Faith in Action Blog
Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93)Last week the Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange, California, created a new position in his diocese — Theological Consultant to the Office of the Bishop — to which he appointed, effective immediately, an alumna of the College, Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93).
In her new role, Dr. de Solenni “collaborates and advises key members of the Curia, including the Bishop, on pertinent matters of theology, doctrine, and Church history,” according to a diocesan press release. She will also continue in her responsibilities as the associate dean of the Augustine Institute’ new satellite campus at the Christ Cathedral in Orange.
“Pia is an inspirational and well-respected theologian and leader,” said Bishop Vann, who presided at the College’s Convocation ceremonies in 2013. “We are blessed as a Diocese to benefit from her expertise, passion, and faith. I look forward to the many gifts that she will bring to the people of Orange.”
An ethicist and theologian, Dr. de Solenni (’93) is an expert on life issues, issues relating to women’s health, the new feminism, and culture. After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College, she earned a Sacred Theology Baccalaureate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) and a Sacred Theology Doctorate, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. In 2001 Pope St. John Paul II awarded her the Prize of the Pontifical Academies for her groundbreaking dissertation — an analysis of feminist theories in the light of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings. (Fellow graduate Dr. John R. Mortensen (’97) would become only the second North American to win this same prize in 2010.)
Dr. de Solenni has published articles in The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Washington Post, National Catholic Reporter, Our Sunday Visitor, and National Review Online. She has also appeared on MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The O’Reilly Factor, CNN, and ABC News, among others. She also appears regularly on the Catholic Answers Live radio program.
Joshua Brittain (’15)The Arizona Republic last week published a compelling story and video about the Class of 2015 Commencement Speaker, Joshua Brittain (’15), who has succeeded his father, Tom (’96), as the Head Coach of the Tempe Preparatory Academy varsity football team, and who suffers from cerebral palsy. “At 26, he can’t ski or roller-blade, and he needs help if he wants to climb the stairs to get to the top of the gym,” notes author Scott Bordow. “And there’s his gait, awkward and pronounced, the bend of the right knee, the right foot dragging across the gravel.”
“Yet to focus on his walk is to miss the point — and miss the man,” Mr. Bordow continues. “Cerebral palsy doesn’t define him. It never has. He’s certain it never will.”
Indeed, Mr. Brittain dismisses his mild case of cerebral palsy as a “minor cross” that is, like all crosses, a gift from God. “I’m very thankful that I have it because the things that are the most important in my life, my gift of soul and the very few virtues I have are in large part because of this,” he says. “Life isn’t about what you can’t do,” he adds. “It’s about getting the most out of what you have.”
To that end, he is making the most of his opportunity, at the unusually young age of 26, to coach a major high school football program, as well as in his day job as a history teacher at Chandler Preparatory Academy. He and his wife, Kaitlyn (Carlson ’16) are currently expecting their first child.
The Arizona Republic story notes that, when meeting with his students’ parents, Mr. Brittain “makes it a point to ‘walk strong’” — calling to mind these words from the Commencement Address he delivered some 18 months ago:
So, I exhort the Class of 2015, when it leaves these hallowed halls for the last time, leave with hearts full of love. Then, whatever road Our Lord asks you to walk, walk with courage; walk with a humble heart that longs to serve God and His church; and know that you walk with the illuminating power of love in your heart. For it is love that you have fostered and it is love that stands as a lighthouse for your soul.
Alumnus Paul Lazenby (’10), director of the College’s Annual Fund, is, in his spare time, an amateur aerial photographer. Using his trusty drone, he recently produced the above video, which beautifully captures the academic quadrangle, the walkable Stations of the Cross, the lower campus, and Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. It also features music by the Thomas Aquinas College Choir. Enjoy!
Patrick Cross (’14), self-portrait
This blog recently featured an illustrated tribute to martyred French priest Rev. Jacques Hamel, penned by alumnus cartoonist Patrick Cross (’14). The work is one of several cartoons that Mr. Cross — who is, by day, a counselor in the College’s Admissions office — has drawn in recent months as he launches a career in editorial cartooning. Already, his efforts have borne some success: Mr. Cross produces cartoons weekly for CatholicVote.org, as well as occasionally for GlennBeck.com.
“I’ve always been interested in politics, and I’ve always been interested in art,” Mr. Cross reflects. “But it was my parents who first suggested that I combine the two loves together in editorial cartooning.”
The idea began to take root during his Senior Year, when College Governor Berni Neal spoke at an on-campus career panel. Upon learning about Mr. Cross’ professional interests, Mrs. Neal revealed that she was friends with Michael Ramirez — the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, formerly of the Los Angeles Times — and offered to arrange a meeting. “Ramirez was my favorite cartoonist growing up,” recalls Mr. Cross. “I went down to see him at the end of my Senior Year. We talked for about an hour and a half. That really put a fire in my belly.”
Mr. Cross began publishing his cartoons on his website and a Facebook page in January, and soon his work began generating attention. His goal, he says, is to produce cartoons that succeed on a variety of levels. “There are many layers,” he says. “You can have something that is funny in a slapstick sort of way. But some readers are looking for more.” Here, he adds, one sees the value and versatility of a classical education. “If you have an education that shows you how to identify principles, causes, effects, and prior causes, then you can do much better work.”
