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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Regina (Aguinaldo ’97) Sweeney Very dedicated readers may recall that, 10 years ago, the Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter published a story (PDF) about Regina (Aguinaldo) and Owen Sweeney (both ’97), an alumni couple and then the parents of six children, who helped to found a Catholic Montessori school in Great Falls, Virginia.

A decade later, the Sweeneys have relocated westward, but their devotion to the Faith and its application in Montessori education continues. “After moving away from the area, I transitioned to a homeschooling mom,” writes Mrs. Sweeney, now the mother of nine. “As time went on, I realized that the true genius of Maria Montessori was not in the materials and lessons which she developed for children. Rather, it was her brilliance in observing and understanding the God-given nature of the child, based in Catholic theology.”

Drawing on her experience of applying Catholic Montessori principles to the raising of nine children, Mrs. Sweeney is now sharing her wealth of knowledge with parents everywhere by way of her new website, Catholic Montessori Home. The site includes a blog as well as a virtual community for parents, The Hamlet — the fruit of many, many questions about child-rearing that the Sweeneys have received over the years.

“With current events causing children to be home full-time with their parents,” Mrs. Sweeney notes, she saw that “it was time for me to share more widely what has worked for us in raising our children.”

What “has worked” for the Sweeneys, as the website’s title suggests, was the incorporation of Montessori principles into family life and homeschooling. Indeed, what led the couple to investigate the Montessori method in the first place was when their eldest, then two years old, had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to a Montessori-based catechetical program.

That daughter, by the way, is now a student at Thomas Aquinas College, California — making the Sweeneys not only TAC alumni, but also TAC parents. “Owen and I just love our alma mater, in a different light too now — as parents,” says Mrs. Sweeney. “Our oldest finished her freshman year this spring. Just the first in many more to come.”

The Sweeney children The Sweeney children


Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)As the headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) knows well the importance of a graduation ceremony in the life of a student. So it is with sympathy that he pens his latest essay in Crisis, May You Live In Interesting Times, a letter to members of the Class of 2020 at high schools and colleges everywhere.

“Though many have suffered grievously from this virus, you, graduating seniors, whether from high school or college, make up your own category of sufferers,” Mr. Fitzpatrick writes. “You are the forgotten class, the class of plague and circumstance, the class that graduated without a graduation. But in losing those worldly trappings you have the opportunity to become small enough to give Christ room to dwell in you.”

Missing out on the glory and joy of a graduation ceremony, the headmaster observes, is an opportunity for greatness — indeed, for sanctity — for this year’s graduates. “You went to school to learn how to become saints,” he reminds them. “Embrace your littleness, your Covid obscurity, and let Christ do good things with you. If He was bold enough to become so little to accomplish great things, we must do likewise.”

In closing, Mr. Fitzpatrick quotes the verse from Psalm 115 that graduates of his alma mater sing at the end of each year’s Commencement, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory.”


An illustration from Tomie dePaola’s The Legend of the Poinsettia An illustration from Tomie dePaola’s The Legend of the Poinsettia

Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)Sean Fitzpatrick (’02)Late in Lent, Tomie dePaola, a longtime children’s author beloved by many Catholic families, died following a fall at his studio in New Hampshire. The news of his passing was largely lost amidst COVID-19 reporting, but alumnus author Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has now penned an appropriately prayerful Easter tribute to Mr. dePaola in Crisis.

“It is at this time of resurrection that Catholics may …  remember those who have passed away in the hope of rising again, and especially those whose memory might be seasoned with the brightness they brought to life by their lives — how they participated in Christ’s work to make all things new,” writes Mr. Fitzpatrick. “Tomie dePaola may not have been religious, but he was certainly reverent. Though he lost the Faith, he never lost his love for the goodness, beauty, and perhaps truth of what he had once believed.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick continues:

DePaola saw the splendor of the Catholic Faith with its enduring power, its charm, its sacred mystery, and the mystical way it lent itself to lore and legend. As a writer and illustrator of children’s books, he famously presented the Faith, the heroes of the Faith, and the traditions of the Church with a vitality that is all but unmatched in the modern children’s library. ...

[His] hard lines, soft brushstrokes, and bright palette, coupled with his straightforward writing style, made the invisible aspects of sainthood and sanctity visible, tangible, and attractive, giving the heroes of the Church, and even the stories of Christ, a dimension that goes beyond stuffy histories or plain catechisms. 

“This Easter, Catholics should remember this storyteller and painter who thought it his vocation to bring children to God by bringing old things to new life,” Mr. Fitzpatrick concludes. “May his soul, like the soul of his Clown of God, rest in the hands of the Christ Child, and there find the glorious vibrancy he searched for and praised in his painting.”


Cover of "Secrets from Heaven" Cover of "Understanding Marriage & Family" 

Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94) Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94)

Ever prolific, alumnus priest Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94) has authored not one but two new books, both of which are being released today.

