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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.”


New Dominican novices, including Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18, second from left) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15, right) New Dominican novices, including Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18, second from left) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15, right)

The Dominican Friars of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus report the joyful news that, on Thursday, four men entered their novitiate — among them, two recent Thomas Aquinas College graduates, Br. Michael Thomas Cain (’18) and Br. Kevin Peter Cantu (’15).

Br. Michael Thomas, according to the Friars’ website, “draws inspiration from St. Thomas Aquinas, whose brilliant intellect was united with an intense humility.” The newly habited novice joined the Dominicans, he says, because “the world’s need for Christ is urgent,” and “the Dominican is called to bring the light of Christ to all nations.”

The province’s profile of Br. Kevin Peter notes that, while at the College, Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., “introduced him to the Dominican life.” Br. Kevin Peter has a devotion to a fellow Dominican, St. Juan Macias, “who like his contemporaries St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima, cared for the poor and marginalized.” As a member of the Order of Preachers, the story observes, he “desires to preach Christ crucified.”

Thanks be to God for these young men’s faith and their willingness to answer God’s call! Please pray for them as they continue to discern their vocations.


George Krestyn (’03)

George Krestyn (’03)

The inaugural year of Thomas Aquinas College, New England, will begin on Saturday morning when the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of Springfield, offers the Convocation Mass of the Holy Spirit in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel. The Mass and matriculation ceremony follow the culmination of years of effort on the part of many to launch the new campus — including one alumnus woodworker, who for months has labored to prepare the century-old chapel for Catholic worship: George Krestyn (’03).

“The biggest part of the project was to take the existing pews and modify them because there was no center aisle,” observes Mr. Krestyn, describing how a central walkway is required for Catholic liturgy, so as to accommodate processions. “Fortunately there were enough long pews that we could cut and modify, giving us two sections of pews with a center aisle.”

The work, however, didn’t end there. The pews had been covered in long-since dilapidated cushions, which, when removed, revealed the pews’ beautiful finish — but also left them two inches short. “We made and then installed ‘feet’ for all of the pews,” Mr. Krestyn explains, “and that raised them each a couple of inches.”

Then there was the floor. “The center section of pews originally had iron supports,” Mr. Krestyn notes. “But because the floor was not completely flat or even, the pews would rock. So the carpenters, when they installed the pews, embedded the iron supports into the wood floor. Now that we have a center aisle, these holes were visible. So the architects suggested putting an inlay in there. We cut away the spots where the holes were and put a new piece of wood in their place. Then we installed a new inlay close to flush, and sanded it down to make the floor level.”

The woodworker and his crew, including two of his uncles, have worked on the project since May, finishing in time for the kneelers to be installed prior to Saturday’s Convocation. But more projects lie ahead. “I will be helping with installing the Communion rail and the two confessionals,” he says. “Plus there may be a little work in the choir loft,” which requires some reconfiguration following the installation of a new organ.

Mr. Krestyn and his wife, Monique (Chartier), have lived in nearby Templeton, Massachusetts, ever since their  wedding, just months after their graduation from Thomas Aquinas College, California, in 2003. Sixteen years later, they are now expecting their ninth child.

Over the years Mr. Krestyn has held various positions in the remodeling and custom-furniture industries before going into business for himself in 2018. Although he has participated in similar projects, helping to prepare Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel, he finds, is different. “It’s exciting,” he says. “Working on a chapel, that’s wonderful. And working for my alma mater, that’s very special.”


Katrina Trinko and Rob Bluey

Five years ago, this blog reported that an alumna journalist, Katrina Trinko (’09), had been named the managing editor of a new online publication of The Heritage Foundation. Five years later, The Daily Signal now attracts 26.8 million site visits per year and boasts 400,000 subscribers to its “Morning Bell” daily email blast — and Miss Trinko has been named its editor-in-chief.

“One of our first decisions was to hire Kate,” says Rob Bluey, Heritage’s vice president for communications. “It’s because of her leadership and commitment to outstanding journalism that The Daily Signal is a must-read source of news and commentary. I congratulate her on this promotion and look forward to working with her to continue growing our reach and influence.”

In her new role, Miss Trinko is responsible for directing The Daily Signal’s editorial content. She also continues to co-host The Daily Signal Podcast and produces commentary for the publication. Additionally she is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, writing columns on a wide range of topics such as culture, technology, and education.

“I’m honored,” she says, “to become the editor-in-chief of an outlet focused on illustrating how Washington’s policy decisions affect the lives of everyday Americans.”


Newly professed Franciscans, including Br. Sean Paul Wood (’13, third from left), Br. Faustino Lemmon (’14, second from right) Newly professed Franciscans, including Br. Sean Paul Wood (’13, third from left) and Br. Faustino (Sebastian) Lemmon (’14, second from right)

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Bronx, N.Y., have announced via their Instagram account that, on August 6, two alumni brethren — Br. Sean Paul Wood (’13) and Br. Faustino (Sebastian ’14) Lemmon —made their first vows at Most Blessed Sacrament Friary in Newark, New Jersey. These temporary professions last for one year, during which time the Brothers further discern God’s will for their lives. After making annual vows a minimum of four times, the they then become eligible to make final, or permanent, vows, pledging a life of service to the poor on the streets of New York City.

“Br. Faustino Lemmon and Br. Sean Paul Wood are our first Thomas Aquinas College grads to make vows with us,” observed the Friars in another Instagram post. “Thanks, Thomas Aquinas College, for preparing them well!”

Br. Faustino makes his first profession Br. Faustino makes his first profession.

The College is humbled and grateful to have played its small part in God’s glorious plan for these men and the holy work of the Franciscan Friars. Let Christ be praised!


Edward Froelich (’88) Edward Froelich (’88)

For the seventh consecutive year, Chambers USA has included Edward Froelich (’88) in its annual guide to the nation’s “top lawyers,” which it defines as those who “demonstrate sustained excellence.” The guide notes that Mr. Froelich “represents clients in a host of administrative tax controversy matters,” and that his peers report that “he is smart and works harder than anybody else.”

A husband, the father of two, and an attorney at the Washington, D.C., office of Morrison & Foerster LLP, Mr. Froelich specializes in federal tax litigation and administrative dispute resolution. After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1988, he earned his law degree at the University of Virginia School of Law and a master’s of law in taxation at the Georgetown University Law Center. Previously he worked as a trial attorney of the Department of Justice Tax Division. In addition to his annual accolades from Chambers USA, he has also been featured by the The Legal 500 US in its “recommended” category.

For the most part, Mr. Froelich litigates cases and represents clients in administrative controversies at the audit and appeals level before the IRS. He also, however, does work both internationally and on a pro-bono basis. Notably, he assisted Caritas Bulgaria on two projects involving European Union laws relating to the allocation of resources to refugee families for basic living and educational needs.

“I am daily grateful for the education and intellectual training I received from the College,” says Mr. Froelich. “It has given me not only a thirst for the first principles in my discipline, but the means by which to make those known and applicable to the case at hand. It has also given me an unshakeable faith in He Who is all truth and goodness incarnate. “


Thomas Graf ('19)A member of the College’s most recent graduating class, Thomas Graf (’19) is featured in the latest edition of Catholic Answers magazine, owing to one of the more amusing aspects of his job at the San Diego-based apologetics apostolate. In the editorial, editor Tim Ryland discusses some of Thomas’ discoveries while checking over YouTube’s auto-generated captions for CAL videos. Apparently algorithms struggle with the jargon of the Faith, producing some hilarious mis-transcriptions, such as:

  • A mac to the Heart (Immaculate Heart)
  • Pop a rat singer (Papa Ratzinger)
  • Tow mystic (Thomistic)
  • Kappa Gas is Live (Catholic Answers Live)

Mr. Graf interned at Catholic Answers between his junior and senior years at the College, and is now a fulltime employee in its video, radio, and marketing departments. “Having a firm foundation in the philosophy and theology of the Catholic faith,” he said at graduation, “will help me to communicate these very difficult, higher concepts with the broader world” — starting with YouTube!


Sr. Anna Mercia (Maggie Conklin’17)

On July 16, the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Maggie Conklin (’17) entered the novitiate with the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. After nearly two years with the community, she now gets to wear the sisters’ habit, and she has received her religious name: Sr. Anna Mercia!

Deo gratias!


Sr. Bridget Coughlin (’13), right, enters the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey Sr. Bridget Coughlin (’13), right, enters the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey

The Dominican Nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, have published a lovely blog post and slideshow welcoming Sr. Bridget Coughlin (’13) into their community. Entering as an aspirant, Sr. Bridget will, by God’s grace, begin the postulancy within a few months. (Also visible in the slideshow is another recent alumna, Sr. Maria Johanna (Barrett ’14), O.P.)

With the addition of Sr. Bridget, eight members of the Class of 2013 have now entered the religious life and/or seminary. The others are:

And a ninth member of the class, Alex Bueche, will enter the Norbertine Order later this summer!

Deo gratias!


Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17)

This spring Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) completed his studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School, where he earned a master’s degree in global affairs. His time at Notre Dame “was a continuity of God’s providence,” he writes — a period during which he thrived and grew in many ways. “I had the privilege of interacting with contemporary policy shapers, including a former White House Chief of Staff, an international statesman, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States.”

For the last year Mr. Onyekuru served as one of the university’s International Ambassadors — “one of my favorite communities at Notre Dame” — a select group of undergraduate and graduate students who welcome international students and help them adjust to campus life. In April, the International Student and Scholar Affairs program honored him for his efforts, naming him a co-recipient of the ambassador team’s service award. “I truly did not deserve it,” he writes with characteristic humility of the honor. “And I am immensely grateful to my teammates and the International Ambassadors who welcomed me to Notre Dame two years ago.”

Recently Mr. Onyekuru has been published in two university publications: In May he penned a brief essay, New Nigerian Bishop is Peacemaker, on Arc of the Universe, a blog edited by Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Daniel Philpott. Then, in June,  he wrote A Subscript in Global Education for the school’s Policy Pulse journal, describing the promise of a new, online tutoring service — and how it can be leveraged to improve educational outcomes — in his homeland of Nigeria.

“I am deeply grateful for all the opportunities I received at Notre Dame,” writes Mr. Onyekuru, “and for my formation at Thomas Aquinas College, which helped me to enjoy them thoughtfully.”


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Thomas Cavanaugh (’18) -- quote 1

“The things we discover in the classroom, we recognize as true not because someone told us that they are true, but because we have reasoned to them for ourselves.”

– Thomas Cavanaugh (’18)

Larkspur, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“The students that have had an opportunity to be part of the life of the College have been enriched by their experience in an environment conducive to achievement. Now in all walks of life, graduates of Thomas Aquinas College are contributing, by following a wide variety of pursuits, to the betterment of society.”

– Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino

President, Pontifical Council

for Justice and Peace