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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03) offers Palm Sunday Mass
for soldiers at the Army Reserve Center in Staten Island, New York. Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03) offers Palm Sunday Mass for soldiers at the Army Reserve Center in Staten Island, New York.

“I have always been drawn to the Armed Forces,” says Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03). “And one reason I was drawn to my ministry to American soldiers is the great need for good Catholic chaplains among our men and women in uniform.”

The College’s 73rd and most recently ordained alumnus priest, Fr. De Silva serves in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, as well as in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. He is the parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Clark and a chaplain to the Army’s 8th Medical Brigade in Staten Island, New York. It was his lifelong admiration of the military that helped lead him to the Army chaplaincy — and almost kept him from attending Thomas Aquinas College.

For as long as he can recall, the College has been a part of Fr. De Silva’s life. His father, Dr. Norman De Silva (’75), was a member of the first graduating class and an early member of the teaching faculty. His mother, Maureen (Barlow ’76), was a fellow graduate, and after Dr. De Silva died of cancer in 1985, she married a classmate, James Finley (’76).

Yet, despite these ties to the College, when he graduated high school, his affinity for the Armed Forces brought him instead to the Virginia Military Institute. He had heard that the first year at VMI was “one of the toughest military experiences you could have” — a challenge too appealing to let pass.

Triumphing over this obstacle, however, proved to be a fleeting satisfaction. “I found myself seeking something more intellectually or philosophically challenging,” Fr. De Silva says. “I decided I would rather search for the truth at Thomas Aquinas.” Thus he transferred to the College as a freshman, where he developed “the ability to think about something and articulate my thoughts on whatever it was that I was studying” — talents, he says, that would serve him well in the years ahead.

After graduating in 2003, Fr. De Silva spent the next three years as a manager for a large-scale wine retailer in Virginia. He had become lackadaisical in his practice of his faith, he admits, until two friends from the College independently surprised him with the same question: “Have you ever considered becoming a priest?”

“For the first time, I actually asked myself that question: ‘Is God calling me?’” Fr. De Silva muses. “The answer came back very clear: ‘Yes.’” With the help of a friendly deacon, he began a 30-day Lenten Ignatian retreat that included three hours of prayer squeezed between shifts in his fulltime work schedule. “At the end of those 30 days of listening to God, I was ready to say back, ‘Yes, I’m going to give my life to You.’”

He left the wine business and became a brother with the Community of St. John in Princeville, Illinois. The community sent him, first, to study theology in France, and then to serve as a campus minister at Seton Hall University, where he earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and biblical studies. He was also commissioned, while still a brother, as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Corps — and began to discern a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. In 2016 he became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Newark.

On Saturday, May 25, 2019, His Eminence Joseph W. Cardinal Tobin, C.Ss.R., conferred Holy Orders upon Fr. De Silva at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. In his first assignments, he is the parochial vicar at St. Agnes while also working with those at the Army Reserve Center on Staten Island. “I’ve dealt with soldiers who are addicted, or soldiers who are suicidal,” Fr. De Silva reflects. “Soldiers struggle on different levels, and I pray that my presence among them will bear good fruit.” 

 Members of the Knights of Columbus carry supplies from a truck Class of 2003 classmates Jeremy Boucher (left) and Patrick Mason (right) unload a trailer of supplies / Photo: Johnny Jaffe

The Knights of Columbus have published a wonderful story about the work that their members are doing to support vulnerable Native American populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Notable among those featured are two members of the College’s Class of 2003: Jeremy Boucher and Patrick Mason, the Knights’ national supreme director.

“Native populations are always hit disproportionately hard by pandemics,” Mr. Mason — a member of the Osage Nation and a board member of Life is Sacred, a prolife Native American organization — tells reporter Carl Bunderson. “The 1918 flu wiped out entire villages. The H1N1 death rate in Native American communities was four times the national average.”

In March, Mr. Mason, Mr. Boucher, and fellow Knights in their Gallup, New Mexico, council began filling a trailer with crates of donated and purchased food, which they distributed to local reservations. Their efforts soon expanded — all the way to native communities in Hawaii — and by early July the Knights had delivered more than $320,000 of relief in the form of boxes containing sufficient groceries to feed a family for two weeks. 

“Pope Francis is always talking about going out to the peripheries,” the article quotes Mr. Boucher as observing. The Knights of Columbus’ “Leave No Neighbor Behind” program — designed to aid those in need during the pandemic — “is really encouraging us to do that,” he continues, “to go outside of our comfort zone, and remember that it’s not just our family and friends who are our neighbors.”

Adds Mr. Mason: “I have great hope because God always brings great good out of bad situations — and I’m seeing the good that’s coming out of this and the love that’s growing between neighbors and peoples.” 

