles away, has challenged Dr. Braden’s petition for state approval, fearing that his startup could undercut its patient base and revenues.

The Times story describes how Dr. Braden juggles the demands of his medical practice, the herculean task of trying to establish a new hospital, and family life: He “frequently flies himself from Immokalee’s tiny airfield to pull overnight shifts at nearby hospitals.” He assembled “a 2,000-page application to Florida’s health care regulators.” And he and his wife, Maria-Theresia (Waldstein ’05), “are raising five children.”

All the while, the physician remains steadfast in his commitment to bring a hospital to the people he serves. “I refuse to stop,” he tells the Times. “They’ve been trying to get a hospital in their community for 50 years. I’ll bring all of what I can to make sure this injustice stops.”


Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)A professional architect, alumnus Erik Bootsma (’01) has made a constructive suggestion in response to the scourge of priestly abuse and cover-up:

“As a Catholic who has been shocked by the revelations, and as an architect who deals almost exclusively with building and renovating Catholic churches,” he writes in Crisis, “I would like to offer one suggestion that I believe could make a small but practical contribution to preventing abuse in the future. The Church should immediately call for the end of hearing confessions face to face in ‘reconciliation rooms.’”

A popular development in modern church architecture, these rooms, explains Mr. Bootsma, place “the parishioner face to face with the priest, a position not unlike that of a patient and therapist.” Although intended to make the Sacrament of Penance less intimidating, they have the unforeseen result of enabling “predatory abusers [to] take advantage of the privacy of confessionals to abuse a young person.” Mr. Bootsma thus urges a return to the use of traditional confessionals, consisting of “two separate spaces, each with a separate entrance for priest and penitent … connected by means of a properly fixed metal screen.”

The owner of Erik Bootsma Design, with a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Bootsma knows whereof he writes. “These suggestions here are not just the product of theory, but a product of my experience working with dozens of Catholic churches both to build new churches and renovate existing ones,” he says. “I have found through experience that confessionals in this traditional configuration … not only work practically to prevent even the suggestion of impropriety in the confessional, but are spiritually rewarding as well.”

To that end, Mr. Bootsma also proposes that confessionals “be placed within the nave of a church, within sight of the sanctuary and tabernacle,” for another eminently practical reason: “One simply cannot discount the importance of having the Lord himself present during the Sacrament of Confession. Not only does it reinforce the importance of confession as being integral to the life of the Faith, but the power of Christ present in the Eucharist is simply not to be discounted.”


Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold Sophia (Mason ’09) FeingoldIn response to the ongoing news of abuse and cover-up in the Church, alumna writer Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold observes that the revived scandal has led critics to renew their calls to end priestly celibacy. The discipline, they argue, is too onerous, and living up to it makes abusers of otherwise good men.

Writing for the National Catholic Register, Mrs. Feingold offers an intriguing counter-argument: What if the burden on priests is not too heavy, but too light?

Drawing upon her Aristotle and Aquinas, Mrs. Feingold examines “the relation between good actions and willpower” as well as “the intermediary role played by habits and virtues.” Just as the runner prepares for a marathon by first running much shorter, and then progressively longer, distances, the Christian builds up virtue through small, regular actions — such as prayer and fasting — that in time make much greater disciplines, such as celibacy, tenable.

Writes Mrs. Feingold:

To build a good habit (of fasting, or skipping the donuts, or holding our tongue and horn on the highway, or working without intermission) is indeed difficult, and requires great and as it were active exercise of willpower; and of willpower in this sense, we are perhaps in limited supply. But it does not follow that we ought therefore to resign ourselves to daily mediocrity; for to exercise a good habit in proportion to its existing intensity is far less difficult than to build up the habit in the first place. … And of course, as more and more good habits are gained in this fashion, the exercise of the will itself becomes a habit, so that eventually even the initial problem of limited willpower becomes itself moot.

As regards the scandal, she argues, “The problem in the priesthood is not so much that priests are required to be celibate as that there is not enough stress on celibacy and the sort of self-restraint and self-discipline that supports celibacy.” What the Church, its priests, and we all could use, then, is not to surrender the fight for holiness, but to take it on ever more vigorously, availing ourselves daily of all the prayers, devotions, and sacrifices that make it achievable.

A wife, the mother of two small children, and a doctoral student in English at The Catholic University of America, Mrs. Feingold writes regularly for the Register. Other recent articles include: The Death Penalty and the Nature of Human Government, Why the Martyr Wears a Crown, and Sanctity Has a Beauty That Will Save the World.


Rev. Mr. Andrew De Silva (’03) Rev. Mr. Andrew De Silva (’03)“In spite of all this,” writes the Rev. Mr. Andrew De Silva (’03) of the Church’s ongoing abuse scandal,  “I still feel called by God. Am I naive?”

A seminarian and transitional deacon for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, Deacon De Silva is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves Chaplain Corps. By God’s grace, he will be ordained to the priesthood next spring. Like most Catholics, he is appalled and outraged by the daily revelations of filth and negligence in the Church, but his faith remains strong, as does his yearning to embrace his vocation. Why?

“I want to be a Catholic priest; because of all the incredible men who are good and holy priests and have helped and supported me in my own life,” he writes in CatholicPhilly.com. “Because of the much-needed ministry I have been privileged to provide already as a religious brother; doing Army chaplain ministry and as a seminarian. Because God has chosen to make Himself present in the Eucharist in the hands of a priest. Because we as Catholics believe that the priest, despite his own frailty, has the awesome power to forgive sins. But mostly, because God has called me in this incredible way, and I wish to answer that call.”

Deacon De Silva has no illusions about the difficulty of ministering in a church whose own leaders have done so much to discredit it. “I know that when I am ordained a priest in May, much of the institutional goodwill for the Catholic priest will not exist as it used to,” he remarks. “I cannot change this. I can, however, take up the challenge to have greater faith in the God Who calls me. With His immeasurable help overcoming my own weakness, I can resolve to be ever more united to His Son the priest, and yes, the victim.”

Thanks be to God for Deacon De Silva’s faithful witness. Please pray for him as he approaches his ordination.


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Thomas Esser (’18)

“It’s wonderful how, in the integrated curriculum, everything matches up. You’ll be reading one thing in language class, and then it will come up again in philosophy, and goes on to affect everything you read from then on. You get a deeper understanding of each discipline by seeing how they connect with the others.”

– Thomas Esser (’18)

Chino Hills, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“Few schools anywhere can match Thomas Aquinas College’s extraordinary blend of deep Catholic faith and rich academic formation.”

– The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia