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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

The Augustine Institute recently featured on its Facebook page an employee who is an alumna of both the Institute and Thomas Aquinas College: Constance Graves (’11). “A woman with a heart for catechesis,” the post begins, she “has committed herself to this work.”

Upon graduating from the College in 2011, Miss Graves earned a master’s degree in education at the University of St. Thomas in Texas, after which she moved to Colorado, where she earned a second master’s, this time in theology and theological studies at the Augustine Institute. Since completing her studies in 2017 she has stayed on at the Augustine Institute, where she works on curriculum development and media-asset management.

“I was concerned with the problem of effectively handing on the faith to the children when it was not practiced in the home,” says Miss Graves says in her profile. “It was around this time that I saw the catechetical films produced by the Augustine Institute Studios. The quality of the videos and the effectiveness of their catechetics impressed me, and I applied to the Augustine Institute Graduate School with the hope of finding answers to the questions I had encountered. I now work full time at the Augustine Institute, and this understanding is being put to use working on curriculum with the academic department.”

Miss Graves is not the first alumna to be featured in the Augustine Institute’s promotions. In September the school posted a testimonial from first-year students Elizabeth and Theresa Gallagher (’18).


Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly“Who says Christmastime has to be perfect?” asks Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly, in a new column for the News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington.

An alumna, a member of the College’s Board of Governors, and a News Tribune reader-columnist, Mrs. Connolly offers a comical look back at the time she tried to get her nine children to stage a Nativity scene for the family Christmas card. “I managed to get in a couple of pictures before the branch holding James broke,” she writes. “My angel plummeted right into our makeshift manger, almost killing ‘baby Jesus.’”

Yet in what she calls “authentic chaos,” there is a certain beauty reflective of the real Nativity:

It is said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” As a weathered mama, I disagree. Love means always saying you’re sorry and beginning anew — embracing each other’s wounded, rustic, imperfect hearts over and over again.

It’s like that very real Christmas, 2,000 years ago, the one that lived and breathed in Bethlehem.

No room in the inn. Really? Only a smelly barn? A homeless, teenage, pregnant girl riding on a donkey in labor? No beautiful layette and crib? Just old sheets and an animal trough? But in that rustic, imperfect, messy world, love, light and a true family were born.

Peace, says Mrs. Connelly,  can be found no matter how difficult the circumstance: “It’s buried under the stress and the mess, but it’s there, and it comes out in unexpected places.”


Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson presents a talk in the Dillon Seminar Room

Alumna entrepreneur Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson returned to campus in the waning days of the fall semester to deliver what she billed as “the talk I wish I heard” while still in school — “Five Tips for Starting a Creative Business after College.”

Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) EllefsonA successful wedding, family, and travel photographer based in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Ellefson discussed how students can begin preparing now — even amidst their studies — to launch their own businesses post-graduation. Her tips included finding a mentor, learning about the market, developing a brand, and pursuing summer internships. Moreover, many of the skills required to become a successful business owner, she observed, can be developed as a student. “If you can set up good habits and discipline now,” she advised, “when you start your own business and you have a huge task list of things to run down, you’re going to know how to manage your time.”

Although encouraging, Mrs. Ellefson’s comments were also prudent, warning students that creating a business demands hard work, a significant investment of time and resources, and — more often than not — a day job to cover the bills until the business is self-sufficient. “I think if you’re a student here, you’re not used to things being easy, so I don’t expect you to be intimidated by this,” she said. “I want you to get excited about it and know that the hard work and diligence you’re putting in here can also transfer into starting your own business.”

A liberal education, she added, is especially valuable for entrepreneurs. “You are learning the art of critical thinking,” said Mrs. Ellefson. “That’s something that a lot of people who start a business don’t have, and then they fail and they can’t figure out why, because they were never taught how to think critically and analyze thoughts and ideas. So this time here, your education here, is very worthwhile.”


Dr. Caroline Johnson ('97)

 

Five years ago, the College profiled alumna Dr. Caroline Johnson (’97), who, as a traveling internist, was the portrait of versatility. A member of the Rural Physicians Group, she spent about 30 weeks out of the year working round-the-clock shifts that ranged from 7 to 21 days at remote hospitals across the United States.

“Usually the hospital will have an emergency-room doctor, but for everything else, it’s me,” she said. “It can be anything from an infection of the skin to someone coming in with pain in the chest. In extreme cases, we can airlift a patient elsewhere, but for the most part, we don’t have the benefit of a specialist. I can’t call in a gastrointestinal doctor to come see a case of liver disease. It’s up to me. I have to be prepared for situations I could not possibly have expected.”

In the five years since the publication of that profile, Dr. Johnson has found ways to become ever-more versatile.

In 2013 she returned to Phoenix, where, in addition to working as a hospitalist, she took on the role of a clinical instructor at the Midwestern University’s Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. Then, in 2015, she undertook a two-year nephrology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, after which she relocated to Texas. “I am now working as a Transplant Nephrologist in the Baylor system,” she writes. “I am Board-certified in three specialties: internal medicine, pediatrics, and nephrology, with a special area of focus in transplant.”

Please pray for Dr. Johnson’s good work and for her patients. “As doctors, we need to have a basic recognition of who we are in relation to God and the world, and a sense of humility,” she said in 2013. “Although there is much we cannot do, there is also so much we can do. It is our gift to help others in their suffering.”


