Skip to Content
Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Patricia Kessler (’87)Please pray for the repose of the soul of Patricia Kessler (’87). A senior attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, on assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, she had taken a short vacation to do some scuba diving in the Red Sea. On November 1, when fire broke out on the boat, it appears that she helped other passengers to escape, but did not make it off herself. Her family presumes that she died in the ordeal.

After her graduation from the College in 1987, Patty earned her juris doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. She then joined the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, where she served as senior defense counsel, department head, and advisor to the Judge Advocate General. For the next seven years she worked as an assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, followed by eight years in private practice. She returned to the Justice Department in 2015 as a senior trial attorney in the Asset Forfeiture Section of the Criminal Division.

A lifelong friend has paid tribute to Patty saying,

I have poignant memories of long, philosophical conversations with Patty during college. She studied TRUTH. It gave her pleasure to examine: “What is Truth? How do we know the truth about anything? What does it mean to seek truth? Why should we seek truth? Should we seek truth for truth’s sake? What if the truth does not change the outcome of a situation?” She concluded that seeking the truth, speaking the truth and acting on the truth, and constantly wrestling with the truth is what we all must do to achieve a happy life, or our world will devolve into the Hobbesian description, which is “nasty, brutish and short.”

Please keep Patty in your prayers, and please pray for the consolation of her family, especially for her two daughters.

 

Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.


Thomas O’Hara (’18)Two months after he graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in 2018, Thomas O’Hara married classmate Misha (Johnston ’18), and the couple departed for Prague. Mr. O’Hara had discovered that he could pursue an electrical-engineering degree inexpensively at the Czech Technical University, and his wife — who spent much of her childhood in the Czech Republic and spoke the language fluently — would be very much at home.

Once in Prague, however, he realized that his interests lay elsewhere — and that his Thomas Aquinas College education had prepared him in ways he didn’t even know.

“I got really interested in the programming classes that I was taking,” Mr. O’Hara says. “A lot of my associates complimented me on how fast I picked it up, which was the result of the logical reasoning  — and especially the math — that I had learned at TAC. Programming is really just applied math and logic, and the College had prepared me well in both.”

So he decided to pursue a computer-science degree and to seek employment in a computer lab. When applying for a job, he found himself, once again, relying in ways unexpected on his Catholic liberal education.

“There were 30 other people applying for the same position and, frankly, most of them were much more qualified than I was in terms of their knowledge of programming. But they hired me because of my enthusiasm for learning,” Mr. O’Hara says. “I like to think that I love learning naturally, but I know that I learned to love learning even more at the College. I became very enthusiastic about just figuring things out, analyzing, trying to think outside the box. All of that was cultivated at TAC, especially the analytics and working with people in order to solve a specific problem.”

Now Mr. O’Hara works at Stratosphere Labs, which conducts research for, among others, Avast Software, one of the world’s largest cybersecurity, machine learning, and AI firms. Among his projects, he maintains “honeypots” — machines that have been left deliberately unsecure, or infected with malware — in order to monitor the strategies of hackers, and thus develop Intrusion Prevent Systems. In October, Google sponsored him to attend Virus Bulletin, an international cybersecurity conference in London, and he also participated in the Cyber Sec & AI conference in Prague.

On top of his busy academic and professional life, Mr. O’Hara is also a new father. Six months ago he and Mrs. O’Hara welcomed twins — Thomas Edmund and Hannah Marie. The young family plans to stay in Prague until he completes his degree, then return stateside.

The family of Misha (Johnston ’18) and Thomas O’Hara


Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98) Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98)

The newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces, Stars and Stripes, recently reported on a historic legal event that took place in the famed Courtroom 600 at the Justizpalast in Nuremberg, Germany. For the first time in more than 70 years, members of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps were returning to practice law at the very site where they once tried war criminals of the Third Reich. Among the attorneys present was an alumnus of Thomas Aquinas College, Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98).

