Faith in Action Blog
Writing on his personal blog, Mark Langley (’89) reviews an off-Broadway performance of a new play — written and directed by a Tony and Pulitzer award-winning author — about two late members of the Thomas Aquinas College family, Louise and John Schmitt.
Louise and John SchmittThe Schmitts were the parents of seven Thomas Aquinas College alumni, including Mr. Langley’s wife, Stephanie (’89), and the grandparents of six graduates and six current students. Mr. Schmitt, moreover, joined the teaching faculty in 1974 and was instrumental in organizing the College’s first Commencement ceremony. He left in 1979 to found the Trivium School, a residential high school offering a classical curriculum in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Many Trivium graduates have gone on to attend the College, and several of the College’s alumni have gone on to teach at Trivium.
Yet the reason that Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt figure so prominently in John Patrick Shanley’s recently debuted Prodigal Son has to do with their work prior to their time at the College, specifically in the 1960s, when Mr. Schmitt was the founding headmaster of the St. Thomas More School in New Hampshire. One of his students was a talented but rebellious boy who found his time at the school to be transformative. That student was Mr. Shanley, who has gone on to great acclaim as the screenwriter of Moonstruck and Doubt.
Featuring music by none other than Paul Simon, Prodigal Son tells the story of Jim Quinn, a character based on the adolescent Shanley. The Schmitts show extraordinary patience and dedication to the young man, for reasons, the audience learns, having largely to do with their own great personal suffering. As Mr. Langley writes:
“Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt .. share a well concealed sorrow, a sorrow caused by the tragic death of their own son. This sorrow becomes the source of Quinn’s redemption. Their hearts softened by grief, and harrowed by suffering, impel them to see the good in Quinn, despite his many expellable indiscretions, and they are able to see him through to the end — drawing out his hidden talents and mercifully allowing him to graduate — thus providing him with a sense of self-worth and new opportunity. …
“The play revealed a hidden chapter in the lives of John and Louise Schmitt. The events occurred when my wife was only a year old. Perhaps strangely, yet somewhat typical of many in that generation, Stephanie’s parents did not air their personal lives. They never spoke about these events to me and rarely if ever to their own children. In point of fact, John and Louise Schmitt suffered through not just one, but the tragic deaths of two of their children.”
The founder and the academic dean of The Lyceum, a classical school in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Langley writes that Prodigal Son “is about the mysterious role that suffering plays in life — even the seemingly senseless suffering and heartbreaking pain that comes with the death of one’s own child, one’s own son.” His wife, and her siblings, he adds, are “grateful for the gift that Shanley had given them through this play,” as it has helped to give them “an answer about the mysterious workings of God’s grace in the deaths of their siblings … deaths whose explanations until now had been consigned to the inexplicable mysteries of God’s Divine plan.”
Bl. Mother Teresa presents the 1982 Commencement Address at Thomas Aquinas College.
In anticipation of Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has penned an article for Crisis about two women who loom large in America’s ongoing debate about the morality and legality of abortion — Bl. Mother Teresa and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mother Teresa, who will be canonized this year, was an ardent defender of the unborn; Mrs. Clinton, who will likely be on November’s presidential ballot, is an unstinting champion of abortion “rights.” Yet few might remember that, nearly two decades ago, their paths crossed, and the soon-to-be saint had a notable influence on the would-be president.
Mr. Fitzpatrick recalls a poignant exchange between the two:
“Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their lunch at the White House.
The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.
“Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.
Yet even though Mother Teresa was direct, even blunt, in her language, she had the insight and wisdom to find common ground where she and Mrs. Clinton could work together. Writes Mr. Fitzpatrick:
Although Hillary Clinton was, and remains, a supporter of legalized abortion, she agreed with Mother Teresa that adoption was a preferable alternative. Speaking to her afterwards, Mother Teresa told Mrs. Clinton of her desire to continue her mission to find homes and families for orphaned, abandoned, and unwanted children by founding an adoption center in Washington, D.C. .... Hillary Clinton did the necessary legwork and succeeded in opening The Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children in 1995 in an affluent section of Washington, D.C.
