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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Katrina Trinko and Rob Bluey

Five years ago, this blog reported that an alumna journalist, Katrina Trinko (’09), had been named the managing editor of a new online publication of The Heritage Foundation. Five years later, The Daily Signal now attracts 26.8 million site visits per year and boasts 400,000 subscribers to its “Morning Bell” daily email blast — and Miss Trinko has been named its editor-in-chief.

“One of our first decisions was to hire Kate,” says Rob Bluey, Heritage’s vice president for communications. “It’s because of her leadership and commitment to outstanding journalism that The Daily Signal is a must-read source of news and commentary. I congratulate her on this promotion and look forward to working with her to continue growing our reach and influence.”

In her new role, Miss Trinko is responsible for directing The Daily Signal’s editorial content. She also continues to co-host The Daily Signal Podcast and produces commentary for the publication. Additionally she is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, writing columns on a wide range of topics such as culture, technology, and education.

“I’m honored,” she says, “to become the editor-in-chief of an outlet focused on illustrating how Washington’s policy decisions affect the lives of everyday Americans.”


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.”


 Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18)When she competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) witnessed firsthand the spectacle and grandeur of the games. “Athletes enjoyed palatial bedrooms, a cafeteria fit for a tsar, and a larger-than-life atmosphere that matched Russia’s geopolitical ambitions,” she writes for the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

Yet there was a dark underside to the games, which she — as an ice dancer for Ukraine — was acutely aware. “Before the Closing Ceremony had begun [Russian President Vladimir Putin] took steps toward annexing Crimea,” using the Olympics to shield international attention from his crime. “What better way to keep up appearances and distract the world from the events taking place farther up the Black Sea coast?”

After the games, Miss Heekin-Canedy retired from ice dancing and enrolled at Thomas Aquinas College, graduating in 2018. She now pursues a master’s degree in international relations — with concentrations in Russia, Eastern Europe, and international public law — at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she is fulfilling her “longtime dream of a career in international relations, which began when I was figure skating for Ukraine and traveling all over the world.”

At Fletcher she has become involved with the school’s Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy, for which she will be the student leader next year. Last month she arranged to bring in papal biographer George Weigel to speak about the role of religion in Russia-Ukraine relations, she reports, “which was fantastic.” Over the summer she will work as an intern at the Holy See’s Mission at the United Nations, and then return to Massachusetts to complete her degree in the fall.


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.”

 


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.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Earlier this month, this blog featured an update about Thomas A. Alexander (’99), who is currently serving as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter narcotics and global threats. Since then, Mr. Alexander has written in with some kind words about his alma mater:

“I rely on the College’s training each and every day,” he says. “Foremost is the ability to quickly analyze and methodically resolve complex matters; then, to prioritize sound facts and morals in my decision making. I am never afraid to defend a position rooted in these fundamentals.”

And a postscript: The book from his liberal education that has made the most lasting impression? Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Back in June, the U.S Department of Defense announced that a graduate of the College, Thomas A. Alexander (’99), had been named the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats. In that capacity he is a member of the Senior Executive Service, overseeing a budget of $1.1 billion and leading the Pentagon’s global counterdrug, counter-transnational organized crime, and counter-threat finance policies.

Mr. Alexander holds a juris doctor from the Ave Maria School of Law. Prior to joining the Department of Defense, he served as chief counsel to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives. As senior advisor to the chairman, he led the committee’s efforts to oversee programs and policies pertaining to a wide range of issues, including counterterrorism and foreign assistance, as carried out by various federal agencies, such as the State Department and USAID.

Mr. Alexander also served as National Security Subcommittee Staff Director for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. There, he formulated and led numerous hearings and investigations of programs administered by the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and USAID. Topics ranged from reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to combating trafficking and illicit cross-border networks into the United States.

Earlier in his career he worked in the Department of Defense as the Director of Congressional Investigations in OSD-Legislative Affairs and, prior to that, as Counsel to the Oversight Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Please pray for his work in service of the country and the world!


Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86) Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86)
Photo credit: @ec_minister/Twitter
On January 2, in the final hours of the 115th Congress, the U.S. Senate easily approved the nomination of Thomas Aquinas College alumna Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86) as the new chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Widely considered the administration’s senior environmental official, the CEQ chairman coordinates the country’s environmental policy and oversees regulations across various federal agencies. Miss Neumayr has been effectively functioning as the council’s chairman since her appointment last year, one year after being named its chief of staff.

Prior to becoming the highest-ranking woman at CEQ, Miss Neumayr spent eight years working for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she held several senior roles, including, most recently, deputy chief counsel for energy and environment. Previously she held positions in the Energy and Justice Departments of the George W. Bush Administration. In her spare time, she is a member of the College’s Washington, D.C., Board of Regents. 