As part of an exhibition designed to demonstrate the differences between the German and American legal systems, Major Rogers participated in a two-part mock trial. In the first trial, German attorneys prosecuted a defendant charged with assault and robbery. Then, Major Rogers and his colleagues conducted a similar trial — same facts and charges —under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

There was no jury in the German trial, and it was mostly the judge who examined the defendant and the witnesses; whereas in the American trial attorneys asked most of the questions. The outcomes, however, were similar. “We arrived at essentially the same verdict for the accused, although different punishments,” says Major Rogers. “The UCMJ gives a greater latitude to the panel in punishing the offender, from ‘no punishment’ to whatever the maximum is in the code.”

As the Officer in Charge at the Army’s 7th Army Training Command in Vilseck, Major Rogers manages a staff of some 20 lawyers and paralegals. “We provide legal advice and client services to eligible personnel and assist commanders with both administrative law issues and criminal prosecutions under the UCMJ,” he explains. “The legal center provides services to both the Army’s commanders and the soldiers, family members, and retirees that live in the community.” 

When he came to the College as a freshman in 1994, Major Rogers was already 22 years old and a member of the Army Reserve. (He served part time with a unit in Santa Barbara.) He earned his juris doctor at the Ave Maria School of Law in 2004 and went on active duty in 2007. Since last summer he has been on his second tour of duty in Germany, having served in Kaiserslautern from 2012 to 2015. Previously he also served in Korea and Iraq.  He now lives in Bavaria with his wife and classmate, Audrey (Keeler ’98), and their four children.


Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89) Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89)“Amid new challenges to priestly celibacy at the Vatican’s Amazon Synod and from other corners of the Church,” writes the Cardinal Newman Society, the Church needs witnesses who are “well-prepared to dispel errors and misconceptions about this important discipline of Catholic priests.” Among these witnesses, the story continues, is Thomas Aquinas College alumnus Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89), formation advisor and assistant professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the author of Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations.

As part of its ongoing Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education series, the Newman Society has published an interview with Fr. Selin, whose book presciently preceded the renewed debate on priestly celibacy by three years. “The principal reason for celibacy is that it perfects the configuration of the priest with Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church,” he says. “Celibacy consequently allows the priest to give himself more freely to the Church in imitation of Christ.” 

He also discusses his time at the College. “I treasure the memories of the many wonderful hours in the classroom, as I learned from the sources of wisdom of the Great Books that formed our Western civilization, under the guidance of our well-formed tutors of the college,” says Fr. Selin. “These excellent conversations continued over meals, during walks, and into late night in the dormitories. One can never put a price tag on these conversations that made life worth living.”

This experience, he adds, proved invaluable in preparing him for his current work with seminarians. “My time at the College helped me begin to acquire the virtues necessary in becoming a disciple before learning to be a leader,” observes Fr. Selin. “I am very grateful to the College for giving me the environment in which I was able to grow in those virtues.”

The full interview is available via the Cardinal Newman Society website.


The family of Noreen (Barr ’79) and Kevin McCann The family of Noreen (Barr ’79) and Kevin McCann

Please pray for Noreen (Barr ’79) McCann, mother of Jack (’09), Molly (’11), Maggie (’13), Martin (’16), Patrick (’17), and Bridget (’20). Mrs. McCann has developed a tumor on her ankle, which, pending further testing, may be cancerous. “I know very little right now. In the coming days and weeks I will be seeing new doctors and having more tests,” she writes. “One thing I know for certain: God answers prayers and He likes to show how generous He can be to those who have faith.” She asks that friends join her praying that her tumor is benign or treatable.

Mrs. McCann is praying through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and to Archbishop Fulton Sheen. She shares the following prayers, two of her favorites:

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

 

Novena Prayer to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus and our Mother, penetrated with the most lively confidence in your all-powerful and never-failing intercession, manifested so often through the Miraculous Medal, we your loving and trustful children implore you to obtain for us the graces and favors we ask during this Novena, if they be beneficial to our immortal souls, and the souls for whom we pray. Amen.

(Here privately form your petitions.)

You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of your Son, Who hates iniquity. Obtain for us, then, a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone, so that our every thought, word, and deed may tend to His greater glory. Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial, that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where you are the Queen of angels and of men. Amen.


