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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


Fred Arthur (’96) Fred Arthur (’96)

Friends and loved ones gathered today at Santa Clara Church in Oxnard, California, for the funeral Mass of an alumnus of Thomas Aquinas College, Fred Arthur (’96). Serving as principal celebrant at the Mass was one of Mr. Arthur’s TAC classmates, Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.  Audio of Fr. Decaen’s homily (recorded on a cell phone, thus the uneven quality) is available in the player at the bottom of this post.

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96)“Today we pray in a special way for our brother Fred, whose gentle smile illuminated the campus at Thomas Aquinas College,” said Fr. Decaen in his homily.  “He had a great love for people, a great love for everyone. … He was always generous, very giving of himself.”

Fr. Decaen noted that he was “maybe the first person that Fred met at the College,” as they were freshman roommates.  The two became fast friends and, he added, “It’s when Christ unites us in friendship that we help each other on the road to heaven.”

The priest also joked about some cultural differences that the two had to work through — Fr. Decaen being a lifelong Californian, and Mr. Arthur a citizen of Ghana — mostly relating to the temperature of the room and who slept on which bunk. “We come from many different backgrounds, many different countries, many different beginnings, but we are all united together as one body, the Body of Christ,” Father said. “United in love, united in conviction, united in respect for the dignity of the human person, we are reminded that God is here with us.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a limited number of friends were permitted in the church, but among them were several alumni of the College. Fr. Decaen urged all those gathered — and, by extension, Mr. Arthur’s friends everywhere — to pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his wife, Nana, and their four children. “That’s our goal today,” Father said. “We pray that he may go to the heavenly kingdom, and through the grace of this most powerful prayer that we celebrate today, we call upon God’s grace to give him rest in eternal life.”


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!


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.”


Mr. and Mrs. Nazeck in wedding clothes and medical masks Meg (Downes ’20) and Patrick Nazeck (’19)

The first member of the Class of 2020 to make the Faith in Action blog is Meg Downes (’20), who has wasted no time answering her vocation. Last Wednesday, she completed her last examination. The next day, she married Patrick Nazeck (’19) at St. Mary Parish in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“Even though we had to change a lot of the plans we’d made because of COVID travel restrictions, and after being apart for a year, we were able to have a small ceremony with my family and Pat’s parents, about a day after Pat graduated from Combat Engineer School in North Carolina,” writes Mrs. Nazeck. “Even though most of our family and friends weren’t able to be there, all the love and support we’ve received from all over the place has been incredible, and it has meant a lot to us in this crazy time.”

The couple is next headed to Southern California, where Mr. Nazeck will be stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

“We thought this picture,” the bride adds, “pretty well captured the whole scenario!” 

From the wedding of Meg (Downes ’20) and Patrick Nazeck (’19)

Please keep the newlyweds in your prayers!


February
20, 2020

The family of Patrice and Stephen Atchley

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Stephen Atchley, who died of complications from a heart attack on February 16. Please also pray for the consolation of his family, including his wife, Patrice (Ford ’81), and their eight children: Liam (’14), Clare (’12), Angelique (Cotugno ’14), Gabrielle, Juliet (’18), Sophia, Dominique (’22), and Lisette. A 9:30 a.m. Rosary and 10:00 am Funeral Mass are scheduled for Saturday, February 22 at San Segundo d’Asti Church in Ontario, California.

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 peace.


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

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

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

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

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

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


Patricia Kessler (’87)Please pray for the repose of the soul of Patricia Kessler (’87). A senior attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, on assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, she had taken a short vacation to do some scuba diving in the Red Sea. On November 1, when fire broke out on the boat, it appears that she helped other passengers to escape, but did not make it off herself. Her family presumes that she died in the ordeal.

After her graduation from the College in 1987, Patty earned her juris doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. She then joined the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, where she served as senior defense counsel, department head, and advisor to the Judge Advocate General. For the next seven years she worked as an assistant U.S. attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, followed by eight years in private practice. She returned to the Justice Department in 2015 as a senior trial attorney in the Asset Forfeiture Section of the Criminal Division.

A lifelong friend has paid tribute to Patty saying,

I have poignant memories of long, philosophical conversations with Patty during college. She studied TRUTH. It gave her pleasure to examine: “What is Truth? How do we know the truth about anything? What does it mean to seek truth? Why should we seek truth? Should we seek truth for truth’s sake? What if the truth does not change the outcome of a situation?” She concluded that seeking the truth, speaking the truth and acting on the truth, and constantly wrestling with the truth is what we all must do to achieve a happy life, or our world will devolve into the Hobbesian description, which is “nasty, brutish and short.”