To appreciate fully the grace and influence of Mother Teresa, one must read Mr. Fitzpatrick’s fine article, Marching for Life, Mother Teresa, and Mrs. Clinton, in full. The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mr. Fitzpatrick writes frequently for Crisis. This is the second year in a row that he has written an article pegged to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. (See last year’s Funeral March for Life.) He concludes this year’s story on a hopeful, inspiring note:
This Friday, pro-life Americans march to … convert the hearts of those like Hillary Clinton. Mother Teresa would have Americans do no less. She herself showed us how to protest against abortion fearlessly. She herself marched peacefully but purposefully, to save the lives of children in any way she could. She shook the walls of the White House with her entreaties, and the Gates of Heaven with her prayers. The marchers in DC gather to rekindle the perfect and patient passion of Mother Teresa — a power that broke through, even to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Members of the Thomas Aquinas College community will be participating in both this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco. Please join us!
Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)
Writing on the website of the Institute for Catholic Education (ICLE), Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87) decries the tendency to regard mathematics as little more than a tool of calculation. “In the ancient world, the mathematical disciplines were honored among the arts essential to the education of free men, and to the road that leads to wisdom,” writes Dr. Seeley, a tutor at the College and ICLE’s executive director. But most of today’s textbooks and standardized tests, he laments, leave “very little time for exploring why the rules for calculation work, and why anyone would want to be calculating in the first place.”
As a hopeful antidote to this all-too-common trend, Dr. Seeley tells the tales of classical educators who are thinking outside the teach-to-the-test box, presenting mathematics in ways that encourage wonder, instill virtue, and inspire thought. Among those educators are two other graduates of the College.
The first is Michael Van Hecke (’86), president of the ICLE, headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, and president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project. “To solve problems consistently, students have to learn to be orderly and to pay attention to detail,” Mr. Van Hecke tells Dr. Seeley. “They have to develop logical thought processes. When you proceed carefully, if you arrive at x=7, it’s undeniable.” Mr. Van Hecke thus encourages his middle-school math students to do their work in an orderly fashion that helps them to understand why they arrive at the correct answers to their problems. He even uses classroom banter as a means of conveying to students the importance of attention to detail in all facets of life.
The second alumnus to appear in Dr. Seeley’s article is John Stebbins (’84), who teaches AP Calculus at St. Augustine Academy. Through most of the year, Mr. Stebbins concedes, he strictly prepares students for the AP exam, which, although useful, can be constraining. What he “really looks forward to,” writes Dr. Seeley, is “May, when the course is done and he can focus on introducing his students to the marvels and beauties of higher level mathematics.” In exploring these wonders, Mr. Stebbins enables his students to appreciate how the boundless complexity of mathematics can yield theological insights — and teach humility. “The universe, even the mathematical one, is vastly greater than our best minds.”
Writing about these educators, Dr. Seeley concludes, reminds him of some of his own experiences at the College:
“In the lunch line at Thomas Aquinas College recently, I met a happy freshman. She had visited the College for a few days before deciding to apply. I asked her what has been the biggest surprise for her. She responded immediately, ‘I love math!’ That was a delightful answer, and brought back happy memories of many academic retreats, where humanities teachers have found that the session on Euclid was their favorite, completely contrary to their expectation. Her reason, however, was novel: ‘In high school math, I would always have to check the answers, because I never really knew whether I was right. With Euclid, I can see and understand the steps and know that I am right.’”
The full article is available via the ICLE website.
Writing in the National Catholic Register, John Grondelski sings the praises of Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence by Thomas Aquinas College alumnus and tutor Dr. Michael A. Augros (’92).The recently published book, writes Mr. Grondelski, “is an effort to explain God as the First Cause, in order to explain how our universe needs an uncaused, intelligent designer.” Dr. Augros, he says, “proceeds, step by step, using the examples of ordinary experience to slowly, relentlessly and solidly explain how the universe requires a First Cause and what that First Cause necessarily means.”
Who Designed the Designer, Mr. Grondelski continues, is simple, but not simplistic. “For those interested in confronting the contemporary challenge posed by the New Atheism, this book is a great place to start,” he observes, but “it is not designed for speed reading,” and “Augros will require you to think.”
Grondelski’s highest praises, however, comes in his assessment of the book’s author as educator. “What’s new about this book is Augros’ style,” he writes. “I wish philosophy students were exposed to more thinkers like Augros!”