Marietta Grumbine (’14)

“We need ethical therapists, and this is why I have come to talk to you today,” Marietta Grumbine (’14) told a group of Thomas Aquinas College, California, students last week at a talk about psychology and counseling, sponsored by the Office of Career Services. “I have been where you are, and I know the formation that you have had. We need you.”

Marietta Grumbine (’14) Marietta Grumbine (’14)In the last year of a three-year Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program at Fuller Theological Seminary, Miss Grumbine is a counseling intern at the Phoenix Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and addiction-recovery center where, she reports, she is blessed to perform daily three Spiritual Works of Mercy — “counseling the doubtful, comforting the afflicted or the sorrowful, and instructing the ignorant.”

The work of a therapist, however, “is not pretty, it’s not glamorous, and it’s heartbreaking sometimes,” Miss Grumbine cautioned. “Being a therapist is looking at all those things no one wants to look at — trauma, abuse, neglect, addiction — no one wants to look at those things. No one wants to look down and help. But we were told to do that. We were told to wash one another’s feet. We were told to look at the ugly things and serve. Being a therapist is that. It’s being a foot-washer.”

But it’s not for everyone. “Being a therapist is a calling, and I really want to stress that,” she continued. “If you’re still sitting here, hearing this talk, and if you have heard everything that I have to say about what therapy is really like, and what being a therapist is really like, and you are still interested … then you might be called to it.”

In the course of her hour-long presentation, “Beyond the Couch: Counseling and Clinical Psychology,” Miss Grumbine answered students questions about graduate-school options, various kinds of therapeutic practice, and the ethical challenges that a Catholic therapist may encounter. “You need to know what you believe,” she said, “and how you’re going to act on it.”

Counseling, she continued, serves an essential human need. “Everyone needs mental-health care, because we are human beings, just as everyone needs to be taken care of physically sometimes,” she explained. Because clients are often vulnerable, and the information they disclose can expose them to exploitation and manipulation, therapists must possess the highest ethical standards.

“There is a lot of beautiful work that can be done in therapy,” Miss Grumbine said. “But in order to do that work, you need to be trustworthy with people’s lives in your hands. That’s why I’m talking to you, because I’m hoping that you are those people, and I want to convince you to go be therapists.”


Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome Institute Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome Institute

At the St. Jerome Institute (SJI), a just-opened, classical high school in Washington, D.C., “the curriculum is designed as a single, unified, four-year program of study,” in which “students and tutors collaborate on analyzing reading, exploring questions, and formulating arguments.” Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that a graduate of a college with an integrated, classical curriculum, taught via the Discussion Method, would be a good fit to help lead such a school — and why SJI hired Will Bertain (’08) as its first assistant headmaster.

“I was thrilled to hire Will,” says Peter Crawford, the school’s headmaster. “Will’s philosophical formation from Thomas Aquinas College enables him to offer teenagers a deep academic mentorship. Additionally, his many years of experience serving students in classical, Great Books, liberal arts schools, and the practical insights he has gleaned in this time, will be key to the success of our school. Of greatest importance, Will’s personal commitment to virtue and excellence makes him a living lesson for all of our students. His leadership is a true gift to the hearts and minds of our first class and future generations of students.”

A founding faculty member and master teacher at Glendale Preparatory Academy, Mr. Bertain worked for the Great Hearts Academies in Arizona for more than a decade, holding the positions of academic dean and interim-assistant headmaster at Anthem Preparatory Academy. He taught middle and high school students in a wide range of courses, including history, Latin, mathematics, and Humane Letters. He also led numerous enrichment seminars and pedagogical workshops for Great Hearts teachers.

“I was deeply blessed, professionally and spiritually, by my time at the Great Hearts Academies,” he says “As the years went on, though, I was increasingly drawn toward the possibility of working in an authentically Catholic school setting. When I had the chance to read some of the core documents for the St. Jerome Institute, I was profoundly moved. I thought to myself something along these lines: ‘Wait a second ... someone is actually doing this?! This is exactly what any new Catholic high school should be doing!’ I am deeply grateful for being given the opportunity as the assistant headmaster to be a part of such a project.”

Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome InstituteWith informal ties to nearby St. Jerome Academy, which serves elementary- and middle-school students, SJI aims to extend a liberal arts education to high school students in the region. “The Socratic seminar-discussion method holds pride of place as a pedagogical tool for us, as we contend that engaging in give-and-take inquiry with fellow students, working together toward understanding the Truth, addresses a fundamental human need,” says Mr. Bertain. “Our curriculum is one designed not only to cultivate the intellectual virtues, but to also further the development of the virtues of the body and the spirit — which is why we include physical education and pursue opportunities for community service.”

In addition to his work as an educator, Mr. Bertain is a busy husband and father. Joining him for his cross-country move to help found SJI and “get out of the Arizona heat” are his wife and TAC classmate, Michelle (Kuenstle ’08), and their six children. “I am so very grateful to my amazing wife, who has been a source of such strength for me,” he says. “I am also incredibly thankful to my alma mater, Thomas Aquinas College, to all of the faculty and staff, for having blessed me with the education I received. The longer removed I am from my time there, the more deeply I thank God for giving me the life-changing experience of being a student at Thomas Aquinas College.”


Andrew Emrich (’93) Andrew Emrich (’93)

Alumnus attorney Andrew Emrich (’93) returned to the California campus last week to offer advice to students who hope to pursue careers in law or public policy.

In a presentation that covered topics ranging from choosing the right law school, to law-school admissions, and how to remain grounded as a lawyer, Mr. Emrich shared how, despite his early plans to enter criminal law, he made a career, first, in public service and, later, in representing corporate clients. “You can have a perfect idea of what your trajectory is going to be, and it may not turn out that way — and that’s fine,” he advised. “Sometimes those experiences you don’t expect and don’t chart out turn out to be the most valuable.”

A partner at Holland & Hart LLP in Denver, Mr. Emrich earned his juris doctor from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1996. He then went on to serve for four years as legislative counsel for Sen. Michael Enzi, followed by four more as counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2005 he left public policy for private practice.

In the course of his discussion, Mr. Emrich outlined six “traits of good lawyers” — all of which happen to be among the common fruits of liberal education: integrity, good listening, problem-solving, good judgment, effective advocacy, and resilience. “You are getting one of the finest educations, really, in all of academia,” he said. “I practice in a field where many people went to the most prestigious schools in the United States, and I have found people much brighter than I am, to be sure, but I haven’t yet found any one who, I would say, had a much better formation than I did.”

As students plan their careers, Mr. Emrich urged, they should meditate over the words of Jeremiah 1:5 — “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you” — and consider the verse’s implications for both their spiritual and professional lives.

“As you are trying to discern your own profession and what steps you take to advance in it — all these other life choices — realize that you are here because the God of the universe intended you to be here from all eternity,” he advised. “You are willed to be here by the Creator of the universe, and that should give you some comfort. All these other things will work out. Make good choices and be prudent, but always keep that in mind.”


K. E. Colombini (’85) Ken Colombini (’85)The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) recently announced that it has named Ken Colombini (’85) as its new communications director.

“Ken brings an impressive depth of experience in communications leadership to the association, including previous work with corn growers and the ethanol industry, Fortune 500 companies, and state government,” says RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “I know Ken will have an immediate and positive impact on our association’s work.”

A former newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, Mr. Colombini transitioned to public affairs in the 1990s with positions in California state government, where he ultimately served as deputy director for communications at California State Parks. He moved from Sacramento to St. Louis in 2000 to take a position at Anheuser-Busch, culminating in work as the company’s director of governmental and environmental communications. Now as the RFA’s communications director, he is responsible for the development and implementation of a broad range of the national trade association’s communication strategies.

Mr. Colombini is also a prolific writer in Catholic and related media, having published numerous essays in First Things, the National Catholic Register, Crisis, Inside the Vatican, The American Conservative, and other online outlets. He and his wife of 31 years, Beth (Milligan ’86), are the parents of five children, ages 30 to 16, and five grandchildren.