The first is Secrets from Heaven: Hidden Treasures of Faith in the Parables and Conversations of Jesus, published by Catholic Answers. “The origin of this book came about through a series of retreats I have given,” Fr. Sebastian explains in a recent episode of the Catholic Answers Live radio program. “When you talk to people, and you teach people, and you give retreats based upon the exact words of Jesus Himself in the Gospels, it just has a power to go straight to people's hearts.”

A professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, Fr. Sebastian warns that the words of Jesus can become so familiar that we unwittingly cease to give them the serious consideration they demand. “Sometimes we think that we just need to read the Bible the way we read any other book, and we fail to appreciate the fact that this is a book written by God,” he says. “In other books there are details that really aren't significant, but that's not true about the Word of God. That’s not true about the Scriptures, and preeminently that’s not true about the words of Jesus in the Scriptures.”

Thus Fr. Sebastian closely examines a number of passages from the Gospels, searching Jesus’ words for “hidden treasures”  — oblique references to other passages, carefully chosen words, telling moments of silence — that are rich in meaning. These, he says, are Our Lord’s gifts: “It’s as if Jesus were speaking directly to us.”

Fr. Sebastian’s second new release is Understanding Marriage & Family: A Catholic Perspective, published by Arouca Press. The book sets out to explain and defend the traditional understanding of marriage, using reason, revelation, and the context of our own human choices and experiences. The result is a work that presents the Church’s teaching in a manner that is not only clear and convincing but also deeply helpful to the lives of Catholic husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers struggling to live out their vocations in confused and confusing times. 

Understanding Marriage & Family has received several favorable reviews, notable among them one from the Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, who, before COVID-19 upended calendars across the world, was set to be Thomas Aquinas College’s 2020 Commencement Speaker. “Ascending upon both reason and faith, Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., with providential clarity, charity, and certainty, dismantles the desolation of lives unmoored from human nature, and marriages divorced from their divine inspiration, proposing anew to all willing to hear, the freeing and fulfilling proposal of Christian marriage in all its solidity and sublimity,” says Bishop Paprocki. “Look within to regain hope, recover communion, and rediscover the fullness of married joy!”


Scripture readings Photo by Kathryn Fox (’19)

Joining several of her fellow alumni who have offered poignant and encouraging reflections to aid the faithful at a time when most lack the consolation of the Sacraments is Maria Gilicinski (’19). A teacher at Great Hearts Archway Veritas in Phoenix, Miss Gilicinski recently wrote about the hope that still thrives even amidst spiritual hardship, drawing on a highly relevant scene from the subject of her senior thesis, Brideshead Revisited:

Maria Gilicinski (’19)Maria Gilicinski (’19)It’s Holy Week, and in between the many Zoom calls with my fifth graders and all the hectic preparation for their school learning packets, I’ve been musing more and more upon the celebrations of the Paschal Triduum that will happen later this week. And I’m reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. (When am I not, though?) In the story, Cordelia mourns the departure of the Blessed Sacrament from the small chapel at Brideshead after the death of her mother, the matriarch of the manor. The chapel’s holy water founts are drained, the dancing red flame of the tabernacle lamp is quenched, and suddenly the world seems far lonelier and bleaker. Cordelia sadly remembers the prophet Jeremiah’s lamentations over the destruction of the once-beautiful city of Jerusalem; “Quomodo sedet sola civitas,” or, “How lonely sits the city that was once full of people.”

Cordelia’s sorrow over this seeming separation from Our Lord is, I think, echoed now in the hearts of many believers this year, when many churches have barred their doors to their flocks, and the Sacred Paschal Triduum will be celebrated for us only through livestream. The city that once was so joyous, so full of the exultant faithful, seems indeed to be so lonely now.

But take heart. The “small red flame” still burns cheerfully before the many tabernacles of Our Lord, and though we may not be able to adore Him there now as we would wish, He still loves us, and He desires to show us that His great love transcends both time and place. His goodness comes to us just where we are now. “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35) The same God who through His death conquered the terrors of the grave, and through His resurrection brought all believers to the promise of new life in Him, wishes to pour His love upon you during this last part of these Lenten times and into Eastertide. Though we may be away from each other, and in body even far from our Eucharistic Lord, let’s remember that we can never stray too far “in heart” from the abiding Divine Presence of Christ, which has revealed the saving power of God to all men at all times. God is good. He is with you. This Sacred Paschal Triduum, let yourself be comforted by the glory of His love.

“Sing unto the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.”  (Psalms 98:1)

Take heart, indeed. A blessed Triduum to all!


St. Therese

“We are living in a time when the new normal means hunkering down at home, watching too much news, and being deprived of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” writes alumna author Suzie Andres (‘87) at Catholic Exchange. “Thanks be to God for these graces, and yet, what a sacrifice for so many: to be deprived of attendance at Mass and its concomitant Gift of gifts, Holy Communion.”

