Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Jack Grimm ('15) in Kolkata, India

California Catholic Daily has recently published a series of letters that Jack Grimm (’15) wrote to his family during a six-week pilgrimage to the motherhouse of Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. During his time, in which he wanted to experience the Missionaries’ life firsthand and participate in their works of mercy, he cared for the sick and hungry, served Mass, and prayed for the dead and dying. He also speaks frankly about the difficulties of such service — the constant noise, the exhaustion, the temptation to pride. Yet he concludes by describing his time in India, which culminated in Holy Week and the Easter Vigil at the motherhouse as “the most rewarding Lent of my life so far. Blessed be God.”

The full collection of letters is available via the California Catholic website:

  • Letter 1: “Today I went to Kalighat, which is the house of the dying and destitute people. It’s an amazing place, but very draining and sad at the same time.”
  • Letter 2: “Today I served Mass at Mother house. I was feeling sick so I didn’t want to go, but Mass was beautiful and of course miraculous.”
  • Letter 3: “This last week has been very good, although exhausting at times. I’ve been caring especially for the patients who can’t get out of bed, giving them bed baths and ointment, etc.”
  • Letter 4: “Kolkata is an amazing place, but the constant noise and smell, not to mention all the people, can be a little exhausting.”
  • Letter 5: “In general, life here has been very prayerful and beautiful. I still love doing the work with the patients. A number of them have died in the last couple weeks, so that has been more emotionally challenging.”
  • Letter 6: “Well, wonderful as Kolkata is, I still seem to be dreaming about home every night. Last night I dreamed we were all at Thomas Aquinas College for Mass.”
  • Letter 7: “Well, the last week has been a good one, but I was definitely beginning to feel a sort of spiritual dryness.”
  • Letter 8: “ I’ve realized that one of my goals this year, and for life in general, is to learn to love the silence.”
  • Letter 9: “Some people belong in books, they are just that good. R is one of those people.”
  • Letter 10: “A very happy Easter to all of you! Christ the Lord is risen indeed!

Court Case - Ps. 119:153-4

Among the many friends of Thomas Aquinas College who have lent their spiritual assistance to the College’s legal effort against the HHS Contraceptive Mandate are the Missionaries of Charity. This morning, the Sisters of Bl. Mother Teresa’s order in New York City offered their daily Mass intention and an “emergency novena” on the College’s behalf — thanks to the intercession of an alumnus priest.

Rev. Nicholas Callaghan (’96)Rev. Nicholas Callaghan (’96), a priest serving the Archdiocese of New York, offered today’s 7:00 a.m. Spy Wednesday Mass for the Sisters at their convent on East 145th street in the Bronx. “The MC sisters were very happy to agree to have the College and the case as the intention of the Mass,” reports Fr. Callaghan. “Given the urgency of the case and the fact of the arguments today, they offered an ‘emergency novena’ immediately after Mass. This, as you may know, was a hallmark of Bl. Teresa: Nine Memorare prayers said in a row. It was her go-to solution in moments of crisis and is held in high esteem by the sisters. A particular feature of the ‘emergency novena’ this morning, which I have never encountered before, was the addition of an antiphon, chosen by them as appropriate for the subject of our petition today.”

Fr. Callaghan scanned the Sisters’ chosen antiphon, posted above.

Thanks be to God!

Rev. Miss Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV (’03) and His Holiness Pope Francis (L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service) Rev. Miss Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV (’03) and His Holiness Pope Francis (L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service)

To mark the end of the recently concluded Year of Consecrated Life, the Vatican hosted an international symposium, “Consecrated Life in Communion,” which culminated in a February 1  audience with His Holiness Pope Francis. Among those in attendance — and privileged to meet the Holy Father personally — was an alumna of the College and a consecrated virgin, Rev. Miss Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV (’03).

Rev. Miss Therese Ivers was one of about 600 members of the Ordo Virginum from around the world who participated in the Symposium. Sacred virgins are consecrated to Christ, but unlike religious sisters, they do not live in community. Instead they devote their lives to the service of Christ and His church in some other way. Rev Miss Ivers, for example, is a canon lawyer living in Rome. An experienced judge and advocate, she specializes in the theology of consecrated life and law. She holds a diploma from the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Theology and Law of Consecrated Life.

“I did not know I’d meet the Pope, but knee injuries had me in a wheelchair, which put me in the front section for the audience,” she recalls. “My companion for the Symposium was a consecrated virgin who recently retired as a firefighter. I am glad she was able to meet the Pope with me after all the pushing she did over cobblestones.” A video clip of the two consecrated virgins meeting Pope Francis is available below:

When asked what she said to Pope Francis, Rev. Miss Ivers replies, “I simply said, ‘Holy Father.’ He asked me to pray for him, and I asked for his prayers. That was it and he blessed me.”


Rev. Patrick Carter, O.S.A. (’05), Governor Lloyd Noble, President Michael F. McLean, Dr. John Nieto (’89), and Rev. Peter Miller, O.S.A. (’07) Rev. Patrick Carter, O.S.B. (’05), Governor Lloyd Noble, President Michael F. McLean, Dr. John Nieto (’89), and Rev. Peter Miller, O.S.B. (’07)

This past Sunday, the Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery, Bishop of Tulsa, ordained into the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ two Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Rev. Patrick Carter, O.S.B. (’05), and Rev. Peter Miller, O.S.B. (’07). Fr. Carter and Fr. Miller are two of the 11 Thomas Aquinas College alumni serving at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma.

Among the alumni and friends of the College who traveled to Northeastern Oklahoma for the occasion were President Michael F. McLean, Governor Lloyd Noble II, and Dr. John Nieto (’89). A senior tutor, Dr. Nieto gave the new priests a small foretaste of their monastic life when he taught them Gregorian chant in the College’s Schola Cantorum.

With these two latest ordinations, the College can now claim — by God’s grace — 64 alumni priests! Deo gratias!

Samantha Flanders, Joanna Kaiser, and Tori Miller

Three members of the Class of 2015 — Samantha Flanders, Tori Miller, and Joanna Kaiser — have recently returned from a post-graduation mission trip to Port au Price, Haiti, where they worked with the Missionaries of Charity. Writes Miss Flanders:

Port au Prince“We began every morning at 5:00 a.m. in the chapel with morning prayer, meditations on Scripture, and Holy Mass; after which I would go and help take care of the 115 babies (mostly suffering from malnutrition) that the sisters provided care for in the compound. Once a month I would help the sisters with a food distribution to 900 needy people. We would give them 10 cups of rice and beans, 30 cups of cornmeal, 1cup of oil, 1can of tomato paste, and 1chicken. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, I would help out at the sisters’ St. Joseph wound clinic. The poor people of Haiti would come in long lines and wait for us to dress their wounds, mostly third-degree burns covering their arms and legs, and injuries such as machete hacks and bullet wounds.

children in Port au Prince“The weather was very humid and balmy. Every day my clothes would be drenched in sweat, and in the afternoon the heat was usually unbearable. It is truly incredible how much the MC sisters endure. Not only do they put up with the heat but they also live in such a detached way — it is truly a beautiful vocation. The trip was an amazing experience, and I am so grateful to God for all of the benefactors who supported it, and especially to all the angels He put on my road. I was able to meet a lot of other wonderful volunteers in Haiti.”

Miss Flanders and Miss Kaiser are currently continuing their journey with a 33-day pilgrimage to Spain, where they are backpacking 800 km. of the Camino de Santiago.

Br. Augustine, O.S.B. (’13)Br. Augustine, O.S.B. (’13)

The College has received the joyful news that on September 8 — the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Philip Wilmeth (’13) made his simple vows at the Monastero di San Benedetto. He is now Brother Augustine, O.S.B., and a novice at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica.

“I was so grateful to be there and share this beautiful celebration with the monks of Norcia,” writes Br. Augustine’s mother, Anne T. Wilmeth. “They are a wonderful community of brothers who exemplify God’s grace.”

Among those present for the profession Mass were four Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., one of Br. Augustine’s fellow Benedictines; Deneys Williamson (’10) and David Allen (’10), seminarians who are studying in Rome for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and the Norbertine Fathers in Silverado, California, respectively; and Br. Augustine’s brother, John Parker Wilmeth (’14), who is studying classical architecture in University of Notre Dame’s graduate program.

Br. Augustine, meanwhile, recently enjoyed a home visit, during which he took a break from his duties as the manager of the Benedictines’ brewery and gift shop. His voice can be heard on the community’s new musical album, Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia.

Deneys Williamson (’10), Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B.,  Br. Augustine Wilmeth, O.S.B. (’13), and David Allen (’10)
Deneys Williamson (’10), Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., Br. Augustine Wilmeth, O.S.B. (’13), and David Allen (’10)

Classmates: Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99) and Director of Alumni Affairs Mark Kretschmer (’99)
Classmates: Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99) and Director of Alumni Affairs Mark Kretschmer (’99)

Sixteen years after his graduation, Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99), returned to Thomas Aquinas Tuesday night to present a vocational talk, “The Life of a Dominican Priest.” Some 20 young men came to the discussion, in which Fr. Michael, the pastor of the 2,500-family St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, described his journey to Thomas Aquinas College, his vocational discernment, and a “typical day” of shepherding souls in a busy urban parish.