In a letter of recommendation to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, a bipartisan group of eight former general counsels at the Department of Energy and assistant attorneys general at the Department of Justice praised Miss Neumayr’s nomination. The group said, “Through her service on Capitol Hill, at the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Justice, and most recently as Chief of Staff at CEQ, she has developed and has exhibited the knowledge and skills to be a highly successful CEQ Chairman.” Moreover, the group of four Democrats and four Republicans continued, “She treats all people and all stakeholders with dignity and respect, and her integrity is absolutely above reproach.’’

At her confirmation hearings last summer, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, indirectly referenced Miss Neumayr’s parents — Thomas Aquinas College co-founder John W. Neumayr and his wife, Bridget — as well as her alma mater. “The roots of her qualities reflect her loving and vibrant family,” he said, “and her faith and thoughtful education.”


Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem., (’94) is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), is a regular guest on Catholic Answers Live. Photo: @catholiccom

“You’ve been in Massachusetts because you’re a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College,” began host Cy Kellett on a recent episode of Catholic Answers Live.

“That’s right,” replied Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), a professor of philosophy at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado California. A regular guest on the apologetics radio program, Fr. Sebastian appeared on the November 5 episode to discuss religious freedom. But before getting to the topic of the day, Mr. Kellett wanted to know about the Norbertine priest’s alma mater. Among “all of us out here on the West Coast,” he said, “there’s a general amazement at the quality of students that are being turned out by Thomas Aquinas College.”

And so Fr. Sebastian described his recent trip to the Bay State, where he spoke on the College’s New England campus at a celebration of its recent approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. “Thanks be to God, the College received the gift of a campus — with a number of buildings and so forth on a 100-acre property,” he said. “I was there to give a Mass and a little talk … and it was a very good, wonderful event.”

To which Mr. Kellett replied, “Congratulations to your alma mater embarking on this new endeavor. We can all pray that it’s successful!”

The entire interview — including Fr. Sebastian’s commentary about religious freedom — is available via the Catholic Answers website.


James Layne (’08) James Layne (’08)Last month James Layne (’08) — a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School and an attorney in Washington, D.C. — began a new position as counsel for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I and my colleagues on the committee staff are essentially the lawyers who represent and counsel our senators, especially on issues that fall under the committee’s jurisdiction,” he explains. “We study legislation that has been referred to the committee as well as analyze how this legislation would fit into the existing legal and policy framework, then recommend to the senator what action we advise him to take.” Counsel for the committee also aid senators in their oversight of the federal judiciary, vetting judicial nominees to the federal courts. Additionally, Mr. Layne assists the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, which Sen. Flake chairs. “Senators naturally desire to be informed on the role of technology and the privacy issues raised by the growth of new technologies,” he says. “I am excited and honored to work in this role, to help the committee consider these cutting-edge issues.”

For most of the five years since his graduation from law school, Mr. Layne has worked in private practice, but he does have some experience with the Judiciary Committee. “During my second year of law school, I was a law clerk for the committee, working for then-Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma,” he notes. “This past experience is very helpful, since I already know some of the people I’m working with and have a basic understanding of how the committee works.”

When asked in what ways his Thomas Aquinas College education helped prepared him for his new job, Mr. Layne offered a heartfelt, expansive response, which is posted, in its entirety, below:

 

Looking Back at My Time at Thomas Aquinas College

by James Layne (’08)

I have often said that, next to my decision to become a Catholic, no decision I have ever made has been more important and formational than my decision to attend Thomas Aquinas College.

I didn’t have the typical start at TAC. I’ll never forget how excited I was to get the call from Admissions Director Jon Daly, telling me that I was moved off the waiting list and given a spot in the Class of 2008. It was already almost two weeks into the school year, but a spot opened up. As I recall, it was on a Wednesday or Thursday, and Jon told me that the last possible day I could start classes was that Monday! I didn’t know how it was possible to get everything ready that quickly, pack up, get my plane ticket, and move across the country from Virginia to California. It was exhausting.

When I got to the College, I was the new guy showing up after everyone else had formed their new friendships and bonds with their classmates. I worried that maybe I would have a hard time making friends and fitting in with the class. Instead, classmates and tutors one by one approached me and introduced themselves, offering to help me get caught up in all the classes. I immediately formed new friendships.

The most challenging thing for me was Euclid. I loved the material, but I didn’t love the idea of standing in front of the class and presenting a proposition, perhaps forgetting a step or forgetting the whole proposition entirely. The idea of messing up in front of a group was almost a phobia! I remembered how in high school I had dreaded public-speaking classes and how nervous I was speaking in front of a group. Imagine a shy lawyer!

