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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.”

Stephen Grimm (’75)Benefactors, friends, and the families of St. Monica Academy in Pasadena, California, recently hosted a “Gatsby Gala,” at which they honored the school’s longtime choir director, Stephen Grimm (’75). As part of the night’s festivities, the treasurer of the school’s Board of Directors, Khushro Ghandhi, presented Mr. Grimm with the Ostia Award — named for the Italian port town where St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine, shared a vision of heaven — in recognition of the work that Mr. Grimm has done for the school since its founding in 2001. “Stephen is an especially appropriate winner of this award,” reads the tribute that accompanied its presentation, as “he has often brought us to experience, from the mouths of our own children, heavenly beauty.”

The tribute continues:

The fifth of Bill and Irene Grimm’s 17 children, Stephen grew up immersed in classical music. At the age of 5, he started to compose his own tunes on the piano and when he was 8 he joined the St. Philip’s boys’ choir and began formal piano study. By high school, he was performing all over Southern California as the accompanist and sole baritone for the Grimm Family Singers. By the time he reached college, Stephen had internalized a large repertoire of music, was composing his own, and was an accomplished pianist and accompanist.

Throughout his busy career as a professional vocalist, director, and accompanist, Stephen made time to teach voice, piano, and choir to countless students, mostly children, often pro bono. Few professionals have the patience to work with children, but Stephen Grimm has made it his life’s work. At one point, he was conducting five choirs driving hundreds of miles a week — Saints Felicitas and Perpetua Church, Thomas Aquinas College, Mayfield Senior School, St. Francis High School, and Christ the King Homeschool — mostly youth choirs, all successful choirs — either in festivals, recordings, or grateful parishioners.

In 2018 Stephen is still conducting — a grateful group of adults in Pasadena Pro Musica but also the St. Monica Academy Choir. That’s 107 teens! His choirs, even of children, are always notable for the beauty of their tone quality, even when, as at SMA, he teaches all students, without auditions. His philosophy is that “anyone can be taught to sing.” We believe him because we have seen him turn “tone deaf” kids into star performers! It can be done, but it takes heroic patience. There may be the occasional bursts of exasperation, but Stephen’s students are never fooled by his gruffness: When he is upset, they know it was because he cares about them and about the music, and that he expects excellence from them.

Stephen has been blessed in his life and career with the support of Laura, his beautiful wife of 40 years, who is also a talented musician. He is also the proud father of three children, Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Gregory, and the even prouder “Papa” to 15 grandchildren!

Part of the mission, the vision, of St. Monica Academy is to put students in possession of their cultural legacy. Thanks to Stephen Grimm, our students have an appreciation and love of their musical heritage, especially of the Church’s choral traditions. Our graduates have taken that love with them all over the world. Thank you, Mr. Grimm, for sharing so much heavenly beauty with us!

Leprechaun baby holds sign proclaiming, "Save Little People - Protect the 8th"

With Ireland poised to eliminate constitutional and legal protections for the unborn, alumnus cartoonist Pat Cross (’14) has produced the above, whimsical yet poignant plea. Please pass it along, and please pray that the people of Ireland vote for life on Friday!

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.

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!


The above video, from a recent report on the PBS NewsHour, features several members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, whose CD, Requiem, spent 13 weeks atop the Billboard classical-music chart. The segment includes several quotes from Rev. Joseph Lee, F.S.S.P (’00), academic dean at the Fraternity’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, as well as appearances by Rev. Matthew J. McNeely, F.S.S.P. (’99) and Rev. Fr. Rhone Lillard, F.S.S.P. (’00).

Released in May, Requiem is a beautifully mastered recording of the Fraternity priests and seminarians chanting the repertoire for the Mass and Burial of the Dead. It is published by DeMontfort Music, which produced the similarly chart-topping CDs of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, whose members include two alumnae: Sr.. Mary Josefa of the Eucharist, OSB (Kathleen Holcomb ’07), and Sr. Sophia of the Holy Eucharist, OSB (Gina Marie Eid ’08).

Heavenly Crown

Just in time for Christmas, St. Joseph’s Press has released a coloring book featuring historically accurate illustrations of women saints — all illustrated by Dominique Shema (’07).