Patriotism infuses Mr. Cross’ art — a patriotism, he says, that has been with him all his life, but which deepened during his time at the College. “I’ve always loved the American founding. I’ve always believed in the principles of the country. But what my education at TAC really did, especially Junior Year, is show me why I believed in those things. In reading the Federalist Papers, the founders, and Abraham Lincoln — all in the context Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, which we were studying in philosophy — I was able to locate the American experiment, or the American founding, in the context of the Western tradition. I came to a better understanding of why self-governance is good, why a government that promotes political prudence is such a gift, and also how we must not take any of it for granted.”
A tribute to Rev. Jacques Hamel, who was martyred today in Normandy, by alumnus cartoonist Patrick Cross (’14):
“Feeling a little subdued by (or furious at) the unfolding drama of the presidential race?”
Suzie Andres (’87)So asks alumna author Suzie Andres (’87) in a new article posted on Catholic Exchange. “Never fear,” she answers, “the Church always has the answer, lovingly drawn from her store of treasures, old and new.”
The article, coinciding with yesterday’s Feast of the Prophet Elijah, illustrates how the story of Elijah, “put into the context of history,” shows that “we don’t have it as bad as we like to think.” Moreover, the Church, through her prayers and liturgies, offers no shortage of opportunities for consolation and hope.
“So for those of us who are having a bit of a time with the political dramas of our own day, let us give ourselves (and the world) a break,” Mrs. Andres concludes. “Turn off the news, tear our eyes away from the internet, go to the mouth of the cave (or in our room where we can shut the door), and spend a few minutes in remembrance of the Mysteries which save us.”
If you need any help, an excellent place to begin is with Mrs. Andres’ article, Elijah: Our Model of Peace in Chaos.
Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly Back in December, the state of Washington’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) implemented a ruling on gender identity, making it permissible for the state’s residents to enter either men’s or women’s restrooms and locker rooms purely on the basis of “gender identification,” and irrespective of biology. Now an effort is under way to repeal that ruling and create safe restroom and changing areas for all Washingtonians. Leading that effort is a graduate and governor of Thomas Aquinas College, Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly.
In her capacity as the founding president of the Washington Women’s Network, Mrs. Connelly is working to collect the requisite 246,372 signatures to put state initiative I-1515 on the November ballot. If approved by the voters, I-1515 would allow for the restoration of sexually segregated bathrooms and locker rooms in public and private institutions, and require them in public schools. The measure would also ensure reasonable accommodations for public-school children who are not comfortable using the boys’ or girls’ facilities.
“There are schools opening up the bathrooms and the showers (to everyone), which is absolutely unacceptable,” Mrs. Connelly recently told Tacoma’s News-Tribune. “They’re all required to do it by the HRC mandate.” The campaign to overturn the mandate, she says, is about common-sense protection. “We want to protect transgender kids. … We want to protect boys. We want to protect girls. It feels like that overly broad HRC mandate does not do that.”
In support of the campaign, Mrs. Connelly recently appeared on the My Catholic Faith podcast with Dr. Thomas Curran, director of Trinity Formation Resources. “Inclusiveness means women and children, too,” she told Dr. Curran. “Women and children have a human right to be safe and to have privacy and to have dignity, just as every single person does.”
As of last week, the Yes on I-1515 campaign had collected 200,000 of the 246,372 signatures it needs to get the initiative on the ballot. The deadline is tomorrow, July 8. Please pray for Mrs. Connelly and her efforts!
Under the Rule of St. Benedict, the community must be self-sufficient, and the brothers have taken up a successful brewing business to help pay the bills. For several years they have marketed their Birra Nursia in Italy, and in April they began — with Br. Augustine (Philip Wilmeth ’13) as their brewmaster — selling in the United States, too. Birra Nursia’s two beers, a blond ale and a Belgian strong ale, are now both available for purchase throughout the U.S. via the monastery’s website.
In an interview with Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Br. Augustine explains that, for the monks, brewing is part of their life of prayer. “The goal of our life is to pray always, whether brewing, cooking, or walking down the corridor,” he said. “Continual prayer; it may happen when we are brewing or bottling or drinking or while we are praying.”
Thomas Aquinas College Governor Bernarda Neal helped coordinate the U.S. launch of Birra Nursia, which has attracted considerable media attention. In addition to the segment on Fox News, the monks have enjoyed coverage in Aleteia and the Los Angeles Times, which proclaimed, “If holy contact is paramount, Birra Nursia delivers the most monk for your buck. From the hilltop monastery in central Italy, there are no laymen involved in the production or packaging of the beer, and no retailers or bartenders between you and this Benedectine brew.”
In the new film Me Before You, alumna journalist Katrina Trinko (’09) sees the inversion of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Katrina Trinko (’09)Writing for the Daily Signal, of which she is the managing editor, Miss Trinko regards the differences between the two films as a barometer of cultural decline. Whereas the Hollywood of Frank Capra made “movies that affirmed life’s beauty, even when it’s tough, even when things are dark,” Me Before You “wants the audience to believe that personal choice comes first, even if it means leaving that ‘awful hole’ in loved ones’ lives.”
Thus, in It’s a Wonderful Life, we see how George Bailey’s loved ones would suffer without him. Me Without You, on the other hand, attempts to make the case that life is better for all those still living after the protagonist (a quadriplegic) commits suicide.
“But,” Miss Trinko observes, “it doesn’t work.”
Try as the filmmakers might, they are unable to put a happy face on a tragedy, and the movie concludes with an unintended, but undeniable, tone of sorrow and despair. Contrast that, Miss Trinko urges, with the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life — “an exuberant George Bailey kissing his kids and wife” — and there can be little doubt which Hollywood world view is not only good and beautiful, but also true.
The full review is available via the Daily Signal.
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!