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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Alumni gathering in Phoenix

It was a reunion of sorts for Thomas Aquinas College alumni living in greater Phoenix on April 13. St. Mary’s Catholic — the oldest diocesan high school in Arizona, now six years into a spiritual and academic renaissance — hosted a reception and seminar for TAC alumni in the area.

“We were there to do a workshop at St. Mary’s, which is offering a great books component in its curriculum,” explains Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), a tutor at the College and executive director at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, which assists schools that seek to adopt a classical curriculum. Working alongside Dr. Seeley was Dr. Arthur Hippler (’89), a member of ICLE’s board of directors and the chairman of the Religion Department at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota. “We thought it would be a good idea, during our visit, to invite alumni to get together in a seminar,” says Dr. Seeley, “because there are so many Thomas Aquinas alumni in Phoenix area now, particularly those involved in teaching at the elementary and high school level.”

Indeed, there are currently 13 alumni working at St. Mary’s alone, and many more at the burgeoning consortium of Great Hearts classical academies throughout Arizona and the southwest. Some 40 graduates, their spouses, and members of the St. Mary’s faculty attended the reception and seminar.

“I thought it was a great event,” says Dr. Seeley. “We had a nice gathering beforehand, where it was good to see some old faces and reconnect, and then we had a great discussion.” The readings for the night were the “Mary and Martha” accounts from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. “We examined how challenged Mary was, precisely because of her intimate love for Our Lord, that He didn’t come when they sent word for Him, and what a great suffering that seems to have been for her,” days Dr. Seeley. “And we saw that Our Lord’s weeping was not simply for Lazarus’ death, but also for the distress that death causes, especially in how it challenges the faith of those who love Him.”

Among those in attendance was the College’s director of gift planning, Thomas J. Susanka (’76). “A gathering of TAC alumni always refreshes and reinvigorates the missionary soul, but I must say this one was especially encouraging to me,” says Mr. Susanka. “What most pleased and inspired me was the unspoken, abiding gratitude these young-ish people have for the enduring good of their TAC education and their commitment, in turn, to bringing serious, Catholic liberal education into the lives of the young people they teach.”

Alumni gathering in Phoenix

Alumni gathering in Phoenix


Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress

The Cambridge Analytica saga, followed by Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, has prompted, among many, a certain fatalism bordering on despair. Yes, it’s a shame that privacy is dead in the age of relentless datamining, most commentators concede, but what alternative is there? Life on the grid may have its shortcomings, but who among is so brave as to venture off of it?

K. E. Colombini (’85) K. E. Colombini (’85)To which alumnus author K. E. Colombini (’85), writing in Crisis, offers a refreshing perspective: Perhaps there is a middle ground; and perhaps the angst over the excesses of Facebook may just lead to a cultural shift toward moderation in our virtual lives.

“In the digital world, it’s not just data at risk, but the truth itself, in this era where rumors, attacks and ‘fake news’ spread so much more quickly at the swipe of a thumb across a screen,” writes Mr. Colombini. “With the impetus to always be sharing, we have lost the ability to read and reflect on the news of the day, on subjects of paramount importance for human dignity and world peace.”

Thus Mr. Colombini proposes a (partial) return to “analog” technologies, such as books, board games, and newspapers, which allow for a slower, more deliberate and deliberative pace of life than their digital replacements. Citing the 2016 book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax, Mr. Colombini predicts that the cultural moment may be ripe for “a new realization of the unique value of the truly tangible in a world of touchscreens.”

A former journalist and political speechwriter who now works in corporate communications, Mr. Colombini writes periodically for Crisis, the National Catholic Register, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A father of five and grandfather of two, he lives with his wife, Elizabeth (Milligan ’86), in suburban St. Louis.

The full text of his latest article, Analog Technology Takes on the Digital Juggernaut, is available — alas, in digital version only — via Crisis.


Dr. Mary Dzon (’95) Dr. Mary Dzon (’95)Although the Gospels are largely silent about Our Lord’s childhood, medieval devotions to the Christ Child led many believers to seek out apocryphal accounts, which went on to shape the piety of the Middle Ages. An associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Mary Dzon (’95) has thoroughly documented and examined these various accounts in The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages, recently published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle AgesApocryphal legends about the child Jesus, Dr. Dzon finds, left their mark on theological, devotional, and literary texts of their age. The publisher’s information that accompanies the book cites a few notable examples: the Cistercian abbot Aelred of Rievaulx urged his monastic readers to imitate the Christ Child’s development through spiritual growth; St. Francis of Assisi encouraged his followers to emulate the Christ Child’s poverty and rusticity; St. Birgitta of Sweden provided pious alternatives in her many Marian revelations. St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, believed that apocryphal stories about the Christ Child would encourage youths to be presumptuous.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages fills a major lacuna in the history of affective piety: the importance of the Christ Child in lay and clerical devotion from the twelfth to the fifteenth century,” says Dr. William MacLehose, a lecturer in history of science and medicine at University College London. “This book is a timely and novel exploration of terra incognita, with methodological relevance to scholars outside the fields of medieval spirituality.”