 Suzie Andres (’87)Suzie Andres (’87)Demonstrating an incredible knack for timing — or, more likely, the role of providence in her work — Mrs. Andres has just published a new book perfectly timed for this moment: Something New with Saint Thérèse: Her Eucharistic Miracle. The book is already a hit, having grabbed the No. 1 spot among new releases on Amazon’s “Christian Saints” list and fluctuating between 4th, 5th and 6th places in the “Bestsellers in Christian Saints” category (where it has vied with such greats as St. Augustine’s Confessions and St. Thérèse’s own Story of a Soul).

Something New describes the Eucharistic miracle by which Our Lord satisfied St. Thérèse’s “desire to receive Him in Communion much more frequently than seemed possible,” at precisely the moment when so many of the faithful are suffering the same anguish. “No one need be deprived of Our Lord’s Real Presence,” observes Mrs. Andres, a Third Order Carmelite who has long had a devotion to the Little Flower. “St. Thérèse is inviting all little souls, as she invited those around her in the Lisieux Carmel at the end of her earthly exile, to live this miracle so as never to be separated from Jesus again.”

In a generous act of solidarity with fellow Catholics during challenging times, Mrs. Andres is offering the electronic version of Something New with Saint Thérèse: Her Eucharistic Miracle for free. She is likewise doing the same with two of her other works: Stations of the Cross with Our Sister St. Thérèse and The Paradise Project, “a fun read-aloud or read-alone, a hymn of praise to Jane Austen and hoot of gratitude to P.G. Wodehouse guaranteed to make you laugh out loud, despite the latest news.”

Stations of the Cross with Our Sister St. Thérèse is, like Something New, a new work. “This book began about 15 years ago, but came together miraculously, on a whim of Jesus, in the last three weeks or so,” says Mrs. Andres. It contains encouragement from St. Alphonsus and opening prayers, pen-and-ink illustrations of the traditional 14 Stations, and, for each Station, Scripture quotes, prayers, and three quotes from St Thérèse. In the short time since its release, the book has already been translated into Vietnamese by a Vietnamese sister for use in her religious community.

“Jesus is doing such beautiful things in this unprecedented time of great sacrifice of free access to the Sacraments,” says Mrs. Andres. “I would like to be part of sharing Him with the thirsting world, and part of our satiating His thirst. The little way He has given me is in this gift (to me) of my being able to give away (to everyone) this great secret of His and Thérèse's — that we might ask Him to remain in us as in so many tabernacles, that is, that He might remain in us sacramentally (in His Real Presence) between Communions.”


"Christ on the Cross Between Two Thieves," by Rubens Jozef Sedmak

This Lent alumnus attorney David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) — a regular honoree on the list of California “Super Lawyers” — has once more turned his attention to the most significant criminal proceeding in the history of jurisprudence: the trial of Jesus Christ.

David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) David A. Shaneyfelt (’81)Last year the Ventura County attorney posted a series of free podcasts in which he investigated Our Lord’s trial, beginning with His arrest, and continuing all the way through the Crucifixion. This year he is making the podcasts available once more — and with a notable addendum.

“For this Lent, I’ve added another podcast lecture to the series, pursuing a tangent from the Trial of Jesus, but still related to it — a reflection on the ‘Two Thieves,’” writes Mr. Shaneyfelt on his website, One Catholic Lawyer. “If you liked the first seven in the series, I think you’ll like this one, too.”

Over the course of the podcast series, which aims “to unpack the history and Scriptural account of Jesus and the two crucified with him,” Mr. Shaneyfelt considers such questions as: What are the sources of evidence at Jesus’ trial? What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? And what is the significance of the date of the Crucifixion as it pertains to the Passover Feast?

“A great deal of scholarship has gone into the relatively few words of the New Testament that describe the legal process employed to put to trial, convict, and execute a Jewish rabbi, whose followers for 2,000 years since then have regarded as the Eternal Son of God, the Word made flesh to dwell, and to die, among us,” writes Mr. Shaneyfelt. “My goal in this podcast series is to introduce listeners to some of this scholarship, to unpack it, and to let listeners appreciate the difficulty — and reward — of parsing Biblical texts.”

Mr. Shaneyfelt has spoken publicly about Our Lord’s trial for more than 20 years at churches, schools, and organizations throughout California. “Believers and non-believers, I think, will at least find the subject fascinating, because history offers us great insights into passages that are often short and cryptic,” he observes. “But I also think, or at least hope, that believers will come to see deeper meanings and significance in the details addressed and, in the end, will grow in faith and love for the One Who is at the central focus of this event.”

