Skip to Content
Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

 Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18)When she competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) witnessed firsthand the spectacle and grandeur of the games. “Athletes enjoyed palatial bedrooms, a cafeteria fit for a tsar, and a larger-than-life atmosphere that matched Russia’s geopolitical ambitions,” she writes for the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

Yet there was a dark underside to the games, which she — as an ice dancer for Ukraine — was acutely aware. “Before the Closing Ceremony had begun [Russian President Vladimir Putin] took steps toward annexing Crimea,” using the Olympics to shield international attention from his crime. “What better way to keep up appearances and distract the world from the events taking place farther up the Black Sea coast?”

After the games, Miss Heekin-Canedy retired from ice dancing and enrolled at Thomas Aquinas College, graduating in 2018. She now pursues a master’s degree in international relations — with concentrations in Russia, Eastern Europe, and international public law — at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she is fulfilling her “longtime dream of a career in international relations, which began when I was figure skating for Ukraine and traveling all over the world.”

At Fletcher she has become involved with the school’s Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy, for which she will be the student leader next year. Last month she arranged to bring in papal biographer George Weigel to speak about the role of religion in Russia-Ukraine relations, she reports, “which was fantastic.” Over the summer she will work as an intern at the Holy See’s Mission at the United Nations, and then return to Massachusetts to complete her degree in the fall.


Upon graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, Brandon Ristoff enrolled in Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He was confident, he said at the time, that the College had prepared him well, giving him a strong philosophical foundation such that “when you actually do policy, you know what is going to work and you understand why it will work.”

His confidence was well placed. In April Mr. Ristoff was the student speaker — an honor reserved for “exemplary students at the top of their cohort” — at the school’s 2019 graduation ceremony, where he formally received his Master of Public Policy degree. (See video, above. Mr. Ristoff’s address begins at the 9:38 mark.)

“In order for us to better serve others, we can’t only understand the quantitative side of public policy, but we must also place public policy into a historical and philosophical context,” said Mr. Ristoff, calling to mind his liberal arts background. “Great policies come from great ideas, ideas about how the world works and how people work and communicate with each other … by understanding these ideas, how they developed over time and how they are being used. This is the most powerful tool in public policy.”

In concluding his address, Mr. Ristoff offered inspiring words that invoked the Prayer of St. Francis. “This is not the time to meander through our careers, moving up the corporate ladder,” he said. “When there is fear, we must bring hope; when there is injustice, we must bring integrity; when there are falsehoods, we must bring truth. This is the time to face our fears and to engage with the problems and conflicts of our times.”

Next up Mr. Ristoff will enroll at Loyola University Chicago, where he plans to pursue a second master’s degree, this time in applied statistics. “I want to use big data and statistics in analyzing different fields, especially politics,” he says. “I find it interesting using big data and statistics and combining it with the political philosophy I learned at Thomas Aquinas College and Pepperdine.”

 


Rayonnant Gothic rose window (north transept), Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral Rayonnant Gothic rose window (north transept), Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral*

“The heart of Paris has fallen in fire, and Catholics are heartbroken,” observes alumnus author Sean Fitzpatrick (’02). “Such blows like the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral are beyond rationalization — but this does not mean that they … occur without reason.”

Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)In his latest article for Catholic Exchange, Mr. Fitzpatrick, the headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, reminds readers that “God can and will bring about the good,” and “He will not let His Church perish in flame” — no matter what the travails of the moment. “Tragedies like the burning of Notre Dame offer Christians the chance and the grace to embrace the peace afforded by placing all things in the hands of God,” he remarks. “Just as one cannot have hope without hesitation, or fortitude without fear, there can be no trust without some degree of devastation and loss.”

Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)Meanwhile, writing in Crisis, fellow Thomas Aquinas College graduate Erik Bootsma (’01), connects the tragic events of Paris to the Paschal Triduum. “It is perhaps just coincidence that the great Cathedral of Paris dedicated to Our Lady was engulfed in flame at the beginning of Holy Week, but I tend not to think so,” he reflects. “One simply cannot avoid the connection that the ‘death’ of the Cathedral of Notre Dame somehow echoes the death of Our Lord, which we commemorate this Holy Week on Good Friday.”

With Christ, however, death never gets the last word. A classically trained architect and the owner of Erik Bootsma Design, Mr. Bootsma cites examples of the rebuilding of other great churches to give hope that Notre Dame will one day reclaim its former glory. And just as the cathedral’s near-destruction points to Good Friday, its promised reconstruction hints at the glory of Easter. “On the third day after His death on the Cross, Jesus rose from the tomb into new life,” he writes. “The rebuilding of the cathedral would be not just a work of art, but a work of faith — just as it was for those who built it — symbolizing Christ himself, resurrected and glorified.”

As. Mr. Fitzpatrick concludes, “We look to the Resurrection, and we pray, to see the rise of Notre Dame from the ashes.”

 


* Photo credit: By Zachi Evenor based on File:North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg by Julie Anne Workman - Flickr,based on File:North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0


David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) David A. Shaneyfelt (’81)Alumnus attorney David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) — recently featured on this blog for having been named, once again, a California “Super Lawyer” — has turned his attention to the most significant criminal proceeding in the history of jurisprudence: the trial of Jesus Christ.

In a series of free podcasts, Mr. Shaneyfelt investigates Our Lord’s trial, beginning with His arrest, and continuing all the way through the Crucifixion. Along the way, Mr. Shaneyfelt considers such questions as: What are the sources of evidence at Jesus’ trial? What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? And what is the significance of the date of the Crucifixion vis-à-vis the Passover Feast?

The seven hour-long podcasts provide an excellent source of listening for Lent and Holy Week.

“A great deal of scholarship has gone into the relatively few words of the New Testament that describe the legal process employed to put to trial, convict, and execute, a Jewish rabbi, whose followers for 2,000 years since then have regarded as the Eternal Son of God, the Word made flesh to dwell, and to die, among us,” writes Mr. Shaneyfelt on his website, One Catholic Lawyer. “My goal in this podcast series is to introduce listeners to some of this scholarship, to unpack it, and to let listeners appreciate the difficulty — and reward — of parsing Biblical texts.”

A lawyer in Camarillo, California, Mr. Shaneyfelt has spoken publicly about Our Lord’s trial for more than 20 years at churches, schools, and organizations throughout the state. “Believers and non-believers, I think, will at least find the subject fascinating, because history offers us great insights into passages that are often short and cryptic,” he writes. “But I also think, or at least hope, that believers will come to see deeper meanings and significance in the details addressed and, in the end, will grow in faith and love for the One Who is at the central focus of this event.”


Franz Wall (’16) Franz Wall (’16)

 

“Since I was 15 years old I knew I wanted to be a dentist,” says Franz Wall (’16). That dream is now one step closer to reality, as Mr. Wall has been admitted to the Navy Health Professional Scholarship Program — under which he will receive a full scholarship to dental school, plus a stipend, valued at upward of $600,000. In exchange for the benefits, he will be required to serve for three years as a Navy dentist in active duty. “After my service obligation I will be returning to Mariposa, California, to start my own private dental practice,” he says.

Knowing at such a young age that he wanted to be a dentist presented Mr. Wall with a dilemma when it was time to choose a college. Because the typical approach for pre-dental students is to earn a bachelor’s degree in medicine or science, a liberal arts degree “seemed obsolete and ineffective,” he admits. “I was aware of the impressive reasoning skills and deep faith that the students of Thomas Aquinas College possessed, but I had a hard time discerning how that would help me as a dentist.”

His opinion changed, however, when he sought the advice of admissions officials at some prestigious dental colleges. “They explained that they wanted to teach the medicine, and they would rather I had a broad base of knowledge before I specialized,” Mr. Wall recalls. “This information made TAC an easier choice.”