After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1995, Dr. Dzon earned an M.A. from the University of Dallas and a certificate in Byzantine studies from Catholic University of America. She obtained her doctorate in medieval studies from the University of Toronto in 2004. Prior to joining the English faculty at the University of Tennessee, she served as a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The Quest for the Christ Child in the Later Middle Ages is available through the University of Pennsylvania Press and Amazon.com.


Christopher Zehnder (’87) was a recent guest on EWTN’s Journey Home, where he told the story of his conversion to the Catholic faith, and the invaluable role that a fellow alumnus, Kevin Long (’77), played in it.

The friendship began when Mr. Zehnder was a sophomore in high school, and Dr. Long was his Latin teacher. “He was a student at Claremont Graduate School in political science, and I found out he went to a rather strange college … called Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula,” Mr. Zehnder recalls. “After a while he and I began to have conversations.”

When Mr. Zehnder exhausted his high school’s Latin curriculum, Dr. Long offered to continue teaching him on the side. “He thought I might want to translate some medieval Latin, so he brought in the first question of the Summa Theologiae,” says Mr. Zehnder. “Our Latin classes became more than just Latin classes. They became philosophy and theology classes, and we began to discuss all sorts of things … all tending toward the Catholic faith.”

One evening, when Dr. Long and his wife, Martha (Schaeffer ’76), had Mr. Zehnder over for dinner, the teacher and the student got into a theological argument. “I was going to prove to him that Purgatory was contrary to Scripture,” says Mr. Zehnder. The conversation didn’t go as planned. “He presented me such arguments that Purgatory wasn’t contrary to Scripture; in fact, does it make any sense that a soul that is stained with sin would go into the next life, in the presence of God, stained with sin? There has to be some purification.”

At Dr. Long’s recommendation, and after attending another college first, Mr. Zehnder enrolled at the “rather strange” alma mater of his mentor. “When I went to TAC, it was as if it was in a different world,” he says, “and I also was received into the Church there.”

Since then, Mr. Zehnder has dedicated his professional life to Catholic education. He is the general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, which aims to create a new generation of textbooks for parochial schools that accurately, beautifully, and engagingly reflect the Church’s contribution to human history. A high school teacher and former headmaster, he has authored three of the project’s books: From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of AmericaLight to the Nations II: the Making of the Modern World; and Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. He has also recently begun a series of novels set during the Reformation, A Song for Else, the first two installments of which, The Vow and The Overthrow, are available from Amazon.com.

Thanks be to God!

In gratitude for Mr. Zehnder’s conversion, please say a prayer for Dr. Long, who passed away in 2014. May his soul and those of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


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.”


Last month the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Ruth Marcus, boasted, “without hesitation,” that she would have aborted either of her two children, had one been diagnosed, in utero, with Down Syndrome. To which alumnus cartoonist Pat Cross (’14) has offered the following rejoinder, making note of the WaPo’s slogan, adopted early in 2017:

Patrick Cross cartoon

The cartoon appeared in the National Catholic Register, which, along with CatholicVote, regularly publishes Mr. Cross’ work.


March 08,
2018

Servant of God Marcel Van Portrait of Marcel Van by Amis de Van
[CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Who is Marcel Van?

If you don’t already know the answer to that question — and, for that matter, even if you do — you would do well to read Marcel Van & the Little Way for Dummies, a recently published essay by alumna author  Suzie Andres (’87) on CatholicExchange. In it Mrs. Andres provides readers with a beautiful description of the life of Marcel — the late, Vietnamese Redemptorist brother who now bears the title Servant of God and who is the spiritual little brother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. (Or, as Mrs. Andres calls him, “the Little Brother of the Little Flower.”)

 Suzie Andres (’87)Suzie Andres (’87)Mrs. Andres, a Third Order Carmelite who has long had a devotion to St. Thérèse — and even penned a book, The Little Way of Homeschooling, in her honor — has more recently developed a devotion to Marcel as well. So great is this devotion that she has launched what may be the Internet’s first Marcel Van blog, Miss Marcel’s Musings, on her newly published website, suzieandres.com.

It turns out that the answer to the question Who is Marcel Van? is not easy, because even though he was a humble, simple man, he was also a powerful mystic whose life embodied St. Thérèse’s “Little Way.” Writes Mrs. Andres:

Marcel is … about as little as they come, so little that he compelled Thérèse to come teach him her Little Way personally, though he’d read and re-read Story of a Soul. His forgetfulness and utter simplicity drew Jesus, too, into the picture, not to mention Mary, and between these three (God, the Mother of God, and “the greatest saint of modern times” according to St. Pope Piux X), we get what we might call, “The Little Way for the Rest of Us.” …

I recommend Marcel’s writings because they are the short cut to his big sister’s famous path. Despite our progress, our technology, our libraries of how-to books, we continue to be fairly dumb sheep, and Marcel is the perfectly imperfect dumbest sheep of us all, ready and willing to lead us through this dark valley and into the Father’s arms.

