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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson presents a talk in the Dillon Seminar Room

Alumna entrepreneur Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson returned to campus in the waning days of the fall semester to deliver what she billed as “the talk I wish I heard” while still in school — “Five Tips for Starting a Creative Business after College.”

Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) EllefsonA successful wedding, family, and travel photographer based in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Ellefson discussed how students can begin preparing now — even amidst their studies — to launch their own businesses post-graduation. Her tips included finding a mentor, learning about the market, developing a brand, and pursuing summer internships. Moreover, many of the skills required to become a successful business owner, she observed, can be developed as a student. “If you can set up good habits and discipline now,” she advised, “when you start your own business and you have a huge task list of things to run down, you’re going to know how to manage your time.”

Although encouraging, Mrs. Ellefson’s comments were also prudent, warning students that creating a business demands hard work, a significant investment of time and resources, and — more often than not — a day job to cover the bills until the business is self-sufficient. “I think if you’re a student here, you’re not used to things being easy, so I don’t expect you to be intimidated by this,” she said. “I want you to get excited about it and know that the hard work and diligence you’re putting in here can also transfer into starting your own business.”

A liberal education, she added, is especially valuable for entrepreneurs. “You are learning the art of critical thinking,” said Mrs. Ellefson. “That’s something that a lot of people who start a business don’t have, and then they fail and they can’t figure out why, because they were never taught how to think critically and analyze thoughts and ideas. So this time here, your education here, is very worthwhile.”


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!”


Votive candle rack

Please pray for alumnus Douglas Alexander (’77), who suffers from serious dementia and is said to be declining rapidly. Please pray for his health and well-being, as well as for his wife, Leslie, and their six children, ages 10 to 21.

Good St. Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, we humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the Health of the Sick, in our present need: the health of Douglas Alexander and the protection of his family. St. Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to them for us and obtain our request.


Dr. Caroline Johnson ('97)

 

Five years ago, the College profiled alumna Dr. Caroline Johnson (’97), who, as a traveling internist, was the portrait of versatility. A member of the Rural Physicians Group, she spent about 30 weeks out of the year working round-the-clock shifts that ranged from 7 to 21 days at remote hospitals across the United States.

“Usually the hospital will have an emergency-room doctor, but for everything else, it’s me,” she said. “It can be anything from an infection of the skin to someone coming in with pain in the chest. In extreme cases, we can airlift a patient elsewhere, but for the most part, we don’t have the benefit of a specialist. I can’t call in a gastrointestinal doctor to come see a case of liver disease. It’s up to me. I have to be prepared for situations I could not possibly have expected.”

In the five years since the publication of that profile, Dr. Johnson has found ways to become ever-more versatile.

In 2013 she returned to Phoenix, where, in addition to working as a hospitalist, she took on the role of a clinical instructor at the Midwestern University’s Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. Then, in 2015, she undertook a two-year nephrology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, after which she relocated to Texas. “I am now working as a Transplant Nephrologist in the Baylor system,” she writes. “I am Board-certified in three specialties: internal medicine, pediatrics, and nephrology, with a special area of focus in transplant.”

Please pray for Dr. Johnson’s good work and for her patients. “As doctors, we need to have a basic recognition of who we are in relation to God and the world, and a sense of humility,” she said in 2013. “Although there is much we cannot do, there is also so much we can do. It is our gift to help others in their suffering.”


Votive candle rack

Please pray for Margaret (Boersig ’81) and Dave Mason, parents of 10 children, including Sophia (Feingold ’09), Jake (’10), Dominic (’13), Veronica (’14), Nathaniel (’18), and Alex (’19). Mr. Mason has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and Mrs. Mason, who has been struggling with kidney cancer, is now nearing renal failure.

Please pray for their full recovery and for the protection of their family. St.  Peregrine, pray for them!


Thumbnail of video with Fr. Miguel Batres Rev. Miguel Batres, O.Praem. (’08)

One of the College’s newest alumni priests, Rev. Miguel Batres, O.Praem. (’08), is now featured on The Abbot’s Circle, a digital library of spiritual resources from the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. In a four-minute video, he considers the question, What is the Mass?

“The Mass is the most perfect prayer anyone can offer,” says Fr. Miguel. “There is a great, great, infinite distance between man and God, and we ourselves do not have the means to give God the perfect worship, to give God the perfect praise. And so it is Christ Himself who gives us that means through that sacrifice. Through the institution of the Eucharist, through the institution of the priesthood, He makes the Mass possible.”

The second youngest of 11 children of Mexican immigrants, Fr. Miguel came to Thomas Aquinas College in 2004 at the recommendation of his parish priest. He became acquainted with the Norbertines through one of the College’s then-chaplains, Rev. Charles Willingham, O.Praem., and entered the Norbertine Order shortly after his graduation. While in the seminary, he studied in Rome, where he three times had the privilege of chanting at papal Masses. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2017, and he returned to offer Mass at his alma mater just last year.

