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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89) Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89)“Amid new challenges to priestly celibacy at the Vatican’s Amazon Synod and from other corners of the Church,” writes the Cardinal Newman Society, the Church needs witnesses who are “well-prepared to dispel errors and misconceptions about this important discipline of Catholic priests.” Among these witnesses, the story continues, is Thomas Aquinas College alumnus Rev. Gary Selin, S.T.D. (’89), formation advisor and assistant professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the author of Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations.

As part of its ongoing Profiles in Faithful Catholic Education series, the Newman Society has published an interview with Fr. Selin, whose book presciently preceded the renewed debate on priestly celibacy by three years. “The principal reason for celibacy is that it perfects the configuration of the priest with Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church,” he says. “Celibacy consequently allows the priest to give himself more freely to the Church in imitation of Christ.” 

He also discusses his time at the College. “I treasure the memories of the many wonderful hours in the classroom, as I learned from the sources of wisdom of the Great Books that formed our Western civilization, under the guidance of our well-formed tutors of the college,” says Fr. Selin. “These excellent conversations continued over meals, during walks, and into late night in the dormitories. One can never put a price tag on these conversations that made life worth living.”

This experience, he adds, proved invaluable in preparing him for his current work with seminarians. “My time at the College helped me begin to acquire the virtues necessary in becoming a disciple before learning to be a leader,” observes Fr. Selin. “I am very grateful to the College for giving me the environment in which I was able to grow in those virtues.”

The full interview is available via the Cardinal Newman Society website.


Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome Institute Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome Institute

At the St. Jerome Institute (SJI), a just-opened, classical high school in Washington, D.C., “the curriculum is designed as a single, unified, four-year program of study,” in which “students and tutors collaborate on analyzing reading, exploring questions, and formulating arguments.” Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that a graduate of a college with an integrated, classical curriculum, taught via the Discussion Method, would be a good fit to help lead such a school — and why SJI hired Will Bertain (’08) as its first assistant headmaster.

“I was thrilled to hire Will,” says Peter Crawford, the school’s headmaster. “Will’s philosophical formation from Thomas Aquinas College enables him to offer teenagers a deep academic mentorship. Additionally, his many years of experience serving students in classical, Great Books, liberal arts schools, and the practical insights he has gleaned in this time, will be key to the success of our school. Of greatest importance, Will’s personal commitment to virtue and excellence makes him a living lesson for all of our students. His leadership is a true gift to the hearts and minds of our first class and future generations of students.”

A founding faculty member and master teacher at Glendale Preparatory Academy, Mr. Bertain worked for the Great Hearts Academies in Arizona for more than a decade, holding the positions of academic dean and interim-assistant headmaster at Anthem Preparatory Academy. He taught middle and high school students in a wide range of courses, including history, Latin, mathematics, and Humane Letters. He also led numerous enrichment seminars and pedagogical workshops for Great Hearts teachers.

“I was deeply blessed, professionally and spiritually, by my time at the Great Hearts Academies,” he says “As the years went on, though, I was increasingly drawn toward the possibility of working in an authentically Catholic school setting. When I had the chance to read some of the core documents for the St. Jerome Institute, I was profoundly moved. I thought to myself something along these lines: ‘Wait a second ... someone is actually doing this?! This is exactly what any new Catholic high school should be doing!’ I am deeply grateful for being given the opportunity as the assistant headmaster to be a part of such a project.”

Will Bertain (’08) teaches a class at the St. Jerome InstituteWith informal ties to nearby St. Jerome Academy, which serves elementary- and middle-school students, SJI aims to extend a liberal arts education to high school students in the region. “The Socratic seminar-discussion method holds pride of place as a pedagogical tool for us, as we contend that engaging in give-and-take inquiry with fellow students, working together toward understanding the Truth, addresses a fundamental human need,” says Mr. Bertain. “Our curriculum is one designed not only to cultivate the intellectual virtues, but to also further the development of the virtues of the body and the spirit — which is why we include physical education and pursue opportunities for community service.”