Yet Heavenly Crown: Coloring Book and Lives of the Saints is not, as its subtitle indicates, merely a coloring book. Accompanying Miss Shema’s finely detailed line drawings are essays about each of the depicted saints. The work thus serves as a combination of creative outlet, spiritual reading, and catechetical tool for artists of all ages.

“I love history, especially all the little details that let you imagine what it would have been like to live back then,” Miss Shema explains. So the author researched each saint extensively in order to make sure that her drawing would be as authentic as possible. “For example,” she notes, “the ship in St. Margaret of Scotland’s picture is inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the Battle of Hastings, an important event in St. Margaret’s life. The herbs in St. Gertrude’s garden at Nivelles are herbs that would commonly have been grown in a medieval monastery garden. For many of the pictures, I went a step further and drew the whole thing in whatever art style was current at the time.”

Heavenly Crown: Coloring Book and Lives of the Saints is available for purchase via the St. Joseph’s press website.

The above aerial video of the Thomas Aquinas College campus — shot and edited by Paul Lazenby (’10) — has been named No. 15 on the Great Value College’s 2017 list of Stunning Aerial College Tours via Drone Videos.

Great College Values: Great Campus Tours badgeOnly 30 colleges nationwide are included on the list, which was culled from popular YouTube videos of schools that are known for their beautiful campuses. The video, which Mr. Lazenby produced last fall, captures the academic quadrangle, the walkable Stations of the Cross, the lower campus, and Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. It also features music by the Thomas Aquinas College Choir.

“Each aerial campus tour video on this list has unique editing, production details, and types of drones used to create the finished product we’re watching now,” says Gabrielle Kratsas, editor of Great Value Colleges. “We were particularly impressed by how [Mr. Lazenby’s] video takes viewers through the surrounding forest to highlight the beauty around campus.”

The director of the College’s Annual Fund, Mr. Lazenby (’10) is, in his spare time, an amateur aerial photographer. He also produced the beautiful video below of student cellist Ingrid Beers (’20) playing Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1 in G” in St. Cecilia Lecture and Concert Hall, construction of which is nearing completion.

Noble Beauty, Transcendent HolinessThe latest book by alumnus author Dr. Peter Kwasniewski (’94) — Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Agesdoes not get lost in the “‘policy weeds’ of liturgy and liturgical reform,” writes Gregory DiPippo in National Review. Instead, Mr. DiPippo notes, Dr. Kwasniewski’s work takes a much broader — and necessary — approach, addressing the critical question of “how, in its public worship, the Church can recover both the beauty and the sense of the sacred that are proper to the things of God.”

In answering that question, Dr. Kwasniewski not only makes an eloquent case for the Traditional Latin Mass, but also shows “how the old Mass can inform the new Mass.”  Indeed, Mr. DiPippo adds, there is “a growing trend to celebrate the new Mass … in a manner conducive to beauty and more in keeping with both tradition and the mind of Vatican II,” and “unlike many writers in the traditionalist camp, Kwasniewski does not dismiss as irrelevant this development in the celebration of the newer rite.”

A professor of theology and philosophy, an instructor of music, and the choirmaster at Wyoming Catholic College, Dr. Kwasniewski — who is also a professional composer and cantor — writes frequently on matters pertaining to the liturgy and sacred music. In Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, he examines the sanctity and grandeur of the traditional Roman liturgy, which, he argues, must play an essential role if there is to be a new springtime in the Church.

“The Church’s long track record suggests that it will recover much of its lost beauty and transcendence and rediscover its true self,” writes Mr. DiPippo. “Peter Kwasniewski’s most recent contribution to that end hastens the process admirably.”

The full review is available on the National Review website.

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Isabella McNiff (’18) -- quote 1

“Reading a text, and then working through it with other people who have questions, opens up whole levels of meaning that you otherwise might not even know are there. By working out an argument, piece by piece, I am better able to understand and retain what I have learned.”

– Isabella McNiff (’18)

Broad Run, Virginia


“Thomas Aquinas College is a small college, but its reputation has spread far and wide. Because it lives off the masterpieces of thought and literature emanating from the Christian tradition of the Western world, it provides a first-rate education for a select body of talented undergraduates.”

– Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J (†)