James Layne (’08) gives a tour of the Capitol to his visiting classmate, Br. Mary Evagrius (Dominic ’08) Hayden, O.S.B. James Layne (’08) gives a tour of the Capitol to his visiting classmate, Br. Mary Evagrius (Dominic ’08) Hayden, O.S.B.Every member of my class, without exception, was an inspiration in how they welcomed me. I felt a bond at TAC that I never felt anywhere else. We weren’t just there to get our degrees. We were brothers and sisters pursuing the truth and exploring together the many tributaries and winding streams where the development of our understanding and culture had traveled into the ocean of Western civilization. Here I was, a poor boy from the Appalachians, reading Aristotle and St. Thomas, studying the great mathematicians, understanding ancient astronomical systems, and wondering about things I had always taken for granted: motion, number, knowledge, the soul.

This is what set TAC apart from anything else in my experience, and why it was so foundational for me. At TAC, I didn’t just come in and listen to a lecture about someone else’s conclusion. I came in as a participant in this vast intellectual tradition. The College challenged me to internalize the materials, since I had to be ready to talk about them and come to my own conclusions.

In law school, the Socratic Method is routine. You had better be ready to tear apart a text and not just regurgitate it, but be able to analyze it and think about how it fits in with other ideas as well. I can’t believe a better school could exist than Thomas Aquinas College in preparing one for these studies and for practically any career that requires critical thought. The great books are great for a reason. They ask the big questions. They cut through the mass of human experience and present ideas that at least attempt to harmonize or explain that experience.

When you read those materials day in and day out, it affects you in ways you may not realize. If you really wrestle with these ideas and critique them, you learn over time to ask big questions yourself, to cut through the mass of what’s before you, and to see the big ideas and outlines. That has been incredibly helpful to me at every step in my career, and those skills help me to be a better person and better citizen as well.

It isn’t enough, of course, to talk about  knowledge or method or skills. Thomas Aquinas College isn’t just about knowledge or even how to think. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” is what the Scripture tells us. Thomas Aquinas College brought me closer to God, the Unum Necessarium.

I was amazed at how many liturgies the College had daily. Whether I was an early-morning person (which I am not) or an afternoon or evening person, liturgies and processions and Rosaries were happening all the time. Confessions were heard before and after Masses, and priests — very good and faithful priests, I might add — were part of our day-to-day lives. Having several priests for the student body was such a blessing. Whether it was going for a game or ice cream at Fr. Borden’s, chatting with Fr. Charles in Saints Peter and Paul Residence Hall, discussing the Dominican liturgy with Fr. Paul Raftery, serving Mass for Fr. Michael Perea, or listening to the mischievous jokes of Fr. Buckley, these are memories I treasure because these were great and faithful priests who were always there to show us friendship and offer us spiritual guidance.

I could thank so many people at Thomas Aquinas College for helping me get where I am, because they all had an impact on me, but I particularly want to thank Librarian Viltis Jatulis. I worked for her all four years in the gorgeous St. Bernardine of Siena Library. Briefly, the business office decided once to transfer me to the coffee shop, where I got about a week’s experience pulling espresso shots and making some of the strongest drip coffee in the College’s history before Viltis decided she wanted me back. And Viltis generally got what she wanted! She is a legend at TAC, and one of the most joyful and vibrant souls I have ever met. I learned valuable research skills while working there, and knowing one’s way around a library certainly is a good skill for a lawyer. So thank you, Viltis!

I also want to say thank you to the great people in the Development Department, whom I worked with for a couple of years after my graduation in 2008. I was there the day our beloved president, Tom Dillon, died in a car accident in Ireland. I rang the chapel bells and helped gather students to the new chapel Dr. Dillon had worked so hard to build, to hear the devastating news. Then I watched in the days and months ahead as, again, the TAC community came together and not only mourned, but lifted up Mrs. Dillon and Danny. I saw how the institution carried on, because as irreplaceable as Dr. Dillon was, the work was so important that it had to go on. I saw teamwork and perseverance in the midst of great personal sorrow and adversity, and you had better believe this has impacted me in my professional life.

Thomas Aquinas College has prepared me in so many ways that I don’t even have time or space, or adequacy of speech, to list them. It helped me to better know the good, the true, and the beautiful, and (which is perhaps even more important) helped me to desire these. TAC was a spiritual oasis for me. I think of it still as a part of home, since home is where the heart is. I think of its faculty and my classmates as family. I am extremely grateful to all of the friends, supporters, and benefactors of the College who made this possible for me. The gift you gave me is a light that I don’t intend to hide under a bushel.

I know that this light, to the extent it burns in such a one as me, is not mine and doesn’t come from anywhere inside me. It is God’s, and for His glory. It is an inheritance and gift. That light — and the pursuit of that light — burns brightly at Thomas Aquinas College. I pray so often that it will continue to burn brightly for generations of students, who will continue to better serve their communities, churches, and their country by forming themselves in the Catholic intellectual tradition.


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Suzie Jackson (’15)

“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”

– Suzie Jackson (’15)

Manassas, Va.

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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