Skip to Content
Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Dr. Paul W. White (’95)Add two more titles to the honorifics that Dr. Paul W. White (’95) has earned over the course of his career as a physician and officer in the United States Army: “Colonel” and “Consultant to the Surgeon General for Vascular Surgery.”

In 2006 Dr. White began a two-year fellowship in vascular surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Six years later he was named the fellowship’s director, training the Army’s general surgeons to become vascular surgeons by teaching the latest methods in research, testing, imaging, and surgery, both endovascular and conventional. In this capacity he became, in 2016, the consultant to the Surgeon General for vascular surgery. Last June he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

“I still work directly with patients because a lot of surgical training is apprenticeship-based, where we’re training the fellows in the operating room,” he explains. “But as an active duty Army officer, I have deployed several times, and I have other duties as far as field exercises, teaching courses, research, and academic work.” Dr. White is also a devoted husband to his wife, Margaret, and father to their seven children, ranging in age from 16 months to 16 years.

Additionally he finds time to serve his alma mater as a member of Thomas Aquinas College’s Washington, D.C., Board of Regents. “I am happy to do it because my four years at the College were as formative as any in my entire education,” he says. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the College, and if there is anything I can do to help it in any way, it is my pleasure and joy.”


Olivia Cobb ('16)Olivia Cobb (’16) reports from Washington University in St. Louis, where she is “studying biostatistics and loving every minute of it” in one of the field’s top academic programs. She is learning various statistical and computational methodologies, particularly as they pertain to biomedical data analysis and genomics research. She is also working part-time at an oncology lab, where she conducts statistical analysis on a rare form of sarcoma cancer.

“All of my classes are going well,” she writes. “My training at TAC has obviously been very helpful, and my philosophical training has turned out to be quite applicable to this scientific field.”

Still, having a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts makes her something of an outlier in this rigorous, STEM-focused graduate program. “The faculty is constantly checking in with me, as it turns out that I am their guinea pig for accepting students with a background in humanities rather than strictly math or biology,” she says. Nonetheless, “everyone I have talked to has been thoroughly impressed with my background and excited to find a position for me in the biostatistics field.”

She is delighting in the moment and looks forward to what lies ahead: “I absolutely love seeing where God is taking me on this path!”


Beau Braden, D.O. (’00) Beau Braden, D.O. (’00)“IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Not long after Beau Braden moved to southwest Florida to open a medical clinic, injured strangers started showing up at his house. A boy who had split open his head at the pool. People with gashes and broken bones. There was nowhere else to go after hours, they told him, so Dr. Braden stitched them up on his dining room table.”

So begins an extensive feature story in the New York Times about the efforts of Beau Braden, D.O. — a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2000 — to establish a hospital in this impoverished rural community. The owner and managing physician of the Braden Clinic in nearby Ave Maria, Dr. Braden studied medicine at Midwestern University and holds two masters degrees in public health from the University of Southern California. Since leaving a faculty position at the University of Colorado in 2014 and coming to Ave Maria, he has observed serious, unmet medical needs in the region — which, he tells the Times, has “fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan.”

Thus Dr. Braden proposed establishing a 25-bed hospital to serve the 50,000 residents of the area, spending $400,000 from a family trust on legal, consulting, and filing fees. Yet his efforts have been obstructed, possibly even for good, due to unforeseen opposition. A large hospital, some 35 miles away, has challenged Dr. Braden’s petition for state approval, fearing that his startup could undercut its patient base and revenues.

The Times story describes how Dr. Braden juggles the demands of his medical practice, the herculean task of trying to establish a new hospital, and family life: He “frequently flies himself from Immokalee’s tiny airfield to pull overnight shifts at nearby hospitals.” He assembled “a 2,000-page application to Florida’s health care regulators.” And he and his wife, Maria-Theresia (Waldstein ’05), “are raising five children.”

All the while, the physician remains steadfast in his commitment to bring a hospital to the people he serves. “I refuse to stop,” he tells the Times. “They’ve been trying to get a hospital in their community for 50 years. I’ll bring all of what I can to make sure this injustice stops.”