Upon graduating in 2016 he completed prerequisite classes for dental school at the University of California, Merced. He then took the Dental Admissions Test and scored in the 98th percentile, upon which he applied and was one of the first six students accepted to the University of Pacific’s Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry this year.

In addition to his studies, for the last year and a half Mr. Wall has been working both as a dental assistant and for Mariposa County’s Oral Health Program. “We have been working for the last year on educating the community on oral hygiene and connecting underprivileged community members to oral health care,” he writes.

Looking forward — and back — he is pleased with his unconventional choice of a college. “The four years I spent at TAC have been some of the best years of my life,” he says. “I was able to grow closer to God through the support of many strong Catholic men and women, with daily sacraments and wonderful priests for advice. I was able to grow personally through the many good conversations and interactions I had with the people I met. I was able to learn how to think critically, how to make sense of any argument, and how to explain complicated concepts to people clearly. As years pass since my graduation, I realize more and more the value of my education and cannot be thankful enough.”


Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85)

At its upcoming national convention, University Faculty for Life will award its Rupert and Timothy Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions to Pro-Life Scholarship to a graduate of the College, Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85). The organization, which presents the award annually to honor “scholarly achievement and service of the pro-life movement,” chose Dr. Cavanaugh for his work on medical ethics, particularly as it pertains to euthanasia.

A professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, Dr. Cavanaugh is the author of  Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: the Birth of the Medical Profession, which Oxford University Press published last year. The book examines the Hippocratic Oath through a broad survey of Ancient Greek myth, drama, culture, and language. Drawing on extensive research, it addresses the subject of physician-inflicted harm, particularly doctor-assisted suicide, which Dr. Cavanaugh finds to be antithetical to medicine’s therapeutic ethic.

Over the last year, Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake has received critical praise from a wide range of sources. Writing for America, Dr. Christopher Kaczor called the book, “required reading for anyone interested in the ethics of medicine.” In Commonweal, Mary McDonough declared that Dr. Cavanaugh “has recovered the root of medical ethics.”

As a recipient of the Smith Award, Dr. Cavanaugh will find himself in select company. Past hnorees include such luminaries as Dr. Robert P. George, Dr. Hadley Arkes, and Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J.


Zoe Appleby (’18) Zoe Appleby (’18)Last Friday Zoe Appleby (’18) presented a research paper, “Exploring the Public Museum as an Urban Monument: LACMA and the Zumthor Debates,” at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. A graduate student in art history at the University of California, Riverside, Miss Appleby delivered her presentation as part of a seminar class at the Getty Research Institute, “Monumentality and its Discontents.” She was one of only nine students accepted into the graduate-level class, drawn from diverse departments, all related to the study of art and architecture, at universities from throughout Southern California. 

“The L.A. County Museum of Art has planned in the near future to demolish most of its main buildings and build one new complex in their place. It has hired the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to design the new campus,” says Miss Appleby, explaining her research project, paper, and presentation. “I used this perhaps historic event to explore, philosophically, the ways in which a public museum can be considered an urban monument and related issues. The main issues I investigated were the museum as a monument to what it houses (the art), as a monument to the city it belongs to (Los Angeles), as a built environment for people to engage with inside and outside, how the museum interacts with its immediate urban environment, and the debate over whether museums have a duty to preserve their own past as embodied in the layers of their architecture.”

Her Thomas Aquinas College education, Miss Appleby reports, has been a blessing as she pursues her graduate studies. “I use my TAC training in textual analysis, in Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, in Greco-Roman history, in modern philosophy (such as Kant and Hegel), in poetry and literary theory, in Aristotelian cosmology,” she writes. “I could go on and on.”