The eight, hour-long podcasts have generated downloads in more than a dozen countries to date. They provide an excellent source of listening for Lent and Holy Week.


stars in the night sky

“According to thousands of years of human observations, the heavenly bodies were eternal, they always were, they always will be, world without end. They were immortal, divine, yet visible, and moving with what must be mathematical precision. The hope of drawing close to God by uncovering the mathematical elegance and precision of the divine heavens is what attracted Ptolemy to devote his life to studying the heavens.”

Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87) Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)So writes Thomas Aquinas College tutor and alumnus Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87) in a fascinating essay for The Imaginative Conservative, The Gravity of Gravity: A Quick Look at Astronomy and its Relevance. In discussing the discoveries of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein, Dr. Seeley explains the effects of astronomy on history and culture, and why its study is an important part of a liberal education. He also writes about how his alma mater — and the emphasis its classical curriculum places on astronomy — made him a lifelong stargazer:

At the beginning of Sophomore year, I spent two weeks systematically observing the sky with the naked eye, then studied Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein over the next three years. Not only was I introduced to the historical developments of science, but I came to see the reasons why we believe that the Earth moves, and that all things are heavy. More than that, I was able to enter into Dante’s imaginative vision of the cosmos, and understand the ways in which St. Thomas used astronomy to help understand the science of theology.

The Ptolemaic portion, especially grounded in the two weeks of observations, made me a friend of the night skies for the rest of my life. The observations involved watching the sky at different times through the night, and watching it at the same time every night for a while, noting especially what was rising and what was setting. It set up a habit of keeping track of the sky …

In addition to serving on the College’s teaching faculty, Dr. Seeley serves as executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. His full article is available via The Imaginative Conservative.


Lauretta Brown (’13) Lauretta Brown (’13)In anticipation of January’s National March for Life, Fox News published a story about “pro-life women [who] are fighting to redefine female ‘empowerment.’” Among those profiled are Unplanned author Abby Johnson, Live Action President Lila Rose, and an alumna of the College: Lauretta Brown (’13)

Miss Brown, observes reporter Sam Dorman, is part of “a generation of female, pro-life journalists” who are leading the effort to protect and defend all human life. “Lauretta Brown is a journalist working as a staff writer at the National Catholic Register,” Mr. Dorman notes. “She's written in depth about crisis pregnancy centers, as well as the science surrounding abortion.” The story goes on to quote Miss Brown, who remarks, “People need to be aware that a pre-born baby’s complete genetic code — distinct from that of the mother — is present from the moment of conception.”

 

Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’Reilly Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’ReillyAlumna author Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’Reilly has published a novel about the life and work of a saint of particular interest to readers of this blog: the College’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas.

In Humble Servant of Truth, Mrs. O’Reilly tells the story of the Angelic Doctor, beginning with his precocious, deeply faithful childhood, and continuing through his days as a monk and scholar, touching upon his numerous, glorious encounters with the Divine. The work is part of the Mentoris Project, founded by a member of the College’s Board of Governors, Robert Barbera, which publishes biographies and novels based on the lives of prominent Italians and Italian-Americans.

Mrs. O’Reilly discusses the book in a recent episode of the Mentoris Project Podcast. In the half-hour interview with host Roseanne Welch, she discusses a wide range of subjects, beginning with why Aquinas’ work “matters” today. “I think it matters the same way that you would say the Pythagorean Theorem matters in math, because truth matters,” she says, echoing the slogan of her alma mater. “If somebody discovers some truth, it’s important later, too, and not just at the time that he found it. The things that Thomas Aquinas figured out with his incredible mind are helpful to those of us who maybe wouldn’t see them otherwise, as well as to later philosophers and theologians, who can build off of them.”

A home-schooling mother of 12 children, Mrs. O’Reilly also discusses the role the College played in preparing her to write her first book. “We studied St. Thomas with respect through all four years, and especially the latter years,” she recalls. Moreover, the College provided her with mentors who fostered her love of learning. “In college I had the most admirable tutors and other influences in my life — people who were so good, and whom you could really admire,” she says. “I knew that I would be in good shape if I just followed their example and advice and learned from them.”

From these mentors she acquired a devotion to the Angelic Doctor, which she is pleased to share with others through her writing. In St. Thomas, Mrs. O’Reilly reflects, we see the unity of faith and reason that is at the heart of the Catholic faith. “Because he had such a powerful intellect, he wanted to see and then to teach the reasons that he saw for the things that he believed.”

Roseanne Welch interviews Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’Reilly Roseanne Welch interviews Margaret O’Reilly.


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Thomas Cavanaugh (’18) -- quote 2

“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

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“May God bless Thomas Aquinas College for its excellent performance as a Catholic college since its foundation in 1971, a college where parents can send their children and be sure that this college is maintaining the best ideals of our faith and is giving not only information but formation.”

– Francis Cardinal Arinze

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments