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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.


The family of Noreen (Barr ’79) and Kevin McCann The family of Noreen (Barr ’79) and Kevin McCann

Please pray for Noreen (Barr ’79) McCann, mother of Jack (’09), Molly (’11), Maggie (’13), Martin (’16), Patrick (’17), and Bridget (’20). Mrs. McCann has developed a tumor on her ankle, which, pending further testing, may be cancerous. “I know very little right now. In the coming days and weeks I will be seeing new doctors and having more tests,” she writes. “One thing I know for certain: God answers prayers and He likes to show how generous He can be to those who have faith.” She asks that friends join her praying that her tumor is benign or treatable.

Mrs. McCann is praying through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and to Archbishop Fulton Sheen. She shares the following prayers, two of her favorites:

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

 

Novena Prayer to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus and our Mother, penetrated with the most lively confidence in your all-powerful and never-failing intercession, manifested so often through the Miraculous Medal, we your loving and trustful children implore you to obtain for us the graces and favors we ask during this Novena, if they be beneficial to our immortal souls, and the souls for whom we pray. Amen.

(Here privately form your petitions.)

You know, O Mary, how often our souls have been the sanctuaries of your Son, Who hates iniquity. Obtain for us, then, a deep hatred of sin and that purity of heart which will attach us to God alone, so that our every thought, word, and deed may tend to His greater glory. Obtain for us also a spirit of prayer and self-denial, that we may recover by penance what we have lost by sin and at length attain to that blessed abode where you are the Queen of angels and of men. Amen.


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.”


K. E. Colombini (’85) Ken Colombini (’85)The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) recently announced that it has named Ken Colombini (’85) as its new communications director.

“Ken brings an impressive depth of experience in communications leadership to the association, including previous work with corn growers and the ethanol industry, Fortune 500 companies, and state government,” says RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “I know Ken will have an immediate and positive impact on our association’s work.”

A former newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, Mr. Colombini transitioned to public affairs in the 1990s with positions in California state government, where he ultimately served as deputy director for communications at California State Parks. He moved from Sacramento to St. Louis in 2000 to take a position at Anheuser-Busch, culminating in work as the company’s director of governmental and environmental communications. Now as the RFA’s communications director, he is responsible for the development and implementation of a broad range of the national trade association’s communication strategies.

Mr. Colombini is also a prolific writer in Catholic and related media, having published numerous essays in First Things, the National Catholic Register, Crisis, Inside the Vatican, The American Conservative, and other online outlets. He and his wife of 31 years, Beth (Milligan ’86), are the parents of five children, ages 30 to 16, and five grandchildren.

 “My four years at Thomas Aquinas College served as a great preparation for a career in journalism and public affairs for three reasons: the curriculum itself, the seminar methodology, and the devotional life the school encouraged,” Mr. Colombini reflects. “The Great Books coursework was instrumental in providing not only a foundation in logic and rhetoric, but in storytelling, crucial to this line of work. The many debates and conversations we enjoyed (both inside and outside the classroom) provided lessons in preparing arguments or position statements and in understanding and dissecting those of others, such as political or policy opponents. Most importantly, however, the spiritual life we lived helped foster humility and charity, and the importance of a rightly formed conscience.”

Beyond the preparation for his career, however, Mr. Colombini credits his alma mater with something far more significant: “I also take great joy in the fact that, more than three decades later, many of the friendships fostered on campus have lived on and inspire me still today, even in ways we could not have imagined back then, such as through social media.”

 


George Krestyn (’03)

George Krestyn (’03)

The inaugural year of Thomas Aquinas College, New England, will begin on Saturday morning when the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of Springfield, offers the Convocation Mass of the Holy Spirit in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel. The Mass and matriculation ceremony follow the culmination of years of effort on the part of many to launch the new campus — including one alumnus woodworker, who for months has labored to prepare the century-old chapel for Catholic worship: George Krestyn (’03).

“The biggest part of the project was to take the existing pews and modify them because there was no center aisle,” observes Mr. Krestyn, describing how a central walkway is required for Catholic liturgy, so as to accommodate processions. “Fortunately there were enough long pews that we could cut and modify, giving us two sections of pews with a center aisle.”

The work, however, didn’t end there. The pews had been covered in long-since dilapidated cushions, which, when removed, revealed the pews’ beautiful finish — but also left them two inches short. “We made and then installed ‘feet’ for all of the pews,” Mr. Krestyn explains, “and that raised them each a couple of inches.”

Then there was the floor. “The center section of pews originally had iron supports,” Mr. Krestyn notes. “But because the floor was not completely flat or even, the pews would rock. So the carpenters, when they installed the pews, embedded the iron supports into the wood floor. Now that we have a center aisle, these holes were visible. So the architects suggested putting an inlay in there. We cut away the spots where the holes were and put a new piece of wood in their place. Then we installed a new inlay close to flush, and sanded it down to make the floor level.”

The woodworker and his crew, including two of his uncles, have worked on the project since May, finishing in time for the kneelers to be installed prior to Saturday’s Convocation. But more projects lie ahead. “I will be helping with installing the Communion rail and the two confessionals,” he says. “Plus there may be a little work in the choir loft,” which requires some reconfiguration following the installation of a new organ.

Mr. Krestyn and his wife, Monique (Chartier), have lived in nearby Templeton, Massachusetts, ever since their  wedding, just months after their graduation from Thomas Aquinas College, California, in 2003. Sixteen years later, they are now expecting their ninth child.

Over the years Mr. Krestyn has held various positions in the remodeling and custom-furniture industries before going into business for himself in 2018. Although he has participated in similar projects, helping to prepare Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel, he finds, is different. “It’s exciting,” he says. “Working on a chapel, that’s wonderful. And working for my alma mater, that’s very special.”


Edward Froelich (’88) Edward Froelich (’88)

For the seventh consecutive year, Chambers USA has included Edward Froelich (’88) in its annual guide to the nation’s “top lawyers,” which it defines as those who “demonstrate sustained excellence.” The guide notes that Mr. Froelich “represents clients in a host of administrative tax controversy matters,” and that his peers report that “he is smart and works harder than anybody else.”

A husband, the father of two, and an attorney at the Washington, D.C., office of Morrison & Foerster LLP, Mr. Froelich specializes in federal tax litigation and administrative dispute resolution. After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1988, he earned his law degree at the University of Virginia School of Law and a master’s of law in taxation at the Georgetown University Law Center. Previously he worked as a trial attorney of the Department of Justice Tax Division. In addition to his annual accolades from Chambers USA, he has also been featured by the The Legal 500 US in its “recommended” category.

For the most part, Mr. Froelich litigates cases and represents clients in administrative controversies at the audit and appeals level before the IRS. He also, however, does work both internationally and on a pro-bono basis. Notably, he assisted Caritas Bulgaria on two projects involving European Union laws relating to the allocation of resources to refugee families for basic living and educational needs.

“I am daily grateful for the education and intellectual training I received from the College,” says Mr. Froelich. “It has given me not only a thirst for the first principles in my discipline, but the means by which to make those known and applicable to the case at hand. It has also given me an unshakeable faith in He Who is all truth and goodness incarnate. “


Lieutenant Commander Josh Bergen (’05) Lieutenant Commander Josh Bergen (’05)

After 12 years as a Surface Warfare Officer for the United States Navy, Lieutenant Commander Josh Bergen (’05) recently transitioned to a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), becoming a Latin America regional specialist. His first FAO posting is to Madrid, Spain, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in defense and security studies at Escuela Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas. (ESFAS), the Spanish military’s staff college.

After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 2005, Lt.-Cmdr. Bergen taught English in Peru before being commissioned in the Navy through Officer Candidate School. Over the course of a dozen years, he served on four ships with stations in Virginia, Argentina, and Rhode Island. He has led sailors as a division officer and department head, with responsibilities ranging from interior communications to anti-submarine warfare and air-defense systems. Over the course of four deployments to Europe and the Middle East, he qualified and stood watch as officer of the deck, surface warfare coordinator, and tactical action officer.

Lt.-Cmdr. Bergen will study at ESFAS through summer 2020 in preparation for further assignments in support of security cooperation with the nation’s partners throughout the Western Hemisphere. “Transitioning to Foreign Area Officer allows me to combine my Naval career with my passion for Latin America and the Spanish language,” he says. He and his wife, his “beautiful and long-suffering” classmate, Bernadette (Coughlin ‘05) Bergen, are the parents of five children.


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Matthew Dugan (’18)

“When you’re discussing the great works you have to assimilate what’s being said by the author to your own understanding. Rather than passively receiving information, we’re becoming self-learners and independent thinkers, making the great ideas our own.”

– Matthew Dugan (’18)

Wayzata, Minnesota

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“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”

– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)

Scholar and Writer