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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.”


Marcus R. Berquist Marcus R. Berquist

 

Note: Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01), vice-president of education at The Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, recently re-published the following tribute to late Thomas Aquinas College founder Marcus R. Berquist on November 2, the eighth anniversary of Mr. Berquist’s death. Dr. Peterson originally published the article in 2010.

 

Thoughts on Marcus Berquist, May He Rest in Peace

by Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

Dr. Matthew J. Peterson Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

His family no doubt bears the weight of his absence, and our prayers and love are with them. The rest of us share in this loss in lesser degrees, as they shared him with us.

Our sorrow at the death of great men is our sorrow, not their own. Our sorrow arises in part from a recognition that such men are completely and utterly irreplaceable. They are absolutely unique and ultimately inimitable. They do not merely discharge their obligations; they fulfill them to the overflowing, stretching the scope of their duty to fit the extent of their talent. They do not pass on their fire to a few or one other, but they enkindle innumerable flames with the fire they first received. They do not just complete their race, they complete their race in a manner well adapted to their person and circumstance in a way that moves all those around them towards the finish line. Human life is a preparation for death, and their last gift is inevitably the example of their own death, bequeathed to us, the living. They leave this world victorious, leaving us to marvel at the consistent purpose which marked the particular way they walked upon the earth. Their leaving is sorrowful on account of the overwhelmingly awareness we have of the absence of their presence, which had previously existed in an accessible manner for us — even if only as some fixed, guiding star.

Mr. Berquist’s quiet manner was the surface of deep-seated humility and discipleship. The docility of his soul toward truth served as an unshakable foundation from which the strong and steady gait of his mind moved indomitably toward wisdom. He did not simply fulfill his vocation as teacher; he became a founder of a college, birthing and then shaping and guiding a community of friends united in pursuing that same truth, partaking in the same common goods. Others may have enkindled wonder and love of truth in us, but the very stance of his soul towards the universe taught generations of us what it meant to act upon a love of wisdom with the highest part of ourselves, and how this action might further enflame such love. He ordered his life such that he habitually contributed his talent and person toward the reestablishment of a tradition of thought revolutionary to the modern world. The founding of Thomas Aquinas College was a tremendous creative act: the bringing together of the study of the great books, the liberal arts, and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in a manner adapted to the needs of our era. His participation in this founding gave generations of students a beginning that made their own quest for wisdom and virtue possible, grafting them into the vines of the Western tradition of Christian thought.

These are the sort of gifts which, once given and received, are entrusted to us; they are not the sort of gifts which can be paid back. They are, rather, gifts we can only attempt to pay forward, and most likely not in kind. They are the sort of gifts which we must protect, treasure, and become good stewards of, adding to them in whatever small, complementary ways we can. Even should we give similarly priceless gifts to others, our gifts will never be the same ones he gave, which is partly why we feel sorrow at his absence.

***

In many ways, I am among the least of his students, and many, perhaps most, of the rest of our community knew him better than I. Yet despite an awful performance in his sophomore lab class, I learned as much listening to him in that class as I have in any other, and perhaps more. The power of his thought for those who listened and asked questions of him was such that he molded the way in which our souls receive what is. A friend and fellow student, Glen McCarthy, arranged for him to guide a small group of us through St. Thomas’ treatise on law the summer before my senior year. This too was formative in many ways that cannot be expressed, nor even sometimes remembered directly as time goes by, but it nonetheless profoundly shaped the thought of those present, both through what he taught and how he taught it.

I have watched and interacted with many professors since, in my business and in the academy. Some were great speakers. Some have CVs 30 pages long filled with their accomplishments. Mr. Berquist never finished his Ph.D., and to my knowledge he never published so much as a book review in a scholarly journal. He did not have the polished or hyper-engaging rhetorical style that many other popular professors I’ve met do. He came across as shy at first. Yet no one I have ever met, nor do I think anyone I ever will meet in this life, could answer a question like he could. Once you approached him, it became clear that he wanted you to ask him questions, or at least he was always kind enough to give this impression. A friend and fellow student, James Chastek, pointed out what at the very first was not obvious to incoming students, and later became self-evident: He truly delighted in being asked questions, and answering them. He treated every question with respect, as if you were his equal. He listened intently to what you asked. And then, given an internalized mastery of his subject, he gave you an answer. He was so good at this that only years afterward, when you realized how young and ignorant you were, did you think about how patient he was. His response always accomplished more than pointing you directly to the truth of the matter. Inevitably, his answer taught you how to think about it. His answers revealed the path one needed to take to get to the truth of the matter. In short, he gave reasons.

There was a simple and direct earnestness about him, reflecting his humility, that is far more important than all else one could say in describing him, but for me this is not easily explained in words. Suffice it to say that, if you watched and listened, this facet of his character would bring you closer to God.

Senior year, under the growing realization that I was soon to leave the Thomas Aquinas College community, and grappling with the depth of the debt I owed to it, I happened to meet him coming down from the old tutor offices on the way to his car. I told him, in the emotion of the moment, the truth: Although I hadn’t been the best student in his class, he had taught me what it meant to be a philosopher. More particularly, a Catholic philosopher. I’m not sure what he made of that, given my own failings, but I am sure, as a community, that the students, faculty, alumni and administration of Thomas Aquinas College could say the same.

He was our teacher.

 


Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17)A member of last year’s graduating class who is now  a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) has penned a brief essay about recent developments in his homeland. The post appears on Arc of the Universe, a blog edited by Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Daniel Philpott, and it is titled, Bending the Arc in Nigeria. Writes Mr. Onyekuru:

The recent posthumous conferment of Nigeria’s highest honors on Moshood Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi is a cheerful break for followers of events in Africa’s most populous country.  ….

Such unequivocal appreciation by the nation’s political class speaks a thousand words as does the jubilation surrounding the events of the past week. President Buhari’s decision to honor these late countrymen is a nod to the part of the Nigerian anthem that speaks of our heroes not laboring in vain …

A citizen of Nigeria, Mr. Onyekuru has an abiding interest in international relations, particularly the role of the Church and Church teaching in global affairs. While at Thomas Aquinas College, he and some friends launched Cor Unum, an annual event that celebrates both the Universal Church and the College’s international reach.

“As I prepare to conclude my studies,” he wrote shortly before graduating from Thomas Aquinas College last year, “I hope to be a leaven in society as Holy Mother Church dreams for her children.”


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!


Dean of the University of Notre Dame Graduate School, Dr. Laura Carlson, presents the Shaheen Award in Humanities to Thomas Aquinas College tutor Dr. Joshua Noble (’10) Dean of the University of Notre Dame Graduate School, Dr. Laura Carlson, presents the Shaheen Award in Humanities to Thomas Aquinas College tutor Dr. Joshua Noble (Photo by Peter Ringenberg/University of Notre Dame)

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.”

Over the weekend 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!”


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


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 Amazon.com.


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 Amazon.com.

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.


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Suzie Jackson (’15)

“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”

– Suzie Jackson (’15)

Manassas, Va.

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– The Most Rev. José H. Gomez

Archbishop of Los Angeles