At least at one college, Mr. Gorndelski, they are!
- An excerpt from Who Designed the Designer?
- Dr. Augros on Catholic Answers Live
- An interview with Dr. Augros
- Dr. Augros’ appearance on Salt & Light Radio
- Reviews of Who Designed the Designer in CatholicCulture.org.and The Tidings.
Christina (Andres ’82) Deardurff“The Jubilee is a time of joy,” writes Christina (Andres ’82) Deardurff. “It is a time of remission of sins and universal pardon.”
Published on the Inside the Vatican website in May, shortly after His Holiness Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy, Mrs. Deardurff’s story is an informative account of the significance of the current Jubilee and the graces that it makes available. “The Pope himself opens the door in St. Peter’s Basilica,” in a symbolic gesture, she writes, that “reflects the exclusion of Adam and Eve — and of the whole human family — from the Garden of Eden due to sin, and the readmittance into grace of the penitent of heart.”
A homeschooling mother of 10, Mrs. Deardurff recently joined the staff of Inside the Vatican as an editorial assistant at the magazine’s U.S. office in Front Royal, Virginia. Before taking a leave from writing and editing to raise her children, she worked in journalism and public relations, serving as an editor and contributor to Child and Family Review. She and her husband, Richard (’84), have also been active in promoting Catholic Montessori education and care for the mentally handicapped, particularly those with Down Syndrome.
An archive of Mrs. Deardurff’s other stories for Inside the Vatican is available on the magazine’s website.
Dr. Adam Seagrave ('05)“It would be a mistake to think that even the total defeat and eradication of the organization known as ISIS will result in long-term peace and an absence of radical Islamic terrorism in Europe and the United States,” writes Dr. Adam Seagrave (’05) in The Public Discourse. “There is a much more powerful and permanent reason behind radical Islamic terrorism: the motivation to die for an other-worldly cause inevitably overpowers the motivation to live for this world.”
An assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. Seagrave is the author of The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law and editor of Liberty and Equality: The American Conversation. A regular contributor to The Public Discourse, he laments that there is neither a military nor a quick resolution to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
“If Western culture continues to be defined by the pitiful desire to go on living in as much physical comfort as possible, we will continue to be victimized and oppressed by the much more powerful appeal of radical Islam to die for God and eternal happiness,” Dr. Seagrave observes. “We in the West need to work to understand better and persuasively articulate the moral vision underlying liberalism, connecting this moral vision to the theological principles of Christianity.”
Dr. Seagrave contends that, for the last 500 years, the West has struggled between two competing visions of liberalism. The first is the Hobbesian model, more prevalent in Europe, which reduces the purpose of life to the pursuit of survival, pleasure, and power. Then there is a Christian/Lockean counterpart, which historically has been more influential in the United States, and which places Hobbesian individualism within a spiritual and moral framework that satisfies man’s yearning for meaning and guides his actions toward the good. To the extent that the Hobbesian model continues to dominate Western thought, Dr. Seagrave argues, the West will remain vulnerable to radical Islam. Only the Christian/Lockean vision, he insists, can provide a viable alternative.
“If we in the West are ultimately to withstand the threat of radical Islam to our way of life, we would do well to draw upon the resources in our intellectual and religious traditions that are powerful enough to inspire its continuing defense,” Dr. Seagrave concludes. “Without consistent and widespread efforts to provide a coherent and compelling alternative philosophy and way of life, all the military might in the world will not be able to resist the onslaught of Islamic extremism.”
- Recent Reads by Alumni Authors (2012)
- What Pro-Lifers Can Learn from Frederick Douglass (2013)
- Two Class of 2005 Authors in The Public Discourse (2013)
- College’s Latest Alumni Author (2014)
- Alumnus Reviews Fellow Grad’s New Book (2015)
“There is no faster way to friendship than sharing the books you love,” writes Suzie Andres (’87) in her recent article, Books and Friendship with the Saints, in Catholic Exchange. “A friendship founded upon excellent books is bound to thrive.”
As a case in point, Mrs. Andres cites her own friendship with Thomas Aquinas College’s late founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur. “This friendship started, as so many of his friendships did, with his sharing the Great Books that had such a profound effect on his life,” she recalls. “Ron McArthur had helped found a college; I needed to go to one. It was that simple, a match made in heaven through the medium of books.”