Jon B. Syren (’87) Jon B. Syren (’87)On her blog, Miss Marcel’s Musings, alumna author Suzie Andres (’87) describes the “inestimable grace” of having recently been with the family of her late classmate Jon B. Syren (’87) for the 26th anniversary of his death — “this 26th feast day,” she writes, “and it’s been a feast indeed.”

Shortly after graduating from the College, Mr. Syren began to “fulfill his dreams,” writes Mrs. Andres, when he married classmate Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly:

… on the Feast of Our Lady’s Coronation in 1987, and with the birth of their daughter and son (who would’ve been the first of many, and thanks to God's infinite love did become the first of many, though their 7 siblings came later, after Angela remarried a second saintly man, thankfully one who is still among us!). And finally, his dream of being a doctor began coming true with his attendance [at the University of Washington, with his first year of medical school in his home state of Alaska] …

Jon’s secret was in pursuing sanctity — the Kingdom of God, or by another name: Love — rather than worldwide fame and fortune, power, popularity, and all the other things that people often mean by “success.” Not surprisingly, according to the words of Our Lord, by pursuing first the Kingdom of Heaven, Jon was given “all other things besides.”

Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela, is today a member of the College’s Board of Governors, and their daughter, Catherine (Connelly ’11) O’Brien, is a young wife and mother who recently completed her master’s degree in theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

 Suzie Andres (’87)Suzie Andres (’87)“The Communion of Saints is one of my favorite mysteries, more and more visible to me as I realize how close Heaven is to earth,” writes Mrs. Andres. “With Jesus in the tabernacle and coming to us in Holy Communion, the Kingdom of God is absolutely among us. And then, as Angela and Jack and Jon demonstrate so very visibly, the work of the saints continues day in and day out, with fruit beyond counting, beyond measure.”

It should be noted that Mrs. Andres is today celebrating another notable anniversary: the 30th anniversary of her marriage to her husband, Dr. Anthony P. Andres, a tutor at the College. She also recently appeared on the Catholic Exchange podcast, speaking about one of her favorite members of the Communion of Saints, Marcel Van.


Life Legal attorneys, including Katie Short (’80, third from right), with the family of Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company said it would pay for “aid-in-dying” drugs, but not the chemotherapy she needed. Life Legal attorneys, including Katie Short (’80, third from right), with the family of Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company said it would pay for “aid-in-dying” drugs, but not the chemotherapy she needed.

After two years of vigorous legal battle, an alumni-led legal team has succeeded in overturning California’s assisted-suicide law. On Tuesday, Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia blocked the 2015 legislation, ruling that that it was passed unconstitutionally.

Attorneys from the Life Legal Defense Foundation — whose president is Paul Blewett (’85) and whose vice president for legal affairs is Katie Short (’80) — spearheaded the effort to defeat the law, which went into effect in June 2016. “This is huge!” says Mr. Blewett. “The Superior Court in Riverside granted Life Legal’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and set aside the California assisted-suicide law based on the way in which it was passed. The state has five days to file an emergency writ, but as of now, the law is invalid.”

When the legislation originated in the California legislature, its pro-life opponents successfully blocked it at the committee level. Thus Gov. Jerry Brown and other euthanasia enthusiasts attempted to bypass the normal legislative process by ramming through the bill at a special session that was called, in the Governor’s own proclamation, “to consider and act upon legislation necessary to enact permanent and sustainable funding from a new managed care organization tax and/or alternative fund sources.”

In other words, the purpose of the special session had nothing to do with assisted suicide. And, as such, Judge Ottolia has now confirmed, the law is invalid.

“This ruling affirms that assisted suicide advocates circumvented the legislative process,” another graduate of the College, Matthew Valliere (’05), executive director of the Patients Rights Action Fund, told the Los Angeles Times. “It represents a tremendous blow to the assisted suicide legalization movement and puts state legislatures on notice regarding the political trickery of groups like Compassion and Choices.”

