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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

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.


Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86) Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86)
Photo credit: @ec_minister/Twitter
After serving for one year as the chief of staff at the federal Council on Environmental Quality, Mary Bridget Neumayr (’86) is poised to become its next chairwoman. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump appointed Miss Neumayr to the position, which coordinates the country’s environmental policy and oversees regulations across various federal agencies.

Prior to becoming the highest-ranking woman at CEQ last year, 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.

Although her new position will require Senate confirmation, early signs suggest a favorable outcome. “Throughout the entirety of the Trump Administration, there has yet to be a Senate-confirmed senior environmental official in the White House,” notes the Washington Post, adding, “that may soon change.” Citing former colleagues on the Hill who praise her for her professionalism and her ability to work well with political foes and allies alike, the Post concludes that she “appears far better positioned to win Senate approval” than did previous appointees.

“Mary Neumayr will make a strong leader at the Council on Environmental Quality,” says Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “Her significant experience at the White House and on Capitol Hill will serve her well in this key environmental policy position.”


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.”


Two alumnae have recently published thoughtful essays about last month’s tragic referendum in Ireland, in which voters embraced the culture of death by eliminating constitutional protections for the unborn. Both authors consider the cause of this devastating outcome, while offering some hope, born of faith, that this sorrowful chapter need not be the end of the story.

Emily Sullivan (’11) Emily Sullivan (’11)Writing on Mere Orthodox, Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan, a proud Irish-American, mourns for her ancestral people, whom she long believed to be “rebellious in the face of evil authority and stubborn when it comes to what’s right.” The mother of three and the northeast program manager for ENDOW, Mrs. Sullivan writes:

What the British unsuccessfully tried to accomplish for centuries — the radical acceptance of the lie that the world will be a better place with fewer Irish, by blood shed if necessary — has now been voluntarily championed by a majority of free Irish citizens. How has the Irish’s generational memory become so short and impoverished? …

In my mind, this is nothing short of historical and ancestral patricide. The heritage and character and legacy which modern Irish citizens have as their birthright has been forsaken. Where once the Irish preserved the light, and shone as a beacon to nations consumed by darkness, they now clamor for and invite the darkness to engulf them as well.…

And yet, she refuses to despair:

The country that gave rise to countless unnamed Catholic martyrs and heroes of the Irish rebellion against a British dictatorship, may yet see a new generation of Irish men and women, who like their fathers and mothers before them, will persevere in standing up for the inherent dignity of their countrymen; who, like their prolife brothers and sisters in America, will never surrender and go on fighting for truth and goodness while the rest of the darkened world insists that murder of the unborn is an unequivocal good; who will be unrelenting in finding ways to love and encourage mothers in crisis pregnancies to choose life for their precious babies.

Suzie Andres (’87) Suzie Andres (’87)Meanwhile, writing on her personal blog, Miss Marcel’s Musings, Suzie Andres (’87) contemplates the spiritual dimension of the vote:

Can we really be surprised that after a series of bad decisions beginning shortly after our establishment in the Garden of Eden, we’ve flubbed it again?

I’ll admit it. I was surprised. I had hoped for better; I had hoped our prayers for life would be answered, but once again, God has this crazy idea that free will (and the suffering that often follows in its wake) is better than The Divine Puppet Show I envision …

The author of three books, an essayist, and the mother of two, Mrs. Andres reminds her readers of these consoling words of St. John of the Cross, “See that you are not suddenly saddened by the adversities of this world, for you do not know the good they bring, being ordained in the judgments of God for the everlasting joy of the elect.” Then, she adds:

“That puts our Irish disappointment into perspective, doesn’t it? Heaven isn’t letting our antics distract from the awesome reality of God’s eternal Providence: He has not forgotten us nor will He let us stray forever.”

Put your trust in God, and pray unceasingly.

St. Patrick, pray for us!


Katie Short (’80) and Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company denied her life-prolonging treatment while offering to pay for a lethal dose of barbiturates. Katie Short (’80) and Stephanie Packer, whose insurance company denied her life-prolonging treatment while offering to pay for a lethal dose of barbiturates.

When an alumni-led team of attorneys from the Life Legal Defense Foundation successfully overturned California’s assisted-suicide law on May 15, their victory was sweeping, but tenuous. Despite declaring the law unconstitutional, Judge Daniel Ottolia left it in effect for five days to allow the state attorney general time to obtain relief from a higher court. 

On May 23, however, the Fourth District of the Court of Appeals denied the attorney general’s motion for a stay pending appeal. And on that afternoon Judge Ottolia signed his order declaring the legislation unconstitutional and striking the “End of Life Option Act” from California law.

Attorneys from Life Legal — 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. “Life Legal has always maintained that the End of Life Act violates the Constitution and California’s long-standing public policy protecting its citizens from being ‘helped’ to commit suicide,” says Alexandra Snyder, the foundation’s executive director. “We are pleased that the court’s ruling will restore the protection that the Act removed from the ill and vulnerable.”

Thanks be to God!

Alas, vigilance is still necessary: The state may decide to appeal the ruling to the court of appeal or California Supreme Court, and proponents will no doubt try again to enact similar legislation. Please continue to pray for the attorneys at Life Legal, and all those committed to protecting the dignity of human life in all stages.


Leprechaun baby holds sign proclaiming, "Save Little People - Protect the 8th"

With Ireland poised to eliminate constitutional and legal protections for the unborn, alumnus cartoonist Pat Cross (’14) has produced the above, whimsical yet poignant plea. Please pass it along, and please pray that the people of Ireland vote for life on Friday!


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!


William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10) William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently announced that he has hired William ‘Billy’ Gribbin Jr. (’10) as his new communications strategist and chief speechwriter, citing Mr. Gribbin’s “experience crafting strong conservative messages,” in various political positions in Washington, D.C.

“I am blessed to be working for Senator Cruz, who routinely stands in the Senate for the sanctity of human life, the nuclear family, and religious liberty at a time when such things are almost universally scorned by our national media and corporate boardrooms,” says Mr. Gribbin. “It is a wonderful opportunity to take part, in some small way, in fighting for these timeless truths, and to defend our rights under the Constitution, which protect our ability to live by them in our work, our homes, and the public square.”

A native of the nation’s capital, Mr. Gribbin has worked in politics since his graduation from the College in 2010. Previously he served as director of speechwriting for Secretary Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and before that as a writer and special projects coordinator for Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.

“The more time that passes since my education at TAC, the more humbled I am to have received it,” says Mr. Gribbin. “Apart from the gems of philosophy and theology (and many other disciplines) we explore as students, the most valuable thing we walk away with after graduation is the discipline of approaching new ideas critically and patiently, focused on objective truth. There are few arenas where this focus — or the lack thereof — is more consequential than the political realm.”

As a speechwriter, he prays for the discipline to keep this focus at the heart of his work. “At its best, rhetoric can serve as handmaiden to truth, and help our society arrive at the common good through the dialectic,” Mr. Gribbin explains. “At its worst, it can only be what Plato calls ‘the sophist’s art.’ God willing, I hope to deal exclusively in the former.”


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Isaac Cross (’19) -- quote 1

“The Discussion Method gives you a sense of finding the truth for yourself, and thereby owning it, rather than being told what to think.”

– Isaac Cross (’19)

Leominster, Massachusetts

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”

– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)

Archbishop of New York

(1999)