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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.


The above video features Rev. Derek Remus (’11), the College’s newest — and 72nd! — alumnus priest. Fr. Remus was ordained to the sacred priesthood on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, by the Most Rev. William McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary, at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“Today,” observes the Calgary Herald, he is “a rare breed: an Alberta-born young priest serving in his home province.” Indeed, Fr. Remus is the first priest to be ordained in Calgary in three years. In August he began service as an associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in southwest Calgary.

“I want to reach out to young people by showing them that the Faith is reasonable and it is only in God and in Christ they can be truly happy,” he says. “It is important these days to show the Faith is not opposed to reason and not opposed to science. I have a missionary mentality to go out and preach the truth to everybody.”

Thanks be to God!


Jon B. Syren (’87) Jon B. Syren (’87)On her blog, Miss Marcel’s Musings, alumna author Suzie Andres (’87) describes the “inestimable grace” of having recently been with the family of her late classmate Jon B. Syren (’87) for the 26th anniversary of his death — “this 26th feast day,” she writes, “and it’s been a feast indeed.”

Shortly after graduating from the College, Mr. Syren began to “fulfill his dreams,” writes Mrs. Andres, when he married classmate Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly:

… on the Feast of Our Lady’s Coronation in 1987, and with the birth of their daughter and son (who would’ve been the first of many, and thanks to God's infinite love did become the first of many, though their 7 siblings came later, after Angela remarried a second saintly man, thankfully one who is still among us!). And finally, his dream of being a doctor began coming true with his attendance [at the University of Washington, with his first year of medical school in his home state of Alaska] …

Jon’s secret was in pursuing sanctity — the Kingdom of God, or by another name: Love — rather than worldwide fame and fortune, power, popularity, and all the other things that people often mean by “success.” Not surprisingly, according to the words of Our Lord, by pursuing first the Kingdom of Heaven, Jon was given “all other things besides.”

Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela, is today a member of the College’s Board of Governors, and their daughter, Catherine (Connelly ’11) O’Brien, is a young wife and mother who recently completed her master’s degree in theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

 Suzie Andres (’87)Suzie Andres (’87)“The Communion of Saints is one of my favorite mysteries, more and more visible to me as I realize how close Heaven is to earth,” writes Mrs. Andres. “With Jesus in the tabernacle and coming to us in Holy Communion, the Kingdom of God is absolutely among us. And then, as Angela and Jack and Jon demonstrate so very visibly, the work of the saints continues day in and day out, with fruit beyond counting, beyond measure.”

It should be noted that Mrs. Andres is today celebrating another notable anniversary: the 30th anniversary of her marriage to her husband, Dr. Anthony P. Andres, a tutor at the College. She also recently appeared on the Catholic Exchange podcast, speaking about one of her favorite members of the Communion of Saints, Marcel Van.


St. Ignatius of Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens St. Ignatius of Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens

 

Jessica Pipes (’16) Jessica Pipes (’16)

In honor of yesterday’s Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jessica Pipes (’16) has written a wonderful tribute to the soldier-turned-priest — whom she dubs “a patron saint for difficult times” — in the National Catholic Register.

“Sometimes it’s all too easy to imagine that the saints’ paths to holiness were uncomplicated, that whatever they may have suffered from sickness or the temptations of Satan, they at least knew clearly what God’s will was for them,” writes Miss Pipes. “But for nearly 20 years after his conversion, Ignatius had very little idea what he was doing. He dealt with failure, disappointment, sickness, and severe spiritual darkness.”

Yet through his faithful perseverance, Miss Pipes observes, St. Ignatius found his path to sanctity. “His journey gives us a battle plan for navigating our own dead ends,” she continues. “Whether [we are] making hard choices, recovering from unexpected events, going through physical sickness or spiritual darkness, Ignatius of Loyola faced a similar situation.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!


James Layne (’08) James Layne (’08)Last month James Layne (’08) — a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School and an attorney in Washington, D.C. — began a new position as counsel for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I and my colleagues on the committee staff are essentially the lawyers who represent and counsel our senators, especially on issues that fall under the committee’s jurisdiction,” he explains. “We study legislation that has been referred to the committee as well as analyze how this legislation would fit into the existing legal and policy framework, then recommend to the senator what action we advise him to take.” Counsel for the committee also aid senators in their oversight of the federal judiciary, vetting judicial nominees to the federal courts. Additionally, Mr. Layne assists the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which Sen. Flake chairs. “Senators naturally desire to be informed on the role of technology and the privacy issues raised by the growth of new technologies,” he says. “I am excited and honored to work in this role, to help the committee consider these cutting-edge issues.”

For most of the five years since his graduation from law school, Mr. Layne has worked in private practice, but he does have some experience with the Judiciary Committee. “During my second year of law school, I was a law clerk for the committee, working for then-Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma,” he notes. “This past experience is very helpful, since I already know some of the people I’m working with and have a basic understanding of how the committee works.”