Fr. Michael graduated from the College in 1999, and joined the Western Dominican Province shortly thereafter. He then studied at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, earner master’s degree in both philosophy and theology. Since his ordination in 2007 he has served various parishes in the Bay Area before becoming the pastor of St. Dominic’s Church.

Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99)“What led me to the Dominicans and the Dominican life,” he reflected at Tuesday’s dinnertime discussion, is “very similar to the reason why I came to the College.” When he was a teenager, his parents enrolled him in a fundamentalist Protestant school where his peers challenged his faith, he says, and “I became the Catholic answer guy, but I had no idea how to be the Catholic answer guy.” Seeking a college experience “that would help me think about my faith in a kind of deeper, personal way,” he came to Thomas Aquinas College, he says, drawn by the strong sense of Catholic community and robust sacramental life” — qualities that ultimately drew him to the Order of Preachers, as well.

Over the course of his talk, Fr. Michael took questions and spoke frankly about both the challenges and blessing of his vocation. “Let me give you my schedule from two Saturdays ago,” he said. “I got up, and we celebrated the 8:00 a.m. Mass. Then I had a baptism at 10, followed by a funeral. Then we had a wedding. Then there were confessions before the 5:30 Mass. Then came the vigil Mass, after which I got a phone call, because we are on call for three hospitals in the area. Someone had had a heart attack while swimming in the Bay and was basically on life support” — and so the priest had to rush to the scene to perform an anointing.

“I have to say, at the end of the day, no doubt, I was taking a deep breath,” he recalled. “But I just said, O Lord, what a life — to be able to be rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.”

As a pastor, he continued, he has the privilege of being an alter Christus in the lives of the faithful. “A lot of these folks I don’t even know personally, but when you’re a priest, when you’re a Dominican, when you wear this habit, people know you in a sense. They have that sense of connection, and you can be personally Christ for them. It’s not like they know who I am; they know who Christ needs to be for them. For me, there is nothing more inspiring, delightful, and wonderful.”

His Holiness Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia, as photographed by Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan
His Holiness Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families Mass in Philadelphia, as photographed by Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan

The College has received reports — and photos — from a number of alumni who were present for parts of His Holiness Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. Among them are Emily (Barry ’11) and Joe Sullivan (’09), who serves on the parish council for the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Below, the Sullivans are pictured with their two daughters before the World Meeting of Families Mass:

The Sullivan family before the World Meeting of Families Mass
The Sullivan family before the World Meeting of Families Mass

Mrs. Sullivan, who works for Endow, a nonprofit organization that writes study guides for magisterial documents to be used in women’s study groups, participated in a World Meeting of Families panel, “Woman: God’s Gift to the Human Family,” about the feminine genius and St. Edith Stein. A last-minute substitute for another speaker, she “literally had 10 minutes’ notice” that she would be presenting, she reports. “Thank God for four years of learning how to articulate theological ideas well!”

Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96) waits for the Popemobile to pass by in PhiladelphiaRev. Ramon Decaen (’96) waits for the Popemobile to pass by in PhiladelphiaAmong the other alumni in Philadelphia were Rev. Ramon Decaen (’96), the pastor of the Parish of Cristo Rey and diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry in Lincoln. Fr. Decaen traveled with a group of some 100 fellow Nebraskans to the City of Brotherly Love, where he had the honor of concelebrating at one of the Holy Father’s Masses. … Sr. Teresa Benedicta Block, O.P. (’02), joined by three of her fellow Ann Arbor Dominicans, led a pilgrimage of 12 high school students from San Francisco to the city. … Jacob Mason (’10) a seminarian for the Diocese of Arlington, attended a brief talk from the Holy Father at Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Mr. Mason is a student and Pope Francis stayed during his visit. … Other alumni on hand for the Holy Father’s trip to Philadelphia include Sarah Jimenez (’10), who works in the chancery for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Becky (Daly) and Greg Pfundstein (both ’05), executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation in New York City.

Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam., before the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra
Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam., before the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra

Meanwhile, several alumni were able to attend the Holy Father’s canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Rev. Isaiah Teichert, O.S.B.Cam. (’78), pictured above, served as a concelebrant. Among others in attendance were Aaron Dunkel (’06) and four alumni who are graduate students at the Catholic University of America: John Brungardt (’08), Joshua Gonnerman (’09), Emily McBryan (’11), and Kathleen Sullivan (’06),who provided the photo below:

Kathleen Sullivan (’06) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Kathleen Sullivan (’06) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Cara Buskmiller (’11)“Consecrated virginity is lived in the world, which fits my desire to serve and to heal in corporal works of mercy,” says Cara Buskmiller (’11).

On June 20 Miss Buskmiller embraced that vocation by making perpetual vows as a diocesan consecrated virgin before the Most Rev. Doug Deshotel, Auxiliary Bishop of Dallas, at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Shortly thereafter, she began her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine.

“The residents together cover all the women’s services in the hospital, from cancer surgery to labor and delivery,” she writes. “Right now, I’m working nights, which means I’m on call every night for patients staying in the hospital, and covering our six-bed women’s ER.”

In a recent interview with, Miss Buskmiller explains that her calling to consecrated virginity was in keeping with her desire “to live radically, completely at the disposal of others, especially my family and patients.” Hers is “a bridal vocation, which fits my desire to be in love, to belong to Someone, and to be deeply known. At the same time, it is a quiet vocation: I will wear no habit except a ring. It is a maternal vocation, which fits my desire to carry souls, in imitation of Mary.”

As an aspiring obstetrician and gynecologist, Miss Buskmiller plans to serve the needs of women and children in accordance with Church teaching and in recognition of the innate dignity of all in her care. “Practically speaking, living faithfully as an OB/GYN means that I do not prescribe contraceptives, provide primary sterilization, or participate in abortions,” Miss Buskmiller says. “It further means that I get to offer women fertility awareness and natural family planning, which get more exciting with every paper that comes out about their good effects.”

Yet she is not concerned about the potential difficulties of maintaining a faithfully Catholic practice in a society that is often hostile to the culture of life. “Even in a largely pro-choice culture, integrating faith in my career is not the hardest struggle I have,” she notes. “That distinction goes to integrating faith with myself. … I want to be full of faith, hope, and courage to live as if God existed, as if sin was worse than death, and as if I was destined to be a great saint with an unrepeatable mission. If I can do that, integrating my faith and my career is no problem: I just drive to work.”


Rev. Jacob (Joseph ’06) Hsieh with his parents and the Most Rev. Kevin William Vann, Bishop of Orange
Rev. Jacob (Joseph ’06) Hsieh, O.Praem., with his parents and the Most Rev. Kevin William Vann, Bishop of Orange

On Saturday, June 27, the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rev. Jacob (Joseph ’06) Hsieh, O.Praem., received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, becoming the Colleges’ 62nd alumnus priest. Fr. Jacob’s ordination came at the hands of the Most Rev. Kevin William Vann, Bishop of Orange and the College’s 2013 Convocation Speaker. It took place at the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, where many alumni and friends of the College were on hand to witness the occasion.

Two days later, Fr. Jacob offered his Mass of Thanksgiving on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. He now takes up his first assignment, teaching Gregorian chant to the novices in his community, the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. An accomplished musician, he has performed at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and, this past Easter, he chanted the Exsultet at the papal Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. For the past year leading up to his ordination, he studied theology and chant at the Norbertine Generalte in Rome.

“One of my teachers at high school was a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College. He made me love the pursuit of truth and showed me how rich the Catholic faith is. This influenced me to go to Thomas Aquinas College,” Fr. Jacob reflects in the Norbertines’ electronic newsletter. “There, I met Fr. Michael Perea, a confrere at St. Michael’s who was one of the chaplains that year and who suggested I come to visit the abbey. I fell in love with the common life that was thriving there: the pursuit of holiness and truth in fraternal charity. I decided to join the abbey after my senior year.”

Fr. Jacob offers a blessing to Director of Gift Planning Tom Susanka Fr. Jacob offers a blessing to Director of Gift Planning Tom SusankaAmong those who witnessed Fr. Jacob’s ordination were two members of the College’s faculty, Director of Development Robert Bagdazian and Director of Gift Planning Tom Susanka. On behalf of the College, they presented its newest alumnus priest with two gifts that, God willing, provide him with spiritual strength: Bl. John Henry Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons and one of the knotted Rosaries that a friend of Founding President Ronald P. McArthur has given the College’s graduates in each of the last two years.

“It was wonderful to get to see Fr. Jacob humbly and reverently answer God’s call to the holy priesthood,” says Mr. Bagdazian. “We pray for him in his new ministry, and we thank God for continuing to use the College to bless the world with more good and holy priests.”