Fittingly, Mrs. Andres and Dr. McArthur’s last earthly encounters centered around a book on which the two collaborated, The Selected Sermons of Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J.:
“We’d both known (he, much longer than I) a wonderful Jesuit, Father Thomas Aquinas McGovern, who taught at Thomas Aquinas College for thirteen years, from the second semester of its founding to the second semester of my sophomore year. Father died suddenly of a heart attack in February of 1985. One day he was teaching my favorite class, the next morning he prayed at Mass ‘for all those who will die today,’ and that evening, he became one for whom he had enjoined us to pray.
“He left behind what amounted to three binders full of typed sermons, carefully polished gems of Catholic doctrine, pastoral guidance, and the love of Christ. From the time these were discovered, shortly after his death, Dr. McArthur hoped they could be made into a book.
“Twenty-nine years later, I had the privilege of bringing that book into being. It was certainly not a solo effort — many people helped bring that book into the world — but mine was the sweet joy of editing, the sincere joy of asking Dr. McArthur to write the foreword, the poignant joy of receiving that foreword from his family after he died (it was the last work he did and finished two days before his death).”
With Advent and preparations for the Christmas season now at hand, Mrs. Andres encourages — what else? — books as the perfect gift for friends old and new. “Don’t let the shiny things of this world distract you from the best we have to offer each other,” she writes. “Give a favorite book (or two or five or ten) and watch your friendships grow.”
And what better book to give than Mrs. Andres and Dr. McArthur’s own Selected Sermons of Thomas Aquinas McGovern, S.J.?
Following his series of dispatches from Rome (see parts one, two, and three), Michael Van Hecke (’86) recently sat down for the above interview with the Cardinal Newman Society. “Two things struck me particularly,” he said of the conference. “One was the real commitment and passion by virtually every speaker about the importance of really making sure everybody keeps Christ in Catholic education, and [two] that Catholic education is still worth fighting for.”
An American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education, Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school in Ventura, California. He is also the president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project and the president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.
View from Inside Rome
Michael Van Hecke (’86)By Michael Van Hecke (’86)
World Congress on Education
Castel Gondolfo/Vatican City
Thursday, November 20, 2015
“This is a very important work!”
These were the kind and encouraging words we received from the prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education, His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi. I met him earlier in the afternoon, then happened upon him in an empty lecture hall, paging through our All Ye Lands book. That was when he told me, “This is a very important work!” He will now take the textbook and our other Catholic Textbook Project materials back to the Vatican offices and review them some more.
This was a nice ending to another long day that featured a great variety of speakers on a wide range of topics. The morning sessions were particularly germane to us in our work at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and for me personally as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy. Much of the morning was devoted to outlining the process and importance of forming those who form teachers — college teacher-formation programs and headmasters’ building the learning communities in their own schools. What was heartening was the clear and passionate appeal to make a theological and spiritual formation the centerpiece of any formation, be it of educational leaders, teachers, or students.
It was following these presentations that I had an opportunity to address the assembly. Introducing myself as headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, I spoke of my own efforts to build a sound, Catholic faculty who teach from a classical perspective. I invited everyone to consider the importance of remembering the great history of our Catholic intellectual tradition.
At this congress, like many professional conferences, there is a preponderant emphasis on the latest research and newest trends, as well as appeals to address the most current issues. And yet, if we are to celebrate the great anniversaries of Church proclamations on Catholic education, documents which stand on the shoulders of our intellectual custom, we need to look at today’s and tomorrow’s challenges from a vantage point of tradition. If we remain moored in our contemporary viewpoint, we will drift far from our potential. The rich traditions we have received in the Church were built on the experience of the centuries — an experience that, in every century, addressed problems in light of the wisdom the Church has received.
The first hint I had that I said something good was when a Canadian archbishop gave me a nice compliment on his way past my seat. Following my talk, I received many similar compliments. Despite the contemporary focus of the academic element of the Congress, it seems that many educators still understand the importance of our Catholic intellectual tradition. Another reason for hope. …
This is the end of our lovely sojourn at Castel Gandolfo. Tomorrow brings us to the closing gathering. A final report to follow.
Blessings to you all.