Susan and Michael Waldstein Drs. Susan (Burnham ’78) and Michael Waldstein (’77)
photo: Monica Torreblanca,
The Troubador

The Troubadour, the student newspaper of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, recently featured an endearing profile of two of the university’s newest theology professors, both graduates of Thomas Aquinas College: Drs. Susan (Burnham ’78) and Michael Waldstein (’77).

The story chronicles how the Waldsteins met on Susan’s first day at the College, which, she admits, she had been reluctant to attend, thinking she would prefer to pursue a degree in chemistry or biology. Yet once she began the College’s program of classical liberal education, her perspective changed. “I learned a different way of looking at nature by studying the natural philosophy of Aristotle,” she says. “I realized that looking at nature in that way contributed to theology and that there could be a theology of biology.”

The couple married just three days after her graduation. From there, says Susan, “We went around, and he got degrees and I had babies.”

Michael earned a master’s in philosophy from the University of Dallas, a licentiate in Scripture from the Pontificium Institutum Biblicum in Rome, and a doctorate in New Testament studies from Harvard Divinity School. Following eight years as a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, he then declined an offer of tenure to become the founding president of the International Theological Institute (ITI) in Gaming, Austria. In 2008 he joined the theology faculty at Ave Maria University, and one year ago he came to Franciscan to launch a doctoral program in theology.

While homeschooling eight children — four of whom are now fellow Thomas Aquinas College alumni, and two of whom are current students — Susan went on to earn a master’s and a licentiate degree in theology at ITI. She wrote and defended her doctoral dissertation for the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, while homeschooling the couple’s youngest three children in Florida. She, too, now teaches theology at Franciscan. In addition, the couple serves on the Pontifical Council for the Family, appointed as members by Pope St. John Paul II. 

Through it all, they have maintained a beautiful witness, in both their personal and professional lives, to the goodness of marriage and family. “Their prime classroom was their home,” writes Troubadour editor-in-chief Allegra Thatcher, “where they raised a happy family in extraordinarily simple ways.”


Rev. Christopher Manuele (’92) Rev. Christopher Manuele (’92)The College has received a prayer request for Rev. Christopher Manuele (’92), pastor of Saint Joseph Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a chaplain at Gregory the Great Academy. Hospitalized and gravely ill with sarcoid disease as well as an extremely rare blood dyscrasia, Fr. Christopher will likely need to undergo aggressive chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

Please keep him in your Lenten prayers!


David A. Shaneyfelt (’81)For the second year in a row, alumnus attorney David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) has been named one of Southern California’s Super Lawyers— an annual roster of top attorneys within various regions of the United States. “Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement,” the guide notes. Only 5 percent of lawyers are named to the list, following a rigorous nomination and peer-review process that considers such factors as verdicts, settlements, professional honors, experience, pro-bono work, and community service.

“Honestly, recognition like this makes me squirm,” says Mr. Shaneyfelt. “There are so very many TAC attorneys and they are all super in my mind. And because of our formation I think we all share the same passion and the same priorities — faith, family, work, and in that order. In the end, that’s what counts, and I’m sure none of us would be clear on the end if we hadn’t been formed by TAC in the beginning.”

A lawyer in Camarillo, California, Mr. Shaneyfelt has represented numerous private and public business entities in disputes against insurance companies and joint powers agencies — earning him the title of “Top Rated Insurance Coverage Attorney,” according to Super Lawyers. He practices with the Alvarez Firm, where he works alongside fellow alumnus Justin Alvarez (’97).


Blog Categories

Patrick Nazeck (’19) -- quote 1

“No one here tells us what to think. We read the great books, look into them deeply, and then discuss them actively in class, which has forced me to take responsibility for my own education.”

– Patrick Nazeck (’19)

Ridgecrest, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“I am deeply touched by the quality of the intellectual and spiritual formation that you offer. The study of philosophy should lead to a conviction that truth can be known, articulated, and defended. Your college shows that this is possible, and on a high level!”

– Rev. Wojciech Giertych, O.P.

Theologian of the Papal Household