Since his ordination, Fr. Miguel has taken on the role of his community’s provisor, charged with providing for its material needs. He offers Masses in Spanish at nearby parishes, teaches religion at the abbey’s prep school, and reaches a far wider audience through his work on The Abbot’s Circle, beginning with his video about the Mass.  

“The Mass,” he says, “is ultimately about giving God that praise, that adoration which he deserves form all of His creation.”


Be sure not to miss these recent articles by alumni writers:

  • K. E. Colombini (’85) K. E. Colombini (’85)In Crisis, K. E. Colombini (’85) ponders The Future of Ownership in a digital society where, paradoxically, an increasing number of goods are now immaterial, and yet our homes are bursting with ever-more possessions. “Lacking in the vast majority of these discussions in the mainstream media is the spiritual side of the equation,” he writes. “Even in talking about the benefits of minimalism, we often take a secular approach. By shedding our possessions, we become liberated from them, freer to travel and spend our money elsewhere. If there’s anything ‘tiny houses’ are built for, it’s not for large families, nor for entertaining and showing hospitality to large groups.” In a consumerist society, he asks, “What should be our relationship with our possessions? Do they own us, or do we own them?”

 

  • Erik Bootsma (’01) Erik Bootsma (’01)Also in Crisis, alumnus architect Erik Bootsma (’01) writes about the newly dedicated Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, Tennessee — a hopeful sign, he says, that Restoring Sacred Architecture Will Reaffirm Theological Truth. “The richness of the architecture of the new cathedral points to and beautifies the sanctuary,” Mr. Bootsma argues, and that is key to both architectural and theological renewal. “The sanctuary, which took its form from the Holy of Holies, does not just symbolize the past, but is a conscious prefigurement of the Heavenly City to come and Christ’s eternal presence. We begin to understand, too, that God was present in earlier times, in the Temple, and will be present in heaven, but also that he is present now.”

 

  • Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold Sophia (Mason ’09) FeingoldFinally, in the National Catholic Register Sophia (Mason ’09) Feingold considers What “Forgive and Forget” Really Means — and finds the oft-dispensed maxim wanting. “To forgive and to forget are not the same thing,” she observes. “The judge who sentences a man to life in prison has not necessarily refused to forgive him; he has simply determined that the prisoner’s character requires remediation, or society protection. The parent who sends a child to their room to ‘think about’ the nasty thing they said to Aunt Jessica is not necessarily unforgiving; they genuinely want their son or daughter to take five and come to a child’s-level understanding of how their words were hurtful. Forgiveness and punishment can and do coexist. Otherwise the Catholic doctrine of purgatory would be risible on the face of it.”

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.


Marcus R. Berquist Marcus R. Berquist

 

Note: Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01), vice-president of education at The Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, recently re-published the following tribute to late Thomas Aquinas College founder Marcus R. Berquist on November 2, the eighth anniversary of Mr. Berquist’s death. Dr. Peterson originally published the article in 2010.

 

Thoughts on Marcus Berquist, May He Rest in Peace

by Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

Dr. Matthew J. Peterson Dr. Matthew J. Peterson (’01)

His family no doubt bears the weight of his absence, and our prayers and love are with them. The rest of us share in this loss in lesser degrees, as they shared him with us.

Our sorrow at the death of great men is our sorrow, not their own. Our sorrow arises in part from a recognition that such men are completely and utterly irreplaceable. They are absolutely unique and ultimately inimitable. They do not merely discharge their obligations; they fulfill them to the overflowing, stretching the scope of their duty to fit the extent of their talent. They do not pass on their fire to a few or one other, but they enkindle innumerable flames with the fire they first received. They do not just complete their race, they complete their race in a manner well adapted to their person and circumstance in a way that moves all those around them towards the finish line. Human life is a preparation for death, and their last gift is inevitably the example of their own death, bequeathed to us, the living. They leave this world victorious, leaving us to marvel at the consistent purpose which marked the particular way they walked upon the earth. Their leaving is sorrowful on account of the overwhelmingly awareness we have of the absence of their presence, which had previously existed in an accessible manner for us — even if only as some fixed, guiding star.

Mr. Berquist’s quiet manner was the surface of deep-seated humility and discipleship. The docility of his soul toward truth served as an unshakable foundation from which the strong and steady gait of his mind moved indomitably toward wisdom. He did not simply fulfill his vocation as teacher; he became a founder of a college, birthing and then shaping and guiding a community of friends united in pursuing that same truth, partaking in the same common goods. Others may have enkindled wonder and love of truth in us, but the very stance of his soul towards the universe taught generations of us what it meant to act upon a love of wisdom with the highest part of ourselves, and how this action might further enflame such love. He ordered his life such that he habitually contributed his talent and person toward the reestablishment of a tradition of thought revolutionary to the modern world. The founding of Thomas Aquinas College was a tremendous creative act: the bringing together of the study of the great books, the liberal arts, and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in a manner adapted to the needs of our era. His participation in this founding gave generations of students a beginning that made their own quest for wisdom and virtue possible, grafting them into the vines of the Western tradition of Christian thought.

