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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03) offers Palm Sunday Mass
for soldiers at the Army Reserve Center in Staten Island, New York. Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03) offers Palm Sunday Mass for soldiers at the Army Reserve Center in Staten Island, New York.

“I have always been drawn to the Armed Forces,” says Rev. Andrew De Silva (’03). “And one reason I was drawn to my ministry to American soldiers is the great need for good Catholic chaplains among our men and women in uniform.”

The College’s 73rd and most recently ordained alumnus priest, Fr. De Silva serves in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, as well as in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. He is the parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Clark and a chaplain to the Army’s 8th Medical Brigade in Staten Island, New York. It was his lifelong admiration of the military that helped lead him to the Army chaplaincy — and almost kept him from attending Thomas Aquinas College.

For as long as he can recall, the College has been a part of Fr. De Silva’s life. His father, Dr. Norman De Silva (’75), was a member of the first graduating class and an early member of the teaching faculty. His mother, Maureen (Barlow ’76), was a fellow graduate, and after Dr. De Silva died of cancer in 1985, she married a classmate, James Finley (’76).

Yet, despite these ties to the College, when he graduated high school, his affinity for the Armed Forces brought him instead to the Virginia Military Institute. He had heard that the first year at VMI was “one of the toughest military experiences you could have” — a challenge too appealing to let pass.

Triumphing over this obstacle, however, proved to be a fleeting satisfaction. “I found myself seeking something more intellectually or philosophically challenging,” Fr. De Silva says. “I decided I would rather search for the truth at Thomas Aquinas.” Thus he transferred to the College as a freshman, where he developed “the ability to think about something and articulate my thoughts on whatever it was that I was studying” — talents, he says, that would serve him well in the years ahead.

After graduating in 2003, Fr. De Silva spent the next three years as a manager for a large-scale wine retailer in Virginia. He had become lackadaisical in his practice of his faith, he admits, until two friends from the College independently surprised him with the same question: “Have you ever considered becoming a priest?”

“For the first time, I actually asked myself that question: ‘Is God calling me?’” Fr. De Silva muses. “The answer came back very clear: ‘Yes.’” With the help of a friendly deacon, he began a 30-day Lenten Ignatian retreat that included three hours of prayer squeezed between shifts in his fulltime work schedule. “At the end of those 30 days of listening to God, I was ready to say back, ‘Yes, I’m going to give my life to You.’”

He left the wine business and became a brother with the Community of St. John in Princeville, Illinois. The community sent him, first, to study theology in France, and then to serve as a campus minister at Seton Hall University, where he earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and biblical studies. He was also commissioned, while still a brother, as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Corps — and began to discern a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. In 2016 he became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Newark.

On Saturday, May 25, 2019, His Eminence Joseph W. Cardinal Tobin, C.Ss.R., conferred Holy Orders upon Fr. De Silva at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. In his first assignments, he is the parochial vicar at St. Agnes while also working with those at the Army Reserve Center on Staten Island. “I’ve dealt with soldiers who are addicted, or soldiers who are suicidal,” Fr. De Silva reflects. “Soldiers struggle on different levels, and I pray that my presence among them will bear good fruit.” 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Please keep the newlyweds in your prayers!


Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Thomas A. Alexander (’99), whom this blog profiled last month, is the subject of a new story on the Cardinal Newman Society’s website, Pentagon Leader: Faithful Catholic Education Provided ‘Fundamentals to Succeed.’

“Thomas Alexander is a top leader in the Pentagon who is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on special operations, counterterrorism, and more around the world,” writes Kelly Salomon, the Newman Society’s director of education and advocacy. “He credits his education at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, which is recommended in The Newman Guide, with preparing him with the ‘fundamentals’ he needed to ‘succeed’ in his work.”

In the story, Mr. Alexander refers several times to the College’s program of Catholic liberal education. “Thomas Aquinas College,” he says, “gives you the ability to quickly analyze, break down a particular issue into its parts, put it all back together in a way that makes sense, reach a conclusion, and then go forward.”