In addition to his work as an educator, Mr. Bertain is a busy husband and father. Joining him for his cross-country move to help found SJI and “get out of the Arizona heat” are his wife and TAC classmate, Michelle (Kuenstle ’08), and their six children. “I am so very grateful to my amazing wife, who has been a source of such strength for me,” he says. “I am also incredibly thankful to my alma mater, Thomas Aquinas College, to all of the faculty and staff, for having blessed me with the education I received. The longer removed I am from my time there, the more deeply I thank God for giving me the life-changing experience of being a student at Thomas Aquinas College.”


Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17)

This spring Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) completed his studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School, where he earned a master’s degree in global affairs. His time at Notre Dame “was a continuity of God’s providence,” he writes — a period during which he thrived and grew in many ways. “I had the privilege of interacting with contemporary policy shapers, including a former White House Chief of Staff, an international statesman, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States.”

For the last year Mr. Onyekuru served as one of the university’s International Ambassadors — “one of my favorite communities at Notre Dame” — a select group of undergraduate and graduate students who welcome international students and help them adjust to campus life. In April, the International Student and Scholar Affairs program honored him for his efforts, naming him a co-recipient of the ambassador team’s service award. “I truly did not deserve it,” he writes with characteristic humility of the honor. “And I am immensely grateful to my teammates and the International Ambassadors who welcomed me to Notre Dame two years ago.”

Recently Mr. Onyekuru has been published in two university publications: In May he penned a brief essay, New Nigerian Bishop is Peacemaker, on Arc of the Universe, a blog edited by Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Daniel Philpott. Then, in June,  he wrote A Subscript in Global Education for the school’s Policy Pulse journal, describing the promise of a new, online tutoring service — and how it can be leveraged to improve educational outcomes — in his homeland of Nigeria.

“I am deeply grateful for all the opportunities I received at Notre Dame,” writes Mr. Onyekuru, “and for my formation at Thomas Aquinas College, which helped me to enjoy them thoughtfully.”


Dr. Matthew Peterson (’01), vice president of education at the Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, recently served as the commencement speaker at Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. In his address, Who is the Elite?, he discussed the vital role that education should play — yet all too often, does not — in uniting the leaders of society with the public at large through shared values, a common ethos, and a unified sense of the common good.

T.S. Eliot worried that in our modern educational system our elites would be, “united only by their common interests and separated by everything else.” The modern elite, in other words, would not share ideas about human nature, character, or virtue, religion, or the most important questions human being have to answer to live a good life. Instead, Eliot worried that our modern elite would consist solely of individuals whose only common bond with each other was their professional interest.…

If education is just professional training, and if there is not a unified understanding of morality or religion, but in fact, a rejection of morality and religion, nor a unified elite culture educated to love and serve their communities and country, but in fact, a rejection of American principles and purpose, what is there to unite the elites except raw self-interest? What is there to prevent them from putting their own good above the good of everybody else’s? From becoming snobbish and corrupt?

You see, college doesn’t just unify us through our social lives, as important and vital the relationships we make are, and as meaningful as the time you’ve all spent together was. It also unifies us in what we learned. The secret is that a college’s curriculum is a central source of student and national and theological unity. But this unity, above all else, is what is broken down in many colleges today.

But not at all colleges! Dr. Peterson had kind words to say for his host, Providence Christian College, and its classical curriculum. And just a few months ago he was at his alma mater to take part in a Career Services panel for students who are considering careers in journalism. There he offered a robust assessment of the College’s program of Catholic liberal education, particularly in contrast to what is offered at most “elite” institutions today. “It is a priceless gift, and you should count yourself extremely lucky, extremely blessed, just to have that opportunity,” he told the College’s students. “It is incredibly rare, what you’re able to do, and it will assist you throughout the rest of your life. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I’ve seen it in countless ways, countless people, graduates across the country doing amazing things, and they will all testify to this.”


Crucifix in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel

Please pray for the repose of the soul of alumnus Douglas Alexander (’77), who died on May 18. Please also pray for the consolation of his wife, Leslie, and their six children.