These are the sort of gifts which, once given and received, are entrusted to us; they are not the sort of gifts which can be paid back. They are, rather, gifts we can only attempt to pay forward, and most likely not in kind. They are the sort of gifts which we must protect, treasure, and become good stewards of, adding to them in whatever small, complementary ways we can. Even should we give similarly priceless gifts to others, our gifts will never be the same ones he gave, which is partly why we feel sorrow at his absence.

***

In many ways, I am among the least of his students, and many, perhaps most, of the rest of our community knew him better than I. Yet despite an awful performance in his sophomore lab class, I learned as much listening to him in that class as I have in any other, and perhaps more. The power of his thought for those who listened and asked questions of him was such that he molded the way in which our souls receive what is. A friend and fellow student, Glen McCarthy, arranged for him to guide a small group of us through St. Thomas’ treatise on law the summer before my senior year. This too was formative in many ways that cannot be expressed, nor even sometimes remembered directly as time goes by, but it nonetheless profoundly shaped the thought of those present, both through what he taught and how he taught it.

I have watched and interacted with many professors since, in my business and in the academy. Some were great speakers. Some have CVs 30 pages long filled with their accomplishments. Mr. Berquist never finished his Ph.D., and to my knowledge he never published so much as a book review in a scholarly journal. He did not have the polished or hyper-engaging rhetorical style that many other popular professors I’ve met do. He came across as shy at first. Yet no one I have ever met, nor do I think anyone I ever will meet in this life, could answer a question like he could. Once you approached him, it became clear that he wanted you to ask him questions, or at least he was always kind enough to give this impression. A friend and fellow student, James Chastek, pointed out what at the very first was not obvious to incoming students, and later became self-evident: He truly delighted in being asked questions, and answering them. He treated every question with respect, as if you were his equal. He listened intently to what you asked. And then, given an internalized mastery of his subject, he gave you an answer. He was so good at this that only years afterward, when you realized how young and ignorant you were, did you think about how patient he was. His response always accomplished more than pointing you directly to the truth of the matter. Inevitably, his answer taught you how to think about it. His answers revealed the path one needed to take to get to the truth of the matter. In short, he gave reasons.

There was a simple and direct earnestness about him, reflecting his humility, that is far more important than all else one could say in describing him, but for me this is not easily explained in words. Suffice it to say that, if you watched and listened, this facet of his character would bring you closer to God.

Senior year, under the growing realization that I was soon to leave the Thomas Aquinas College community, and grappling with the depth of the debt I owed to it, I happened to meet him coming down from the old tutor offices on the way to his car. I told him, in the emotion of the moment, the truth: Although I hadn’t been the best student in his class, he had taught me what it meant to be a philosopher. More particularly, a Catholic philosopher. I’m not sure what he made of that, given my own failings, but I am sure, as a community, that the students, faculty, alumni and administration of Thomas Aquinas College could say the same.

He was our teacher.

 


Michael Swanson (’93), city attorney of Klamath Falls, Oregon, with his wife, Sharon Michael Swanson (’93), city attorney of Klamath Falls, Oregon, with his wife, Sharon

The city of Klamath Falls, Oregon, has a new City Attorney: Michael Swanson (’93). The City Council named Mr. Swanson, who previously served for 20 years as a deputy district attorney, to his new position at its September 17 meeting. He began the very next day.

“We are extremely excited to bring Mr. Swanson on to our City of Klamath Falls team,” said Council President Phil Studenberg. “He brings over two decades of commitment to this community and many strong partnerships.”

Upon graduating from the College in 1993, Mr. Swanson enrolled in law school at the Willamette University College of Law. “It just seemed like a natural outgrowth from what we learned at TAC,” he says, “as far as the logic and philosophy, reading texts closely, forming arguments, and being able to support them from the text. It appealed to me.”

A native of Oregon City, he then joined the District Attorney’s Office in Klamath Falls. “I wanted an opportunity to give to a community,” he recalls. “Being a deputy district attorney allowed me to serve people who had been harmed in our community, and at least let them get some closure for what had occurred to them.”

Yet after 20 years of practicing criminal law, he is grateful for a change of pace. As city attorney, he is responsible for all of the city’s legal affairs, including contracts, employment, and land use. “Every day there is a challenge,” he says. “There is something different to review, something to look at. I’m rediscovering my research skills!”


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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

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“Thomas Aquinas College is a paragon of what Catholic higher education ought to be.”

– William Cardinal Baum

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Catholic Education