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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.”


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

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

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

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


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!


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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

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

– Zenon Cardinal Grocholewski

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Catholic Education