 “My four years at Thomas Aquinas College served as a great preparation for a career in journalism and public affairs for three reasons: the curriculum itself, the seminar methodology, and the devotional life the school encouraged,” Mr. Colombini reflects. “The Great Books coursework was instrumental in providing not only a foundation in logic and rhetoric, but in storytelling, crucial to this line of work. The many debates and conversations we enjoyed (both inside and outside the classroom) provided lessons in preparing arguments or position statements and in understanding and dissecting those of others, such as political or policy opponents. Most importantly, however, the spiritual life we lived helped foster humility and charity, and the importance of a rightly formed conscience.”

Beyond the preparation for his career, however, Mr. Colombini credits his alma mater with something far more significant: “I also take great joy in the fact that, more than three decades later, many of the friendships fostered on campus have lived on and inspire me still today, even in ways we could not have imagined back then, such as through social media.”

 


Aaron Dunkel (’06) Aaron Dunkel (’06)“There is something beautiful about local politics: When you are focused on very tangible decisions — whether to fix a road, or hire a new police officer — ideologies that can become very distracting in state or national politics are minimized,” reports Aaron Dunkel (’06). A newly appointed member of the Planning Commission for the City of Santa Paula — hometown of Thomas Aquinas College, California — he appreciates the municipal emphasis on the common good. “While people obviously bring opinions to any discussion, everyone is seeking something good. That has been very motivating for me.”

A native of Northern California, Mr. Dunkel made Santa Paula his home shortly after graduating from the College in 2006. For two years he worked at an advertising business in neighboring Ventura and got to know his fellow Santa Paulans while tending bar at a local restaurant during off hours. In 2010 he began working for his alma mater, first as the Development Office’s database manager, then in alumni relations, and now in the IT department.

All the while, he has developed a greater interest in the workings of the city, its roads, its zoning decisions, and its governance. A few years back he began attending City Council meetings and, inspired by the potential to do good, ran for one of three open seats on the council in 2018. “I entered the race about six months too late, in a field of six dominated by two lifelong residents with widespread name recognition,” he says. Not surprisingly, he lost the election, but he made many meaningful friendships with the city’s residents, including his fellow candidates, which convinced him to deepen his involvement in local politics.

That involvement came to a head last winter, when the city considered a proposal to permit the sale of medical and recreational marijuana within its boundaries. Although most observers considered the initiative’s passage an inevitability, a community-wide group called Safeguard Santa Paula — which included a large contingent of Thomas Aquinas College families — rose to oppose the measure. Uniting a broad swath of the city, Safeguard Santa Paula overcame the well-funded and coordinated efforts of the commercial cannabis industry, persuading the City Council to defeat the measure.

“During that time I realized, through the many great testimonials that people made before the Council, that there really is a strong idea out there of what Santa Paula is and what it could be,” says Mr. Dunkel. “Safeguard Santa Paula wasn’t a movement against something; it was a movement for something, for a stronger vision of community. That inspired me to look for ways to do more.”

So when an opening arose on the Planning Commission this spring, Mr. Dunkel put in his name for consideration. After interviewing with the council, its members — including four who had not long ago been vying with him for a council seat — voted unanimously to award him the position.

As a member of the commission, he works with his colleagues to ensure that development in Santa Paula, such as the placement of streets and the permitting of businesses, is carried out in an orderly fashion and in accordance with the city’s General Plan and Development Code. The commission also advises the Council and makes policy recommendations.

In working through complicated issues, Mr. Dunkel says he finds himself harkening back to lessons learned in classroom discussions at the College. “Sometime in politics, when you choose something, all the other possible choices that get passed over are cast in a bad light,” he says. “But most people are honest and of good will, and in most cases, many or all of the options we consider may be good, but we can only choose one. My education here trained me to approach situations and my neighbors charitably, and that helps me to do this work for the community.”


Blog Categories

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

“Thomas Aquinas College knows this — that the life of the mind involves the spiritual life as well — and that is why I have always thought of this institution as a college in the image and likeness of John Paul II.”

– George Weigel

Papal Biographer