The battle, however, is not yet over. Judge Ottolia has given the state attorney general five days to appeal his ruling, and even if that effort fails, assisted-suicide proponents will no doubt propose new legislation. Please continue to keep the attorneys at Life Legal, and all those committed to protecting the dignity of human life in all stages, in your prayers!


Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85)

In recent years, an alarming six states and the District of Columbia have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and similar legislation is now under consideration in six additional states. Given the moral confusion that surrounds the issue — particularly regarding doctors’ obligations to their patients — it stands to reason that society could benefit from a review of the principles of medical ethics, first articulated more than 2,000 years ago in Hippocrates’ eponymous oath.

Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: the Birth of the Medical ProfessionEnter alumnus philosopher Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85), a professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco. In his newly released Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: the Birth of the Medical Profession, published by Oxford University Press, Dr. Cavanaugh examines the oath through a broad survey of Ancient Greek myth, drama, culture, and language. Specifically, he considers the question of physician-inflicted harm, including doctor-assisted suicide, which he finds to be antithetical to medicine’s therapeutic ethic.

Released in December, Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake has already garnered several favorable reviews. “At last we have a book-length treatment of the Hippocratic Oath written by an ethicist who knows ancient Greek!” writes Dr. Daniel P. Sulmasy, the Andre Hellegers Professor of Biomedical Ethics at Georgetown University. “Cavanaugh has made a major contribution, reading the text closely, and situating it in the context of Hellenic oath-taking practices, drama, poetry, philosophy, and mythology as well as medical history. The result is a really fresh look that allows the oath to speak to us clearly in our own times.”

Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake is Dr. Cavanaugh’s second published book, following Double-effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil (2006). Upon graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1985, he enrolled at the University Notre Dame, where he earned his doctorate in philosophy. He has been a member of the University of San Francisco faculty since 1994, and previously chaired the Philosophy Department.

To this day, Dr. Cavanaugh graciously credits his alma mater for much of his professional achievement. “Thomas Aquinas College educated me in the discernment of first principles and the role they play in understanding,” he says. “In freshman year, reading Euclid’s 13 books of the Elements and demonstrating geometrical propositions before classmates taught me what it is to know: from certain things being so, others things follow. As a sophomore, Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine showed me what it is to read seriously, deeply, and insightfully. In my junior year, Newton’s Principia illustrated accuracy and precision in the expression of ideas. Finally, in my senior year reading Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in Latin repeatedly impressed upon me the importance of dealing with works in the language in which they were originally expressed. St. Thomas himself exemplified the succinct concreteness of a thinker who articulates reality. In my intellectual formation, Thomas Aquinas College is the sine qua non from which all else follows.”

Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake is available directly from Oxford University Press as well as through retailers such as Amazon.com.


Molly O’Brien (’03, right) adventuring with a friend on a Colorado mountaintop Molly O’Brien (’03, right) adventuring with a friend on a Colorado mountaintop

On Wednesday — the Feast of All Saints — Molly O’Brien (’03) will enter the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, Colorado.

“I had no intention of entering religious life,” admits Miss O’Brien, who entered nursing school after graduating from the College more than 14 years ago. For the last 11 years she has worked as a nurse, primarily in the cardiology unit at Children’s Hospital Colorado. But “God is full of surprises,” she adds, and she discovered her vocation when she “went through the Exercises of St. Ignatius and, around the same time, randomly stopped at the Abbey on a road trip.”

By God’s grace Miss O’Brien will soon be making the transition from the active life to that of a contemplative Benedictine nun. “I am so excited to be entering!” she writes.

Please keep her in your prayers!


Fr. Miguel elevates the host at his first Mass.

 

Rev. Miguel (Gaspar ’08) Batres, O.Praem., was not surprised when, as a transitional deacon studying at Rome’s Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he was asked to serve at Vespers for His Holiness Pope Francis. After all, several of Fr. Miguel’s Norbertine confreres had done so in recent years, in no small part because they are experienced with Gregorian chant and can speak Latin. He was, however, caught off guard when, on the eve of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the Pope approached him and started a conversation.

“I was not expecting to talk to him!” he recalls. “So when he came to me, I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I just said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ I then hugged him and told him, ‘Thank you for the responsibility you take, and be assured of my prayers.” In meeting the Holy Father, says Fr. Miguel, “It struck me — this is the Vicar of Christ. This is the successor of St. Peter, and this is not just an everyday opportunity. It was an amazing privilege.”

Twice more in the ensuing months Fr. Miguel would get to serve with Pope Francis — including on Good Friday, when he chanted the words of Christ during the papal Celebration of the Passion of our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica. That sense of gratitude he had experienced in Rome filled him yet again on June 24, when the Most Rev. Timothy Freyer, Auxiliary Bishop of Orange, California, ordained him a priest at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

A canon at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, Fr. Miguel — the second youngest of 11 children of Mexican immigrants — had long imagined this day. “It’s something I received as a child,” he says of his vocation. “I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else.” During his sophomore year in high school, his parish priest took him for a visit to Thomas Aquinas College. “I saw the goodness of the school,” he says. “And I knew that it would be good for my future as a priest.” At the College, another priestly mentor, Rev. Charles Willingham, O.Praem., brought him and some friends to St. Michael’s Abbey for the Easter Triduum, a visit that ultimately led to his entering the Norbertine Order.

Since his ordination, Fr. Miguel has taken on the role of his community’s provisor, charged with providing for its material needs. He also offers Masses in Spanish at nearby parishes. In the fall he will teach freshman religion at the abbey’s prep school. “It has been very beautiful to offer the Mass and serve as a priest,” he says. “It is a true blessing, almost at times unbelievable, and I am very grateful for it. Thanks be to God!”


Clare Hoonhout (’08), RN, speaks to students at Thomas Aquinas College.

Following its recent engineering discussion, the College’s Office of Career Advisement sponsored a talk and Q&A last week for students who are considering a career in nursing. Alumna Clare Hoonhout (’08), RN —an emergency department nurse for Scripps Health in San Diego, California — spoke to a roomful of students eager for her expertise and counsel. Miss Hoonhout discussed her experience in nursing, how Thomas Aquinas College graduates can get into medicine, and why they are well-suited to do so.

Essential to being a good nurse, she explained, are critical thinking, effective communication, and the ability to work well as part of a team. “Your four years here at TAC serve as an excellent foundation for nursing for two key reasons,” she said. “First you are immersed in the intellectually rigorous life. Critical thinking? You do that every day. You know the importance of asking the right questions. Second is our Catholic faith. We recognize the dignity of human life and that every person is a child of God. It is with our faith that we are able to love and serve even the unlovable who come through our doors. We understand that suffering is not pointless, and that death is not the end.”

Stressing the need for well-educated, compassionate nurses, Miss Hoonhout urged interested students to consider the profession. “Nursing is a vocation; it is a call to service,” she said. “We serve the sick and the dying. We are there for the first breath, for those struggling to breathe, and for those who breathe their last.”


Maureen Gahan (’76) with some of her Milestone clients at her retirement party in September Maureen Gahan (’76) with some of her Milestone clients at her retirement party in September

It is a “repeating story,” says Maureen Gahan (’76), one she heard thousands of times during her recently concluded tenure as the founding director of Milestones Clinical and Health Resources in Bloomington, Indiana. The story typically begins when a child first goes to school, and intellectual disabilities or mental-health problems start to surface — or become unmanageable. “Parents notice that one of their children may not be developing the same way their others did, or the child has trouble in school. Nobody knows what to do.”

For the last 15 years — the second act of a remarkable, three-decade career as a social-services executive — Miss Gahan worked to find answers for families struggling with mental-health disorders or intellectual disabilities. On September 30, that career came to an end, as Miss Gahan retired as the director of Milestones, a job that, at one time, she never would have imagined for herself, at an institution that would not have existed without her initiative, in a field that, though not her first choice, proved to be her calling.

Continue reading


Blog Categories

Isaac Cross (’19) -- quote 2

“There’s a joy for life here you don’t get in most places, a sense of purpose, a sense of love and fellowship bound up in our common cause of seeking the truth.”

– Isaac Cross (’19)

Leominster, Massachusetts

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