A member of Thomas Aquinas College’s third graduating class, Mr. Alexander was a convert to Catholicism, entering the Church at the Easter Vigil of his Freshman Year. After his graduation in 1977, he went on to earn a master’s degree in political philosophy from the Claremont University Graduate School. Throughout his life he held numerous positions in organizations dedicated to Catholic education and education policy, including the Free Congress Foundation, Seton Home Study School, and the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, where he served as executive editor.

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in pea
ce.


Jane Forsyth (’11) with Dr. Ernest Suarez, chair of the Department of English at The Catholic University of America, at the annual conference of Robert Penn Warren Circle Jane Forsyth (’11) with Dr. Ernest Suarez, chair of the Department of English at The Catholic University of America, at the annual conference of the Robert Penn Warren Circle

“I would like to extend my hearty congratulations to Jane Forsyth,” writes Dr. Ernest Suarez, chair of the Department of English at The Catholic University of America, “winner of the 2019 Eleanor Clark Prize for best essay by a junior scholar.”

A member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2011, and now a doctoral student in English Literature at CUA, Miss Forsyth received the award at a recent conference at the Kentucky home of the late poet, novelist, and educator Robert Penn Warren.  Her award-winning essay was entitled “‘Pattern of Meaning’: Symbolic Dynamism as a Formal Structure in ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘The Well Wrought Urn.’” In a post on his department’s blog, Dr. Suarez notes that “the judges praised Jane’s essay … for its insights, originality, and stylistic elegance.”

The Eleanor Clark Prize is presented at the annual conference of the Robert Penn Warren Circle, which, for 29 years has honored the legacy of its namesake, the only author ever to have won Pulitzer prizes for both fiction and poetry. “Participants in the Robert Penn Warren Circle are united by their love for Warren and other critics who promoted ways of reading literature which attend to form and aesthetics rather than current theory or pragmatic concerns,” Miss Forsyth explains. “My paper examined ways in which the poetics of Cleanth Brook, a colleague of Warren, were inspired by the poetic innovations of modernist poetry, particularly by T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land.’ I was honored to receive this award from such an extraordinary group of academics.”

Miss Forsyth earned her master’s degree in English literature at CUA in 2018. This fall she will begin her final year of coursework toward her doctorate.


Upon graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, Brandon Ristoff enrolled in Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He was confident, he said at the time, that the College had prepared him well, giving him a strong philosophical foundation such that “when you actually do policy, you know what is going to work and you understand why it will work.”

His confidence was well placed. In April Mr. Ristoff was the student speaker — an honor reserved for “exemplary students at the top of their cohort” — at the school’s 2019 graduation ceremony, where he formally received his Master of Public Policy degree. (See video, above. Mr. Ristoff’s address begins at the 9:38 mark.)

“In order for us to better serve others, we can’t only understand the quantitative side of public policy, but we must also place public policy into a historical and philosophical context,” said Mr. Ristoff, calling to mind his liberal arts background. “Great policies come from great ideas, ideas about how the world works and how people work and communicate with each other … by understanding these ideas, how they developed over time and how they are being used. This is the most powerful tool in public policy.”

In concluding his address, Mr. Ristoff offered inspiring words that invoked the Prayer of St. Francis. “This is not the time to meander through our careers, moving up the corporate ladder,” he said. “When there is fear, we must bring hope; when there is injustice, we must bring integrity; when there are falsehoods, we must bring truth. This is the time to face our fears and to engage with the problems and conflicts of our times.”

Next up Mr. Ristoff will enroll at Loyola University Chicago, where he plans to pursue a second master’s degree, this time in applied statistics. “I want to use big data and statistics in analyzing different fields, especially politics,” he says. “I find it interesting using big data and statistics and combining it with the political philosophy I learned at Thomas Aquinas College and Pepperdine.”

 


David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) David A. Shaneyfelt (’81)Alumnus attorney David A. Shaneyfelt (’81) — recently featured on this blog for having been named, once again, a California “Super Lawyer” — has turned his attention to the most significant criminal proceeding in the history of jurisprudence: the trial of Jesus Christ.