When asked in what ways his Thomas Aquinas College education helped prepared him for his new job, Mr. Layne offered a heartfelt, expansive response, which is posted, in its entirety, below:

 

Looking Back at My Time at Thomas Aquinas College

by James Layne (’08)

I have often said that, next to my decision to become a Catholic, no decision I have ever made has been more important and formational than my decision to attend Thomas Aquinas College.

I didn’t have the typical start at TAC. I’ll never forget how excited I was to get the call from Admissions Director Jon Daly, telling me that I was moved off the waiting list and given a spot in the Class of 2008. It was already almost two weeks into the school year, but a spot opened up. As I recall, it was on a Wednesday or Thursday, and Jon told me that the last possible day I could start classes was that Monday! I didn’t know how it was possible to get everything ready that quickly, pack up, get my plane ticket, and move across the country from Virginia to California. It was exhausting.

When I got to the College, I was the new guy showing up after everyone else had formed their new friendships and bonds with their classmates. I worried that maybe I would have a hard time making friends and fitting in with the class. Instead, classmates and tutors one by one approached me and introduced themselves, offering to help me get caught up in all the classes. I immediately formed new friendships.

The most challenging thing for me was Euclid. I loved the material, but I didn’t love the idea of standing in front of the class and presenting a proposition, perhaps forgetting a step or forgetting the whole proposition entirely. The idea of messing up in front of a group was almost a phobia! I remembered how in high school I had dreaded public-speaking classes and how nervous I was speaking in front of a group. Imagine a shy lawyer!

James Layne (’08) gives a tour of the Capitol to his visiting classmate, Br. Mary Evagrius (Dominic ’08) Hayden, O.S.B. James Layne (’08) gives a tour of the Capitol to his visiting classmate, Br. Mary Evagrius (Dominic ’08) Hayden, O.S.B.Every member of my class, without exception, was an inspiration in how they welcomed me. I felt a bond at TAC that I never felt anywhere else. We weren’t just there to get our degrees. We were brothers and sisters pursuing the truth and exploring together the many tributaries and winding streams where the development of our understanding and culture had traveled into the ocean of Western civilization. Here I was, a poor boy from the Appalachians, reading Aristotle and St. Thomas, studying the great mathematicians, understanding ancient astronomical systems, and wondering about things I had always taken for granted: motion, number, knowledge, the soul.

This is what set TAC apart from anything else in my experience, and why it was so foundational for me. At TAC, I didn’t just come in and listen to a lecture about someone else’s conclusion. I came in as a participant in this vast intellectual tradition. The College challenged me to internalize the materials, since I had to be ready to talk about them and come to my own conclusions.

In law school, the Socratic Method is routine. You had better be ready to tear apart a text and not just regurgitate it, but be able to analyze it and think about how it fits in with other ideas as well. I can’t believe a better school could exist than Thomas Aquinas College in preparing one for these studies and for practically any career that requires critical thought. The great books are great for a reason. They ask the big questions. They cut through the mass of human experience and present ideas that at least attempt to harmonize or explain that experience.

When you read those materials day in and day out, it affects you in ways you may not realize. If you really wrestle with these ideas and critique them, you learn over time to ask big questions yourself, to cut through the mass of what’s before you, and to see the big ideas and outlines. That has been incredibly helpful to me at every step in my career, and those skills help me to be a better person and better citizen as well.

It isn’t enough, of course, to talk about  knowledge or method or skills. Thomas Aquinas College isn’t just about knowledge or even how to think. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” is what the Scripture tells us. Thomas Aquinas College brought me closer to God, the Unum Necessarium.

I was amazed at how many liturgies the College had daily. Whether I was an early-morning person (which I am not) or an afternoon or evening person, liturgies and processions and Rosaries were happening all the time. Confessions were heard before and after Masses, and priests — very good and faithful priests, I might add — were part of our day-to-day lives. Having several priests for the student body was such a blessing. Whether it was going for a game or ice cream at Fr. Borden’s, chatting with Fr. Charles in Saints Peter and Paul Residence Hall, discussing the Dominican liturgy with Fr. Paul Raftery, serving Mass for Fr. Michael Perea, or listening to the mischievous jokes of Fr. Buckley, these are memories I treasure because these were great and faithful priests who were always there to show us friendship and offer us spiritual guidance.

I could thank so many people at Thomas Aquinas College for helping me get where I am, because they all had an impact on me, but I particularly want to thank Librarian Viltis Jatulis. I worked for her all four years in the gorgeous St. Bernardine of Siena Library. Briefly, the business office decided once to transfer me to the coffee shop, where I got about a week’s experience pulling espresso shots and making some of the strongest drip coffee in the College’s history before Viltis decided she wanted me back. And Viltis generally got what she wanted! She is a legend at TAC, and one of the most joyful and vibrant souls I have ever met. I learned valuable research skills while working there, and knowing one’s way around a library certainly is a good skill for a lawyer. So thank you, Viltis!

