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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


Louis Knuffke (’16)Louis Knuffke (’16)Only four years since his graduation, Louis Knuffke (’16) has been named the headmaster of the Chesterton Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. “Chesterton Academy offers an integrated, Catholic, liberal education that prepares its students for the fuller pursuit of the liberal arts, literature, the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology at the collegiate level,” says Mr. Knuffke. “It draws upon the perennial wisdom and richness of Western culture through the use of primary texts and Socratic discussion, taking inspiration from the wit and insight of its patron, G.K. Chesterton, now servant of God.”

After graduating from the College in 2016, Mr. Knuffke earned a Master’s in Theology at Ave Maria University and a Licentiate in Theology at the Dominican House of Studies. Over the years he has taught and tutored a variety of subjects — such as Latin, Greek, English, geometry, algebra, pre-calculus, and theology — at various schools, including  St. Michael’s College Prep in Silverado, California, the Mother of Divine Grace distance-learning school, and Queen of Apostles School in Alexandria, Virginia.

“As Headmaster of Chesterton Academy, I hope to guide the school in maintaining a clear vision of the essentials of Catholic liberal education,” says Mr. Knuffke. “It is the education that I received at Thomas Aquinas College, as well as my further studies in Thomistic theology, that have given me a deeper understanding of the path of knowledge from its beginning in logic to its culmination in sacred theology.”

Among Mr. Knuffke’s teachers at Chesterton Academy will be a fellow TAC graduate, Joseph Rivera (’17), who teaches Latin. “It has been a great joy to pursue the intellectual life in study and teaching together with fellow alumni while at Ave Maria University, in Washington, D.C., and now at Chesterton Academy,” Mr. Knuffke observes. “I am forever grateful to Thomas Aquinas College for these friendships and for its serious pursuit of wisdom through the arts and sciences. It is this wisdom that I hope to hand on now to the students at Chesterton Academy of Annapolis.”


Norman De Silva and family

Please pray for Dr. Norman P. De Silva (’75), a member of the College’s first graduating class who later served as a member of the teaching faculty. Today marks the 35th anniversary of his death on July 1, 1985. Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., remembered him at Mass this morning in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.

May Dr. De Silva rest in peace!


Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06)Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06)After serving for the last few years as a part-time lecturer at Christendom College, TAC alumna Dr. Kathleen Sullivan (’06) has been named a full-time faculty member in the school’s Department of English and Literature. “From middle school students, to undergraduates, to graduate students,” notes the Christendom website, Dr. Sullivan “has taught literature, writing, and rhetoric courses at a variety of levels.” She will now teach the Virginia-based college’s core literature courses as well English Victorian  Literature, Children’s Literature of the 19th Century, and English Romantic Literature.

Dr. Sullivan holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Dallas and a doctorate from the Catholic University of America. During her graduate-school years, she was a perennial presence on Thomas Aquinas College’s California campus, where she served several times as the beloved head women’s prefect for the High School Summer Program.

Indeed, it was her own experience of the Summer Program as a high school student  that sparked Dr. Sullivan’s love of learning and, ultimately, led her to become an educator. In an essay she wrote about the experience back in 2013, she recalled a life-changing discovery she made about herself during that program:

I want to think, to discover the truths of things, to reason and reflect on what matters in our lives, to understand the world around me from a perspective unhindered by another’s bias or predetermined mindset. I wanted to grapple with the questions that Man has always grappled with, and to learn the answers as best I could. I had realized that education was not about the amount of knowledge learned, but about how it was learned. …

I wanted to skip the rest of high school and enter Thomas Aquinas College right away. Yet I returned to high school with a new perspective on education, and found myself more frequently raising my hand to ask questions or propose comments. An education is not passive; it is active, alive, and all within reach.      

Congratulations to Dr. Sullivan on her new job — and to Christendom on an excellent hire!

And speaking of the High School Program, which changed Dr. Sullivan’s life as well as that of so many others, it will be offered this summer on both campuses. Please share the good news with any rising high school seniors you may know!


Tom Brittain (’96), a legendary high school football coach in the Phoenix area, is taking the reins at Chandler Prep charter school this fall, and joining him as co-coach will be his son and fellow TAC alumnus Joshua Brittain (’15). The younger Brittain, a star in the College’s intramural program during his student days, previously served as the head coach at nearby Tempe Prep.

