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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Dr. Joshua Noble (’10) Dr. Joshua Noble (’10)At its commencement ceremonies this past weekend, the University of Notre Dame honored a member of the Thomas Aquinas College teaching faculty, Dr. Joshua Noble.

A 2010 graduate of the College, Dr. Noble earned a master’s degree in early Christian Studies at Notre Dame in 2012. He then stayed on to pursue a doctorate in Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity, which he completed, save for the dissertation, in 2017. He became a tutor at the College last fall, and in April he returned to South Bend to successfully defend his dissertation, “Common Property, the Golden Age, and Empire in Acts 2:42–47 and 4:32–35.”

On Saturday, Dr. Noble was at Notre Dame once more, where he formally received his doctoral degree as well as the University’s Eli J. and Helen Shaheen Graduate School Award, which recognizes the top graduate students in engineering, the humanities, social sciences, and science. “A specialist of Christianity and Judaism in antiquity and gifted linguist,” Notre Dame News reports, Dr. Noble “is recognized for his exceptional scholarship, which argues for the reliance of the Acts of the Apostles on the Greco-Roman Golden Age myth.”

“My dissertation explores the symbolism of the practice of common property in light of Virgil’s pronouncement of a returning Golden Age under Augustus,” says Dr. Noble, who will soon enter his second year as tutor at the College. “I’m quite happy with the dissertation, but I’m even happier to be done with it and able to concentrate fully on teaching!”

Life Legal attorneys, including Katie Short (’80, third from right), with the family of Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company said it would pay for “aid-in-dying” drugs, but not the chemotherapy she needed. Life Legal attorneys, including Katie Short (’80, third from right), with the family of Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company said it would pay for “aid-in-dying” drugs, but not the chemotherapy she needed.

After two years of vigorous legal battle, an alumni-led legal team has succeeded in overturning California’s assisted-suicide law. On Tuesday, Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia blocked the 2015 legislation, ruling that that it was passed unconstitutionally.

Attorneys from the Life Legal Defense Foundation — whose president is Paul Blewett (’85) and whose vice president for legal affairs is Katie Short (’80) — spearheaded the effort to defeat the law, which went into effect in June 2016. “This is huge!” says Mr. Blewett. “The Superior Court in Riverside granted Life Legal’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and set aside the California assisted-suicide law based on the way in which it was passed. The state has five days to file an emergency writ, but as of now, the law is invalid.”

When the legislation originated in the California legislature, its pro-life opponents successfully blocked it at the committee level. Thus Gov. Jerry Brown and other euthanasia enthusiasts attempted to bypass the normal legislative process by ramming through the bill at a special session that was called, in the Governor’s own proclamation, “to consider and act upon legislation necessary to enact permanent and sustainable funding from a new managed care organization tax and/or alternative fund sources.”

In other words, the purpose of the special session had nothing to do with assisted suicide. And, as such, Judge Ottolia has now confirmed, the law is invalid.

“This ruling affirms that assisted suicide advocates circumvented the legislative process,” another graduate of the College, Matthew Valliere (’05), executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, told the Los Angeles Times. “It represents a tremendous blow to the assisted suicide legalization movement and puts state legislatures on notice regarding the political trickery of groups like Compassion and Choices.”

The battle, however, is not yet over. Judge Ottolia has given the state attorney general five days to appeal his ruling, and even if that effort fails, assisted-suicide proponents will no doubt propose new legislation. Please continue to keep the attorneys at Life Legal, and all those committed to protecting the dignity of human life in all stages, in your prayers!

Sr. Mary Margaret O’Brien, O.P. (’00) Sr. Mary Margaret O’Brien, O.P. (’00)The Facebook page of St. Agnes School in St. Paul, Minnesota, recently announced the newest member of its faculty: Sr. Mary Margaret O’Brien, O.P. (’00), who will be teaching at the elementary level.

A member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sr. Mary Margaret holds a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate from Eastern Michigan University and two master’s degrees: the first, in elementary education, from the University of Southern Mississippi, and the second, in theology, from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.