The full story is available via the Cardinal Newman Society.


Alex Potts (’14)

Having recently completed his flight training for the Apache helicopter, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Alex Potts (’14) is now stationed in Katterbach, Germany, where he will spend the next three years training with European forces before his first deployment. “Germany’s been great so far!” he writes. “Beautiful farmland and pleasant locals. I’m living in the very center of Europe, so I’m excited to travel to see the different areas where the authors we read at TAC were writing from.”

Mr. Potts joined the Army through its Street to Seat program, through which servicemen quickly move through boot camp, warrant officer school, and then flight school. He spent most of the last year on flight training, culminating in the arduous task of mastering the Apache.

“The Apache is the helicopter with all the attack systems, so you not only have to learn how to fly, you have to learn how to fly and operate all the systems on board,” Mr. Potts explains. “You have to be able to manipulate all four of your limbs in a coordinated manner, while at the same time looking at your intended spot of landing, doing mental calculations about how far or how close you need to be; you’re trying to manage your altitude, your airspeed; you’re listening to five different radios at the same time; and you have a helmet-mounted eyepiece over your right eye showing all this information, such as your engine torques, your direction, where the aircraft is heading, the velocity you’re going at, what your copilot is looking at. It’s like a circus. It’s like juggling ten balls at once.”

In other words, it’s his dream come true. “I love it. I thrive on it, I really do,” he says. “It’s a fantastic experience, and when you get out of that cockpit at the end of the day, it’s a real sense of fulfillment.”

Serving his country, Mr. Potts adds, likewise fulfills a longing he has had since his first encounter with the dialogues of Socrates. “Reading about the duties that Socrates placed on man to one’s God, to one’s family, and to one’s country — that really stuck with me,” he says. “I thought to myself: I’m an able-bodied man, a healthy young man. I should put in that service to my country as a duty or an obligation, a form of justice for everything that my country gives me. That may sound a little bit cheesy, but it’s actually the truth.”

Indeed, his philosophical background informs the notion of duty that drives his service. “It helped me to better understand the rights, the freedoms, the values that we’re fighting for in America, and I think that makes you a more effective soldier in the end,” he argues. Likewise, he has found the intellectual life of the College to be an ideal preparation for the demands of the Armed Forces. “There was a sense of discipline in the intellectual life at Thomas Aquinas College which I think very much carries over into the military, which has discipline permeating throughout the entire structure.”

Those years of learning “sparked a love,” Mr. Potts continues, which will remain with him for life: “I still read the same books, and I still pray to the same God.” A philosopher as well as a pilot, he has recently begun an online graduate degree in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary — to occupy whatever time he has left when not flying helicopters.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)

After serving for two years in the Department of Defense as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats, Thomas A. Alexander (’99) was recently appointed to a new role: Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

In his new position, which he assumed in November, Mr. Alexander is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on all counterterrorism, special operations, counter narcotics, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and stability operations. He also provides oversight of all organizational, training, and equipping activities for United States Special Operations Command and oversees a $14 billion budget.

“I rely on the College’s training each and every day,” Mr. Alexander says of his undergraduate education. “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.”

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. He also formerly served as National Security Subcommittee Staff Director for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. 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.

The book from his liberal education which he credits as having made the most lasting impression? Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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Isabella Hsu (’18) on discussion method

“In our classroom discussions, we are responsible for our own education. We have to get our hands dirty, to figure out the material, to let it become part of us and make us better people. That is real learning.”

– Isabella Hsu (’18)

Redondo Beach, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“On behalf of the Church in Phoenix, I want to express my appreciation of the witness to Christ offered by the faculty, staff, and students of this exceptional institution, and to thank you for your love of learning and your desire to offer fitting worship to the Blessed Trinity.”

– Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted

Bishop of Phoenix