“Josh totally supported me throughout my career, coming to games before he could play, playing for me, coaching with me when I coached his four younger brothers,” Tom told the Arizona Republic. “He made the playoffs two years in a row and wanted to be with his dad. Bottom line, he’s been such a loyal, faithful son to put his own career on hold to support his dad that he deserves the credit for any success we have at Chandler Prep. I wanted to co-head coach with him.”

Chandler Prep Athletic Director Shawn Lytle praised the father-son coaching tandem for their commitment to developing “men of virtue and character,” adding the they “will bring and demand passion, discipline and courage.”


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.”


Eric Maurer (’98) with some of his students at St. Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts Eric Maurer (’98) with some of his students at St. Paul’s Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Archdiocese of Boston has named 10 teachers from its Catholic school system as recipients of its 2020 Excellence in Education Awards, including a Thomas Aquinas College alumnus: Eric Maurer (’98).

“The 10 recipients were nominated by parents, administrators, students, and/or their peers because of their strong leadership qualities, Catholic values, academic excellence, and their commitment to their students as well as schools," says the Archdiocese’ Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Thomas Carroll. “The honorees are the cream of the crop in terms of faculty members.” 

Mr. Maurer and his fellow educators “have gone above and beyond to create a welcoming environment and a culture of success,” says Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston. As teachers, they “share the Catholic faith in word and action” in the course of their work.

A co-founder of the Lyceum in Cleveland, Mr. Maurer now teaches mathematics, science and Latin to fifth-through-eighth graders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I am blessed to work at St. Paul’s Choir School, where I am trusted with many subjects and am not only allowed, but actually encouraged, to share and explain the Catholic faith whenever possible,” says Mr. Maurer. “I am coming to see that younger boys are natural philosophers, always willing to wonder,” he adds. “The enthusiasm that bubbles up when one is sincerely seeking truth is contagious and motivates students as they learn to pursue truth themselves.”

Noting that he is “humbled and overwhelmed” to have been chosen for this honor, Mr. Maurer graciously credits his alma mater as the place “where I became educated, as Aristotle describes in his Parts of Animals, learning to think and to repel sophistry with such confidence and humor.”


Grace Kelly (’12) Grace Kelly (’12)“Good teachers prove daily that they would give their lives for their students,” observes Grace Kelly (’12). “This time of pandemic has made this principle that much clearer.”

As principal of St. Sebastian School in Santa Paula, California, Miss Kelly was charged, in the face of COVID-19, with swiftly transitioning some 150 students and nine teachers to distance learning. “As soon as word of our imminent closure came out, we hit the ground running, knowing that time was of the essence,” she writes for the Catholic Education Foundation of Los Angeles. “We quickly created classroom websites, loaded up Google classrooms, created student gmail, and began inundating ourselves with mounds and mounds of ‘how to’ videos and educational resource lists.”

The challenge was daunting, even by the standards of chronically undermanned and underfunded parochial schools. “As educators, we are very used to hard work and long hours. However, nothing could prepare us for the immense workload that was to come with this educational forum transition,” Miss Kelly reflects. “Yet with this new height of workload came an overwhelming depth of commitment from the teachers, strength of support and partnership from the parents, and excited dedication and hard work from the students.”

Their tremendous efforts have paid off. “This path has not been easy, will continue to have its problems, and is most certainly a learning platform we do not wish to take on full time again,” Miss Kelly concludes. “But we are excited for the nuggets of gold we are uncovering, which will enhance our learning goals when we are blessed enough to be able to go back to our campus.”

Her full essay is available via the Catholic Education Foundation of Los Angeles website. Please pray for Miss Kelly, St. Sebastian School, and all Catholic educators!


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!


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Isaac Cross (’19) -- quote 2

“There’s a joy for life here you don’t get in most places, a sense of purpose, a sense of love and fellowship bound up in our common cause of seeking the truth.”

– Isaac Cross (’19)

Leominster, Massachusetts

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“Thomas Aquinas College is uniquely positioned and equipped to let light shine once more in our world, in our society, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships.”

– Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.

Archbishop of Oklahoma City