At St. Agnes Sr. Mary Margaret will be joining two fellow graduates: Eileen (Keating ’93) Douglass, who teaches upper-level English, and Rev. Mark Moriarty (’95), the school’s superintendent. St. Agnes School is a perennial honoree on the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, which recognizes schools marked by “the integration of Catholic identity throughout all aspects of their programs,” “excellence in academics,” and “an institutional commitment to providing a truly integrated and faithful Catholic education.”

“I have taught elementary school for nine years in Colorado, Michigan, Florida, and California,” writes Sr. Mary Margaret. “I love to tell stories and help students fall in love with Our Lord!”

Alumni gathering in Phoenix

It was a reunion of sorts for Thomas Aquinas College alumni living in greater Phoenix on April 13. St. Mary’s Catholic — the oldest diocesan high school in Arizona, now six years into a spiritual and academic renaissance — hosted a reception and seminar for TAC alumni in the area.

“We were there to do a workshop at St. Mary’s, which is offering a great books component in its curriculum,” explains Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), a tutor at the College and executive director at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, which assists schools that seek to adopt a classical curriculum. Working alongside Dr. Seeley was Dr. Arthur Hippler (’89), a member of ICLE’s board of directors and the chairman of the Religion Department at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota. “We thought it would be a good idea, during our visit, to invite alumni to get together in a seminar,” says Dr. Seeley, “because there are so many Thomas Aquinas alumni in Phoenix area now, particularly those involved in teaching at the elementary and high school level.”

Indeed, there are currently 13 alumni working at St. Mary’s alone, and many more at the burgeoning consortium of Great Hearts classical academies throughout Arizona and the southwest. Some 40 graduates, their spouses, and members of the St. Mary’s faculty attended the reception and seminar.

“I thought it was a great event,” says Dr. Seeley. “We had a nice gathering beforehand, where it was good to see some old faces and reconnect, and then we had a great discussion.” The readings for the night were the “Mary and Martha” accounts from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. “We examined how challenged Mary was, precisely because of her intimate love for Our Lord, that He didn’t come when they sent word for Him, and what a great suffering that seems to have been for her,” days Dr. Seeley. “And we saw that Our Lord’s weeping was not simply for Lazarus’ death, but also for the distress that death causes, especially in how it challenges the faith of those who love Him.”

Among those in attendance was the College’s director of gift planning, Thomas J. Susanka (’76). “A gathering of TAC alumni always refreshes and reinvigorates the missionary soul, but I must say this one was especially encouraging to me,” says Mr. Susanka. “What most pleased and inspired me was the unspoken, abiding gratitude these young-ish people have for the enduring good of their TAC education and their commitment, in turn, to bringing serious, Catholic liberal education into the lives of the young people they teach.”

Alumni gathering in Phoenix

Alumni gathering in Phoenix

Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress

The Cambridge Analytica saga, followed by Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, has prompted, among many, a certain fatalism bordering on despair. Yes, it’s a shame that privacy is dead in the age of relentless datamining, most commentators concede, but what alternative is there? Life on the grid may have its shortcomings, but who among is so brave as to venture off of it?

K. E. Colombini (’85) K. E. Colombini (’85)To which alumnus author K. E. Colombini (’85), writing in Crisis, offers a refreshing perspective: Perhaps there is a middle ground; and perhaps the angst over the excesses of Facebook may just lead to a cultural shift toward moderation in our virtual lives.

“In the digital world, it’s not just data at risk, but the truth itself, in this era where rumors, attacks and ‘fake news’ spread so much more quickly at the swipe of a thumb across a screen,” writes Mr. Colombini. “With the impetus to always be sharing, we have lost the ability to read and reflect on the news of the day, on subjects of paramount importance for human dignity and world peace.”

Thus Mr. Colombini proposes a (partial) return to “analog” technologies, such as books, board games, and newspapers, which allow for a slower, more deliberate and deliberative pace of life than their digital replacements. Citing the 2016 book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax, Mr. Colombini predicts that the cultural moment may be ripe for “a new realization of the unique value of the truly tangible in a world of touchscreens.”

A former journalist and political speechwriter who now works in corporate communications, Mr. Colombini writes periodically for Crisis, the National Catholic Register, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A father of five and grandfather of two, he lives with his wife, Elizabeth (Milligan ’86), in suburban St. Louis.

The full text of his latest article, Analog Technology Takes on the Digital Juggernaut, is available — alas, in digital version only — via Crisis.

Dr. Mary Dzon (’95) Dr. Mary Dzon (’95)Although the Gospels are largely silent about Our Lord’s childhood, medieval devotions to the Christ Child led many believers to seek out apocryphal accounts, which went on to shape the piety of the Middle Ages. An associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Mary Dzon (’95) has thoroughly documented and examined these various accounts in The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages, recently published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle AgesApocryphal legends about the child Jesus, Dr. Dzon finds, left their mark on theological, devotional, and literary texts of their age. The publisher’s information that accompanies the book cites a few notable examples: the Cistercian abbot Aelred of Rievaulx urged his monastic readers to imitate the Christ Child’s development through spiritual growth; St. Francis of Assisi encouraged his followers to emulate the Christ Child’s poverty and rusticity; St. Birgitta of Sweden provided pious alternatives in her many Marian revelations. St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, believed that apocryphal stories about the Christ Child would encourage youths to be presumptuous.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages fills a major lacuna in the history of affective piety: the importance of the Christ Child in lay and clerical devotion from the twelfth to the fifteenth century,” says Dr. William MacLehose, a lecturer in history of science and medicine at University College London. “This book is a timely and novel exploration of terra incognita, with methodological relevance to scholars outside the fields of medieval spirituality.”

After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1995, Dr. Dzon earned an M.A. from the University of Dallas and a certificate in Byzantine studies from Catholic University of America. She obtained her doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Toronto in 2004. Prior to joining the English faculty at the University of Tennessee, she served as a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages is available through the University of Pennsylvania Press and

Christopher Zehnder (’87) was a recent guest on EWTN’s Journey Home, where he told the story of his conversion to the Catholic faith, and the invaluable role that a fellow alumnus, Kevin Long (’77), played in it.

The friendship began when Mr. Zehnder was a sophomore in high school, and Dr. Long was his Latin teacher. “He was a student at Claremont Graduate School in political science, and I found out he went to a rather strange college … called Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula,” Mr. Zehnder recalls. “After a while he and I began to have conversations.”

When Mr. Zehnder exhausted his high school’s Latin curriculum, Dr. Long offered to continue teaching him on the side. “He thought I might want to translate some medieval Latin, so he brought in the first question of the Summa Theologiae,” says Mr. Zehnder. “Our Latin classes became more than just Latin classes. They became philosophy and theology classes, and we began to discuss all sorts of things … all tending toward the Catholic faith.”

One evening, when Dr. Long and his wife, Martha (Schaeffer ’76), had Mr. Zehnder over for dinner, the teacher and the student got into a theological argument. “I was going to prove to him that Purgatory was contrary to Scripture,” says Mr. Zehnder. The conversation didn’t go as planned. “He presented me such arguments that Purgatory wasn’t contrary to Scripture; in fact, does it make any sense that a soul that is stained with sin would go into the next life, in the presence of God, stained with sin? There has to be some purification.”

At Dr. Long’s recommendation, and after attending another college first, Mr. Zehnder enrolled at the “rather strange” alma mater of his mentor. “When I went to TAC, it was as if it was in a different world,” he says, “and I also was received into the Church there.”

Since then, Mr. Zehnder has dedicated his professional life to Catholic education. He is the general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, which aims to create a new generation of textbooks for parochial schools that accurately, beautifully, and engagingly reflect the Church’s contribution to human history. A high school teacher and former headmaster, he has authored three of the project’s books: From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of AmericaLight to the Nations II: the Making of the Modern World; and Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. He has also recently begun a series of novels set during the Reformation, A Song for Else, the first two installments of which, The Vow and The Overthrow, are available from

Thanks be to God!

In gratitude for Mr. Zehnder’s conversion, please say a prayer for Dr. Long, who passed away in 2014. May his soul and those of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10) William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently announced that he has hired William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10) as his new communications strategist and chief speechwriter, citing Mr. Gribbin’s “experience crafting strong conservative messages,” in various political positions in Washington, D.C.

“I am blessed to be working for Senator Cruz, who routinely stands in the Senate for the sanctity of human life, the nuclear family, and religious liberty at a time when such things are almost universally scorned by our national media and corporate boardrooms,” says Mr. Gribbin. “It is a wonderful opportunity to take part, in some small way, in fighting for these timeless truths, and to defend our rights under the Constitution, which protect our ability to live by them in our work, our homes, and the public square.”

A native of the nation’s capital, Mr. Gribbin has worked in politics since his graduation from the College in 2010. Previously he served as director of speechwriting for Secretary Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and before that as a writer and special projects coordinator for Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.

“The more time that passes since my education at TAC, the more humbled I am to have received it,” says Mr. Gribbin. “Apart from the gems of philosophy and theology (and many other disciplines) we explore as students, the most valuable thing we walk away with after graduation is the discipline of approaching new ideas critically and patiently, focused on objective truth. There are few arenas where this focus — or the lack thereof — is more consequential than the political realm.”

As a speechwriter, he prays for the discipline to keep this focus at the heart of his work. “At its best, rhetoric can serve as handmaiden to truth, and help our society arrive at the common good through the dialectic,” Mr. Gribbin explains. “At its worst, it can only be what Plato calls ‘the sophist’s art.’ God willing, I hope to deal exclusively in the former.”

Last month the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Ruth Marcus, boasted, “without hesitation,” that she would have aborted either of her two children, had one been diagnosed, in utero, with Down Syndrome. To which alumnus cartoonist Pat Cross (’14) has offered the following rejoinder, making note of the WaPo’s slogan, adopted early in 2017:

Patrick Cross cartoon

The cartoon appeared in the National Catholic Register, which, along with CatholicVote, regularly publishes Mr. Cross’ work.

March 08,

Servant of God Marcel Van Portrait of Marcel Van by Amis de Van
[CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Who is Marcel Van?

If you don’t already know the answer to that question — and, for that matter, even if you do — you would do well to read Marcel Van & the Little Way for Dummies, a recently published essay by alumna author  Suzie Andres (’87) on CatholicExchange. In it Mrs. Andres provides readers with a beautiful description of the life of Marcel — the late, Vietnamese Redemptorist brother who now bears the title Servant of God and who is the spiritual little brother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. (Or, as Mrs. Andres calls him, “the Little Brother of the Little Flower.”)

 Suzie Andres (’87)Suzie Andres (’87)Mrs. Andres, a Third Order Carmelite who has long had a devotion to St. Thérèse — and even penned a book, The Little Way of Homeschooling, in her honor — has more recently developed a devotion to Marcel as well. So great is this devotion that she has launched what may be the Internet’s first Marcel Van blog, Miss Marcel’s Musings, on her newly published website,

It turns out that the answer to the question Who is Marcel Van? is not easy, because even though he was a humble, simple man, he was also a powerful mystic whose life embodied St. Thérèse’s “Little Way.” Writes Mrs. Andres:

Marcel is … about as little as they come, so little that he compelled Thérèse to come teach him her Little Way personally, though he’d read and re-read Story of a Soul. His forgetfulness and utter simplicity drew Jesus, too, into the picture, not to mention Mary, and between these three (God, the Mother of God, and “the greatest saint of modern times” according to St. Pope Piux X), we get what we might call, “The Little Way for the Rest of Us.” …

I recommend Marcel’s writings because they are the short cut to his big sister’s famous path. Despite our progress, our technology, our libraries of how-to books, we continue to be fairly dumb sheep, and Marcel is the perfectly imperfect dumbest sheep of us all, ready and willing to lead us through this dark valley and into the Father’s arms.

“If I could make the whole world love Marcel Van, I would,” adds Mrs. Andres, and she is already well on her way! A fellow writer at Catholic Exchange, Maura Roan McKeegan, has written about how Mrs. Andres’ introduction to this blessed has helped her to overcome some longstanding fears and worries.

Thanks be to God for Servant of God Marcel Van and for Mrs. Andres’ sharing of his littlest of ways. Marcel Van, pray for us!

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“My time here has really refined the way I think, read, and understand. It has allowed me to think about things more critically and logically.”

– Thomas Cavanaugh (’18)

Larkspur, California


“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”

– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)

Scholar and Writer