In a series of free podcasts, Mr. Shaneyfelt investigates Our Lord’s trial, beginning with His arrest, and continuing all the way through the Crucifixion. Along the way, 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 vis-à-vis the Passover Feast?

The seven hour-long podcasts provide an excellent source of listening for Lent and Holy Week.

“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 on his website, One Catholic Lawyer. “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.”

A lawyer in Camarillo, California, Mr. Shaneyfelt has spoken publicly about Our Lord’s trial for more than 20 years at churches, schools, and organizations throughout the state. “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 writes. “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.”


Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85)

At its upcoming national convention, University Faculty for Life will award its Rupert and Timothy Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions to Pro-Life Scholarship to a graduate of the College, Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85). The organization, which presents the award annually to honor “scholarly achievement and service of the pro-life movement,” chose Dr. Cavanaugh for his work on medical ethics, particularly as it pertains to euthanasia.

A professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, Dr. Cavanaugh is the author of  Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: the Birth of the Medical Profession, which Oxford University Press published last year. The book examines the Hippocratic Oath through a broad survey of Ancient Greek myth, drama, culture, and language. Drawing on extensive research, it addresses the subject of physician-inflicted harm, particularly doctor-assisted suicide, which Dr. Cavanaugh finds to be antithetical to medicine’s therapeutic ethic.

Over the last year, Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake has received critical praise from a wide range of sources. Writing for America, Dr. Christopher Kaczor called the book, “required reading for anyone interested in the ethics of medicine.” In Commonweal, Mary McDonough declared that Dr. Cavanaugh “has recovered the root of medical ethics.”

As a recipient of the Smith Award, Dr. Cavanaugh will find himself in select company. Past hnorees include such luminaries as Dr. Robert P. George, Dr. Hadley Arkes, and Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J.


Susan and Michael Waldstein Drs. Susan (Burnham ’78) and Michael Waldstein (’77)
photo: Monica Torreblanca,
The Troubador

The Troubadour, the student newspaper of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, recently featured an endearing profile of two of the university’s newest theology professors, both graduates of Thomas Aquinas College: Drs. Susan (Burnham ’78) and Michael Waldstein (’77).

The story chronicles how the Waldsteins met on Susan’s first day at the College, which, she admits, she had been reluctant to attend, thinking she would prefer to pursue a degree in chemistry or biology. Yet once she began the College’s program of classical liberal education, her perspective changed. “I learned a different way of looking at nature by studying the natural philosophy of Aristotle,” she says. “I realized that looking at nature in that way contributed to theology and that there could be a theology of biology.”

The couple married just three days after her graduation. From there, says Susan, “We went around, and he got degrees and I had babies.”

Michael earned a master’s in philosophy from the University of Dallas, a licentiate in Scripture from the Pontificium Institutum Biblicum in Rome, and a doctorate in New Testament studies from Harvard Divinity School. Following eight years as a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, he then declined an offer of tenure to become the founding president of the International Theological Institute (ITI) in Gaming, Austria. In 2008 he joined the theology faculty at Ave Maria University, and one year ago he came to Franciscan to launch a doctoral program in theology.

While homeschooling eight children — four of whom are now fellow Thomas Aquinas College alumni, and two of whom are current students — Susan went on to earn a master’s and a licentiate degree in theology at ITI. She wrote and defended her doctoral dissertation for the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, while homeschooling the couple’s youngest three children in Florida. She, too, now teaches theology at Franciscan. In addition, the couple serves on the Pontifical Council for the Family, appointed as members by Pope St. John Paul II. 

Through it all, they have maintained a beautiful witness, in both their personal and professional lives, to the goodness of marriage and family. “Their prime classroom was their home,” writes Troubadour editor-in-chief Allegra Thatcher, “where they raised a happy family in extraordinarily simple ways.”


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Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

“When I first came here, since I am not a Catholic, I was nervous, because it’s a different culture for me, but people have been so friendly, so charitable. It is such a blessing to live in this community, where people care about you. You make strong friendships that last a lifetime.”

– Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

Kathmandu Nepal

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