Please keep Patty in your prayers, and please pray for the consolation of her family, especially for her two daughters.

 

Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.


Thomas O’Hara (’18)Two months after he graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in 2018, Thomas O’Hara married classmate Misha (Johnston ’18), and the couple departed for Prague. Mr. O’Hara had discovered that he could pursue an electrical-engineering degree inexpensively at the Czech Technical University, and his wife — who spent much of her childhood in the Czech Republic and spoke the language fluently — would be very much at home.

Once in Prague, however, he realized that his interests lay elsewhere — and that his Thomas Aquinas College education had prepared him in ways he didn’t even know.

“I got really interested in the programming classes that I was taking,” Mr. O’Hara says. “A lot of my associates complimented me on how fast I picked it up, which was the result of the logical reasoning  — and especially the math — that I had learned at TAC. Programming is really just applied math and logic, and the College had prepared me well in both.”

So he decided to pursue a computer-science degree and to seek employment in a computer lab. When applying for a job, he found himself, once again, relying in ways unexpected on his Catholic liberal education.

“There were 30 other people applying for the same position and, frankly, most of them were much more qualified than I was in terms of their knowledge of programming. But they hired me because of my enthusiasm for learning,” Mr. O’Hara says. “I like to think that I love learning naturally, but I know that I learned to love learning even more at the College. I became very enthusiastic about just figuring things out, analyzing, trying to think outside the box. All of that was cultivated at TAC, especially the analytics and working with people in order to solve a specific problem.”

Now Mr. O’Hara works at Stratosphere Labs, which conducts research for, among others, Avast Software, one of the world’s largest cybersecurity, machine learning, and AI firms. Among his projects, he maintains “honeypots” — machines that have been left deliberately unsecure, or infected with malware — in order to monitor the strategies of hackers, and thus develop Intrusion Prevent Systems. In October, Google sponsored him to attend Virus Bulletin, an international cybersecurity conference in London, and he also participated in the Cyber Sec & AI conference in Prague.

On top of his busy academic and professional life, Mr. O’Hara is also a new father. Six months ago he and Mrs. O’Hara welcomed twins — Thomas Edmund and Hannah Marie. The young family plans to stay in Prague until he completes his degree, then return stateside.

The family of Misha (Johnston ’18) and Thomas O’Hara


Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98) Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98)

The newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces, Stars and Stripes, recently reported on a historic legal event that took place in the famed Courtroom 600 at the Justizpalast in Nuremberg, Germany. For the first time in more than 70 years, members of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps were returning to practice law at the very site where they once tried war criminals of the Third Reich. Among the attorneys present was an alumnus of Thomas Aquinas College, Major Tulsi L. Rogers (’98).

As part of an exhibition designed to demonstrate the differences between the German and American legal systems, Major Rogers participated in a two-part mock trial. In the first trial, German attorneys prosecuted a defendant charged with assault and robbery. Then, Major Rogers and his colleagues conducted a similar trial — same facts and charges —under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

There was no jury in the German trial, and it was mostly the judge who examined the defendant and the witnesses; whereas in the American trial attorneys asked most of the questions. The outcomes, however, were similar. “We arrived at essentially the same verdict for the accused, although different punishments,” says Major Rogers. “The UCMJ gives a greater latitude to the panel in punishing the offender, from ‘no punishment’ to whatever the maximum is in the code.”

As the Officer in Charge at the Army’s 7th Army Training Command in Vilseck, Major Rogers manages a staff of some 20 lawyers and paralegals. “We provide legal advice and client services to eligible personnel and assist commanders with both administrative law issues and criminal prosecutions under the UCMJ,” he explains. “The legal center provides services to both the Army’s commanders and the soldiers, family members, and retirees that live in the community.” 

When he came to the College as a freshman in 1994, Major Rogers was already 22 years old and a member of the Army Reserve. (He served part time with a unit in Santa Barbara.) He earned his juris doctor at the Ave Maria School of Law in 2004 and went on active duty in 2007. Since last summer he has been on his second tour of duty in Germany, having served in Kaiserslautern from 2012 to 2015. Previously he also served in Korea and Iraq.  He now lives in Bavaria with his wife and classmate, Audrey (Keeler ’98), and their four children.


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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

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“With an academic program as rigorous as Thomas Aquinas College’s, and with a long line of successful alumni, Thomas Aquinas College is essential to the health of our Church in the United States and beyond.”

– The Most Rev. Thomas Daly

Bishop of Spokane