Thumbnail of video with Fr. Miguel Batres Rev. Miguel Batres, O.Praem. (’08)

One of the College’s newest alumni priests, Rev. Miguel Batres, O.Praem. (’08), is now featured on The Abbot’s Circle, a digital library of spiritual resources from the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. In a four-minute video, he considers the question, What is the Mass?

“The Mass is the most perfect prayer anyone can offer,” says Fr. Miguel. “There is a great, great, infinite distance between man and God, and we ourselves do not have the means to give God the perfect worship, to give God the perfect praise. And so it is Christ Himself who gives us that means through that sacrifice. Through the institution of the Eucharist, through the institution of the priesthood, He makes the Mass possible.”

The second youngest of 11 children of Mexican immigrants, Fr. Miguel came to Thomas Aquinas College in 2004 at the recommendation of his parish priest. He became acquainted with the Norbertines through one of the College’s then-chaplains, Rev. Charles Willingham, O.Praem., and entered the Norbertine Order shortly after his graduation. While in the seminary, he studied in Rome, where he three times had the privilege of chanting at papal Masses. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2017, and he returned to offer Mass at his alma mater just last year.

Since his ordination, Fr. Miguel has taken on the role of his community’s provisor, charged with providing for its material needs. He offers Masses in Spanish at nearby parishes, teaches religion at the abbey’s prep school, and reaches a far wider audience through his work on The Abbot’s Circle, beginning with his video about the Mass.  

“The Mass,” he says, “is ultimately about giving God that praise, that adoration which he deserves form all of His creation.”


Be sure not to miss these recent articles by alumni writers:

  • K. E. Colombini (’85) K. E. Colombini (’85)In Crisis, K. E. Colombini (’85) ponders The Future of Ownership in a digital society where, paradoxically, an increasing number of goods are now immaterial, and yet our homes are bursting with ever-more possessions. “Lacking in the vast majority of these discussions in the mainstream media is the spiritual side of the equation,” he writes. “Even in talking about the benefits of minimalism, we often take a secular approach. By shedding our possessions, we become liberated from them, freer to travel and spend our money elsewhere. If there’s anything ‘tiny houses’ are built for, it’s not for large families, nor for entertaining and showing hospitality to large groups.” In a consumerist society, he asks, “What should be our relationship with our possessions? Do they own us, or do we own them?”

 

  • Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)Also in Crisis, alumnus architect Erik Bootsma (’01) writes about the newly dedicated Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee — a hopeful sign, he says, that Restoring Sacred Architecture Will Reaffirm Theological Truth. “The richness of the architecture of the new cathedral points to and beautifies the sanctuary,” Mr. Bootsma argues, and that is key to both architectural and theological renewal. “The sanctuary, which took its form from the Holy of Holies, does not just symbolize the past, but is a conscious prefigurement of the Heavenly City to come and Christ’s eternal presence. We begin to understand, too, that God was present in earlier times, in the Temple, and will be present in heaven, but also that he is present now.”

 

  • Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold Sophia (Mason ’09) FeingoldFinally, in the National Catholic Register Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold considers What “Forgive and Forget” Really Means — and finds the oft-dispensed maxim wanting. “To forgive and to forget are not the same thing,” she observes. “The judge who sentences a man to life in prison has not necessarily refused to forgive him; he has simply determined that the prisoner’s character requires remediation, or society protection. The parent who sends a child to their room to ‘think about’ the nasty thing they said to Aunt Jessica is not necessarily unforgiving; they genuinely want their son or daughter to take five and come to a child’s-level understanding of how their words were hurtful. Forgiveness and punishment can and do coexist. Otherwise the Catholic doctrine of purgatory would be risible on the face of it.”

Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., (’94) is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live. Photo: @catholiccom

“You’ve been in Massachusetts because you’re a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College,” began host Cy Kellett on a recent episode of Catholic Answers Live.

“That’s right,” replied Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), a professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado California. A regular guest on the apologetics radio program, Fr. Sebastian appeared on the November 5 episode to discuss religious freedom. But before getting to the topic of the day, Mr. Kellett wanted to know about the Norbertine priest’s alma mater. Among “all of us out here on the West Coast,” he said, “there’s a general amazement at the quality of students that are being turned out by Thomas Aquinas College.”

And so Fr. Sebastian described his recent trip to the Bay State, where he spoke on the College’s New England campus at a celebration of its recent approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “Thanks be to God, the College received the gift of a campus — with a number of buildings and so forth on a 100-acre property,” he said. “I was there to give a Mass and a little talk … and it was a very good, wonderful event.”

To which Mr. Kellett replied, “Congratulations to your alma mater embarking on this new endeavor. We can all pray that it’s successful!”

The entire interview — including Fr. Sebastian’s commentary about religious freedom — is available via the Catholic Answers website.


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.


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.


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Matthew Dugan (’18)

“When you’re discussing the great works you have to assimilate what’s being said by the author to your own understanding. Rather than passively receiving information, we’re becoming self-learners and independent thinkers, making the great ideas our own.”

– Matthew Dugan (’18)

Wayzata, Minnesota

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“Thomas Aquinas College is lending a helpful hand to the Church to fulfill her mission. There is no doubt that this Christian environment that is nurtured here is the main cause why there have been so many responses to the call of God to the priesthood and to the consecrated life in the female and male students of your College.”

– Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Catholic Education