Regina (Aguinaldo ’97) Sweeney Very dedicated readers may recall that, 10 years ago, the Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter published a story (PDF) about Regina (Aguinaldo) and Owen Sweeney (both ’97), an alumni couple and then the parents of six children, who helped to found a Catholic Montessori school in Great Falls, Virginia.

A decade later, the Sweeneys have relocated westward, but their devotion to the Faith and its application in Montessori education continues. “After moving away from the area, I transitioned to a homeschooling mom,” writes Mrs. Sweeney, now the mother of nine. “As time went on, I realized that the true genius of Maria Montessori was not in the materials and lessons which she developed for children. Rather, it was her brilliance in observing and understanding the God-given nature of the child, based in Catholic theology.”

Drawing on her experience of applying Catholic Montessori principles to the raising of nine children, Mrs. Sweeney is now sharing her wealth of knowledge with parents everywhere by way of her new website, Catholic Montessori Home. The site includes a blog as well as a virtual community for parents, The Hamlet — the fruit of many, many questions about child-rearing that the Sweeneys have received over the years.

“With current events causing children to be home full-time with their parents,” Mrs. Sweeney notes, she saw that “it was time for me to share more widely what has worked for us in raising our children.”

What “has worked” for the Sweeneys, as the website’s title suggests, was the incorporation of Montessori principles into family life and homeschooling. Indeed, what led the couple to investigate the Montessori method in the first place was when their eldest, then two years old, had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a Montessori-based catechetical program.

That daughter, by the way, is now a student at Thomas Aquinas College, California — making the Sweeneys not only TAC alumni, but also TAC parents. “Owen and I just love our alma mater, in a different light too now — as parents,” says Mrs. Sweeney. “Our oldest finished her freshman year this spring. Just the first in many more to come.”

The Sweeney children The Sweeney children

Louis Knuffke (’16)Louis Knuffke (’16)Only four years since his graduation, Louis Knuffke (’16) has been named the headmaster of the Chesterton Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. “Chesterton Academy offers an integrated, Catholic, liberal education that prepares its students for the fuller pursuit of the liberal arts, literature, the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology at the collegiate level,” says Mr. Knuffke. “It draws upon the perennial wisdom and richness of Western culture through the use of primary texts and Socratic discussion, taking inspiration from the wit and insight of its patron, G.K. Chesterton, now servant of God.”

After graduating from the College in 2016, Mr. Knuffke earned a Master’s in Theology at Ave Maria University and a Licentiate in Theology at the Dominican House of Studies. Over the years he has taught and tutored a variety of subjects — such as Latin, Greek, English, geometry, algebra, pre-calculus, and theology — at various schools, including  St. Michael’s College Prep in Silverado, California, the Mother of Divine Grace distance-learning school, and Queen of Apostles School in Alexandria, Virginia.

“As Headmaster of Chesterton Academy, I hope to guide the school in maintaining a clear vision of the essentials of Catholic liberal education,” says Mr. Knuffke. “It is the education that I received at Thomas Aquinas College, as well as my further studies in Thomistic theology, that have given me a deeper understanding of the path of knowledge from its beginning in logic to its culmination in sacred theology.”

Among Mr. Knuffke’s teachers at Chesterton Academy will be a fellow TAC graduate, Joseph Rivera (’17), who teaches Latin. “It has been a great joy to pursue the intellectual life in study and teaching together with fellow alumni while at Ave Maria University, in Washington, D.C., and now at Chesterton Academy,” Mr. Knuffke observes. “I am forever grateful to Thomas Aquinas College for these friendships and for its serious pursuit of wisdom through the arts and sciences. It is this wisdom that I hope to hand on now to the students at Chesterton Academy of Annapolis.”

Fred Arthur (’96) Fred Arthur (’96)

Friends and loved ones gathered today at Santa Clara Church in Oxnard, California, for the funeral Mass of an alumnus of Thomas Aquinas College, Fred Arthur (’96). Serving as principal celebrant at the Mass was one of Mr. Arthur’s TAC classmates, Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.  Audio of Fr. Decaen’s homily (recorded on a cell phone, thus the uneven quality) is available in the player at the bottom of this post.

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96)“Today we pray in a special way for our brother Fred, whose gentle smile illuminated the campus at Thomas Aquinas College,” said Fr. Decaen in his homily.  “He had a great love for people, a great love for everyone. … He was always generous, very giving of himself.”

Fr. Decaen noted that he was “maybe the first person that Fred met at the College,” as they were freshman roommates.  The two became fast friends and, he added, “It’s when Christ unites us in friendship that we help each other on the road to heaven.”

The priest also joked about some cultural differences that the two had to work through — Fr. Decaen being a lifelong Californian, and Mr. Arthur a citizen of Ghana — mostly relating to the temperature of the room and who slept on which bunk. “We come from many different backgrounds, many different countries, many different beginnings, but we are all united together as one body, the Body of Christ,” Father said. “United in love, united in conviction, united in respect for the dignity of the human person, we are reminded that God is here with us.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a limited number of friends were permitted in the church, but among them were several alumni of the College. Fr. Decaen urged all those gathered — and, by extension, Mr. Arthur’s friends everywhere — to pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his wife, Nana, and their four children. “That’s our goal today,” Father said. “We pray that he may go to the heavenly kingdom, and through the grace of this most powerful prayer that we celebrate today, we call upon God’s grace to give him rest in eternal life.”

Norman De Silva and family

Please pray for Dr. Norman P. De Silva (’75), a member of the College’s first graduating class who later served as a member of the teaching faculty. Today marks the 35th anniversary of his death on July 1, 1985. Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., remembered him at Mass this morning in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.

May Dr. De Silva rest in peace!

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06)Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06)After serving for the last few years as a part-time lecturer at Christendom College, TAC alumna Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06) has been named a full-time faculty member in the school’s Department of English and Literature. “From middle school students, to undergraduates, to graduate students,” notes the Christendom website, Dr. Sullivan “has taught literature, writing, and rhetoric courses at a variety of levels.” She will now teach the Virginia-based college’s core literature courses as well English Victorian  Literature, Children’s Literature of the 19th Century, and English Romantic Literature.

Dr. Sullivan holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Dallas and a doctorate from the Catholic University of America. During her graduate-school years, she was a perennial presence on Thomas Aquinas College’s California campus, where she served several times as the beloved head women’s prefect for the High School Summer Program.

Indeed, it was her own experience of the Summer Program as a high school student  that sparked Dr. Sullivan’s love of learning and, ultimately, led her to become an educator. In an essay she wrote about the experience back in 2013, she recalled a life-changing discovery she made about herself during that program:

I want to think, to discover the truths of things, to reason and reflect on what matters in our lives, to understand the world around me from a perspective unhindered by another’s bias or predetermined mindset. I wanted to grapple with the questions that Man has always grappled with, and to learn the answers as best I could. I had realized that education was not about the amount of knowledge learned, but about how it was learned. …

I wanted to skip the rest of high school and enter Thomas Aquinas College right away. Yet I returned to high school with a new perspective on education, and found myself more frequently raising my hand to ask questions or propose comments. An education is not passive; it is active, alive, and all within reach.      

Congratulations to Dr. Sullivan on her new job — and to Christendom on an excellent hire!

And speaking of the High School Program, which changed Dr. Sullivan’s life as well as that of so many others, it will be offered this summer on both campuses. Please share the good news with any rising high school seniors you may know!

Nanna and Fred Arthur (’96) with their children Fred Arthur (’96)

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) reports that his friend and onetime roommate, Fred Arthur (’96), succumbed to cancer this afternoon in California, just as Fr. Decaen was offering a Mass for him on the vigil of Corpus Christi in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Please pray for his wife (Nana) and their four children, ages 7 to 14,” writes Fr. Decaen. Funeral arrangements are pending. Pray for his eternal rest; may he rest in peace.”

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

Nanna and Fred Arthur (’96) with their children Nana and Fred Arthur (’96) with their children

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, has contacted the College asking for emergency prayers for his friend, classmate, and onetime roommate, Fred Arthur (’96). Mr. Arthur, a husband and father of four, is struggling in his battle with cancer.

Please pray for a miraculous recovery and the protection of his family!

Katie Ellefson (’16)Katie Ellefson (’16)The three alumnae nurses profiled on this blog nearly two months ago — Katie Ellefson (’16), Joanna Kaiser (’15), and Annamaria Masteller (’16) — continue to inspire the faithful across the country. In May the Arlington Catholic Register published a story about how Miss Ellefson and Miss Masteller were fairing as new nurses in hospitals that have been overwhelmed by COVID-19. And now Patrick Reilly, president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, has featured Miss Ellefson in a new story for the National Catholic Register, These College Grads Are Saving Lives:

Katie Ellefson, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, is now a nurse in a Virginia hospital, where her entire floor was turned into a COVID unit. She explained to the College that nurses are often the “only people who are physically coming into the room to check on these patients,” and they are “generally more lonely, scared, and anxious than our typical patients.”

“Being able to be the person who can go in there and cheer them up and make their stay even just a little better has honestly been such a gift,” she says.

Surely her patients are at least as grateful for Ellefson and her Christian heroism!

The work of Miss Ellefson and others like her, he continues, “is a great blessing and inspiration, and it reflects well on the faithful Catholic education that they received.”

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Patrick Nazeck (’19) -- quote 2

“Here I am surrounded by other people my age who share my interests, who value their education as much as I do, and whom I can have fun with while still learning about big ideas. It is an awesome experience that I have never found anywhere else.”

– Patrick Nazeck (’19)

Ridgecrest, California


“Thomas Aquinas College is uniquely positioned and equipped to let light shine once more in our world, in our society, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships.”

– Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.

Archbishop of Oklahoma City