“If I could make the whole world love Marcel Van, I would,” adds Mrs. Andres, and she is already well on her way! A fellow writer at Catholic Exchange, Maura Roan McKeegan, has written about how Mrs. Andres’ introduction to this blessed has helped her to overcome some longstanding fears and worries.

Thanks be to God for Servant of God Marcel Van and for Mrs. Andres’ sharing of his littlest of ways. Marcel Van, pray for us!


Rev. Jerome Augustine Zeiler, O.P. (’00)“How do you confront the Culture of Death — a materialistic, secular, godless culture — when you’re immersed in it?” asks Rev. Jerome Zeiler, O.P. (’00), parochial vicar of St. Patrick’s Church in Columbus, Ohio. “You have to do more than go to Mass on Sunday. You need a Catholic culture that is more powerful for you than the worldly culture that surrounds you.”

To help provide young Catholics with that powerful, supportive culture, Fr. Zeiler serves as chaplain for the Columbus Frassati Society, according to a recent story on the Dominican Friars Foundation website. Named for Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a Third Order Dominican who, through his great love, drew many of his peers to Christ, the Society offers regular spiritual, social, and service opportunities for as many as 20-50 young adults.

The experience that Fr. Zeiler seeks to create for the young adults in Columbus is, in key respects, similar to his own experience of living among fellow young Catholics as a student at Thomas Aquinas College. “The friendships I developed, real authentic friendships, were just an incredible support to my whole Catholic life,” he observed in a 2013 interview. “That was one of the most joyful aspects — being with likeminded men and women who were filled with God’s grace and who wanted to grow in His grace, and who were there to help me grow in His grace. It was just an incredible joy.”

May God bless the efforts of Fr. Zeiler and the Columbus Frassati Society!


Dan and Rose (Teichert) Grimm (both ’76) Dan and Rose (Teichert) Grimm (both ’76)

The family of Rose (Teichert ’76) Grimm reports that she has been diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer and will soon undergo aggressive treatment. Her daughter Wendy-Irene Zepeda (’99) requests friends pray “to two Blesseds specially dear to my mom: Bl. John Henry Newman and Bl. Solanus Casey,” and helpfully suggests the following two prayers:

Prayer through the intercession of Bl. Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You. I give myself to You. May I be the person You want me to be, and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave to Blessed Solanus. If it is Your will, grant the canonization of Blessed Solanus so that others may imitate and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans, I ask You, according to Your will, to hear my prayer for Our Lady’s intentions for Rose Grimm, especially that if it be Your will she be speedily, completely healed, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”

Amen.

 

Prayer through the intercession of Bl. John Henry Newman

O God our Father, You granted to Your servant Blessed John Henry Newman wonderful gifts of nature and of grace, that he should be a spiritual guide in the darkness of this world, an eloquent herald of the Gospel, and a devoted servant of the one church of Christ. For his insight into the mysteries of the Kingdom, his zealous defense of the teachings of the Church, and his priestly love for all your children, we pray that he may soon be numbered among the canonized saints, and that You grant, through his intercession, all Our Lady’s intentions for Rose Grimm, especially a speedy and complete cure, if that be Your holy will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly Angela (Andersen ’87) ConnellyThe News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington, recently named its list of six reader-columnists who will grace its pages for the upcoming year. Among those so honored is Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly, an alumna of the College, a member of its Board of Governors, and the president of the Washington Women’s Network. “The list of criteria we provide to aspiring columnists is long and includes words like engaging, thought-provoking, inspirational, poignant, and most of all, local,” writes the News Tribune editorial board. “The goal is to identify creative people who love the South Sound as much as we do.”

After noting that Mrs. Connolly “is on a crusade to combat teen homelessness in Tacoma” and “serves on numerous community boards,” the editorial asks: “Did we mention she’s mother to nine kids?” This is good news, as far as the board is concerned: “Suffice it to say, the North End resident will not run out of material.”

The first of Mrs. Connolly’s regular columns, which appears in today’s edition of the News Tribune, deals with her aforementioned anti-homelessness crusade. “As a mom,” she writes, “I am begging everyone — every leader, non-profit, church, business, concerned citizen — to come sit at the table and wrap these kids and our community in love, support, and shelter.”


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Isabella McNiff (’18) -- quote 1

“Reading a text, and then working through it with other people who have questions, opens up whole levels of meaning that you otherwise might not even know are there. By working out an argument, piece by piece, I am better able to understand and retain what I have learned.”

– Isabella McNiff (’18)

Broad Run, Virginia

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“Thomas Aquinas College is a small college, but its reputation has spread far and wide. Because it lives off the masterpieces of thought and literature emanating from the Christian tradition of the Western world, it provides a first-rate education for a select body of talented undergraduates.”

– Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J (†)