I also want to say thank you to the great people in the Development Department, whom I worked with for a couple of years after my graduation in 2008. I was there the day our beloved president, Tom Dillon, died in a car accident in Ireland. I rang the chapel bells and helped gather students to the new chapel Dr. Dillon had worked so hard to build, to hear the devastating news. Then I watched in the days and months ahead as, again, the TAC community came together and not only mourned, but lifted up Mrs. Dillon and Danny. I saw how the institution carried on, because as irreplaceable as Dr. Dillon was, the work was so important that it had to go on. I saw teamwork and perseverance in the midst of great personal sorrow and adversity, and you had better believe this has impacted me in my professional life.

Thomas Aquinas College has prepared me in so many ways that I don’t even have time or space, or adequacy of speech, to list them. It helped me to better know the good, the true, and the beautiful, and (which is perhaps even more important) helped me to desire these. TAC was a spiritual oasis for me. I think of it still as a part of home, since home is where the heart is. I think of its faculty and my classmates as family. I am extremely grateful to all of the friends, supporters, and benefactors of the College who made this possible for me. The gift you gave me is a light that I don’t intend to hide under a bushel.

I know that this light, to the extent it burns in such a one as me, is not mine and doesn’t come from anywhere inside me. It is God’s, and for His glory. It is an inheritance and gift. That light — and the pursuit of that light — burns brightly at Thomas Aquinas College. I pray so often that it will continue to burn brightly for generations of students, who will continue to better serve their communities, churches, and their country by forming themselves in the Catholic intellectual tradition.


Edward Seeley (’16) Edward Seeley (’16) | Photo credit: The Rome Experience

“Being in Rome has been awe-inspiring,” writes Edward Seeley (’16). “We are being formed as men preparing for the priesthood, in order to help save souls through a knowledge of the history of the Church, through the beauty she has produced, and the firmness and maternal affection with which she proclaims Christ the Truth.”

A seminarian for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Mr. Seeley is in the Eternal City as part of The Rome Experience, a summer program run under the auspices of the Bishops Advisory Board that allows seminarians from throughout the U.S. to “pray and study in the heart of the Catholic Church, beside the Chair of St. Peter, and at the tombs of the saints and martyrs.” The program includes pilgrimages to several holy and historically significant sites, the major basilicas of Rome, and the Catacombs, as well as a trip to the Shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France; .

In a Postcard from Rome, published on The Rome Experience website, Mr. Seeley recounts the group’s general audience with Pope Francis, dinners with Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Stafford, and a visit and tour of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. He also describes interactions with fellow tourists who “obviously aren’t used to seeing a group of young seminarians tromping through small side streets or the ruins of ancient Rome,” and who “engage us in dialogue, often about their difficulties with the Church and the problems they face in their lives.”

Providing these inquirers with pastoral advice can be challenging, the young seminarian admits, but “what gives me the strength and hope to continue is being able to ask the saints that we visit for their intercession and guidance.” Adds Mr. Seeley, “When you come to the tombs of great men like St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Philip Neri, or those of Catherine of Siena and Claire of Assisi, you realize that you are not alone but can rely for aid on those who have gone before us.”


Sr. Maria Battista of the Lamb of God (Maria Forshaw ’07)

Liza Forshaw reports the wonderful news that her daughter, Sr. Maria Battista of the Lamb of God (Maria Forshaw ’07), made her final vows at the Carmel of St. Joseph in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 9. “We are celebrating this morning a holy Mass that is a special occasion of joy and thanksgiving,” said Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., who presided at the profession, “not just for Sr. Maria Battista, who has just now expressed publicly her answer to the call she has received from God; not just for her other sisters as well, here at St. Joseph’s Carmelite Monastery, not just for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but also, I would venture to say, for the Universal Church.”

Sr. Maria Battista joined the Discalced Carmelites as a postulant in 2012, entered the novitiate in 2013, and made her first vows in 2015. As a member of this cloistered, contemplative community, she is dedicated to the prayerful service of the Church, and she is particularly involved in the musical life of her monastery.

“A young daughter of God is committing herself to a life which, in the greatest degree possible here on earth, anticipates the life of the Blessed in heaven,” continued Fr. Harrison. “And Sr. Maria Battista has answered this noble calling in the specifically Carmelite vocation — a way hallowed by some of the most outstanding and holy women in the history of the Church.”

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Forshaw, Maria’s parents, have made a special gift to the College in honor of her solemn profession. Her mother, Liza, said, “Maria is so grateful to the College for its profound influence on her and her religious vocation.”

Deo gratias!

Sr. Maria Battista of the Lamb of God (Maria Forshaw ’07)


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Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

“When I first came here, since I am not a Catholic, I was nervous, because it’s a different culture for me, but people have been so friendly, so charitable. It is such a blessing to live in this community, where people care about you. You make strong friendships that last a lifetime.”

– Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

Kathmandu Nepal

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“I am most grateful for Thomas Aquinas College’s resolute fidelity to the Church and her teachings. The young people whom you serve certainly are being formed to think with the Church and to defend the Faith with courage and charity.”

– The Most Rev. William E. Lori

Archbishop of Baltimore

Chair of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty