Faith in Action Blog
In August this blog reported on an education success story in Montrose, California, where St. Monica Academy — a private, Catholic K-12 school run largely by Thomas Aquinas College alumni — was moving to a new, larger campus, due to the steady growth of its student body. Although the move took place over the summer, and St. Monica’s has been operating on its new campus since the fall, the relocation achieved its true consummation last week when the local bishop visited the campus to offer his blessing.
On April 5, the Most Rev. Joseph V. Brennan, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, walked through the campus, surrounded by 10 student acolytes, stopping to bless each classroom, the high school buildings, the athletic field, and the playground with holy water. “I felt the grace of God descend upon the school,” says Headmaster Marguerite (Ford ’79) Grimm, calling the event, “a historic day for St. Monica Academy.”
Founded with just 44 students in 2001, St. Monica’s has seen its enrollment swell to 242 this year. It is a mainstay on the Cardinal Newman Society’s list of “Schools of Excellence,” a ranking of the top Catholic schools across the United States, which also includes several others that are headed by Thomas Aquinas College alumni.
In addition to Mrs. Grimm, there are 11 other alumni on the St. Monica’s faculty: Mary Kate Zepeda (’89), Darren Bradley (’98), Alexandra Currie (’05), Genevieve Grimm (’05), Paula Grimm (’08), Daniel Selmeczy (’08), Marisela Miranda (’09), Jane Forsyth (’11), Colleen Smith (’11), Thomas Quackenbush (’14), and Thomas Trull (’15). Like the College, St. Monica’s employs a classical curriculum and stresses fidelity to the teaching Church.
In a thoughtful piece for Crisis timed for Holy Week, Don Quixote and the Via Dolorosa, Mr. Fitzgerald considers Miguel de Cervantes’ Adventures of Don Quixote as a fitting Lenten read:
“The adventures of Don Quixote are a Passion where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The novel takes up its cross, chapter after chapter, and follows after Christ. Chapter after chapter, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face falls, and, chapter after chapter, he gets up again and continues on. It is a book that plays out with all the pain and poignancy, all the humanity and humor, that composes the chivalric call of the Christian life. …
“[It] is the Lenten quest of every Christian soul: to bring harmony and order to times that are out of joint. What Don Quixote finds is that the world is sundered and senseless, and the work to rebuild among the ruins is treacherous. Though he is trampled and trounced time and again, Don Quixote resolutely rides on for the unity and wisdom of bygone days and is upheld by his vision as he battles through the divisions and disconnections of modernity.”
The headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mr. Fitzpatrick writes frequently for Crisis. The complete article complete article is available via the magazine’s website.
Meghan Duke (’08) and Elizabeth (McPherson ’99) Claeys (Photos: Dana Rene Bowler)
Wednesday morning, while the United States Supreme Court held oral arguments in the case that the College and 34 co-plaintiffs have filed against the HHS Contraceptive Mandate, Women Speak for Themselves organized a rally outside the Court. Among the speakers at the rally were two alumnae of the College, Meghan Duke (’08) and Elizabeth (McPherson ’99) Claeys.
A former managing editor of First Things who is now a writer in The Catholic University of America’s Office of Marketing and Communications, Miss Duke spoke about her time volunteering for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have become the focal point of the national debate on religious freedom. Mrs. Claeys, who is chairman of the Washington, D.C., Board of Regents, spoke about the importance of the Catholic faith to the College and pressed the key points in the College’s case. The full text of her remarks is available via the College’s website.
Dr. Adam Seagrave ('05)In honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Services, Dr. Adam Seagrave (’05) has penned a thoughtful piece for The Public Discourse about the role of the national parks — and Nature more broadly — in the American political tradition. “Over the past 400 years, we Americans have had a very different relationship with nature than the Europeans have,” writes Dr. Seagrave, “and this relationship has powerfully informed what is best in our political culture and public discourse.”
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, Dr. Seagrave observes, “It was because of Americans’ early and unique experience with ‘Nature’ that they came to embrace Locke’s political philosophy in the eighteenth century, with its emphasis on the importance of natural rights and the natural law for politics.” Yet as the country became further removed “from this original experience of nature, through the passage of time and the development of artificial civilization and culture, the original meaning and political significance of nature progressively began to be forgotten. … By the early twentieth century, we were ready to ‘progress’ beyond the founders’ and Lincoln’s ideas, which now seemed naïve, about the political relevance of a grand and significant ‘Nature.’”
By restoring our awe, or reverence, for nature, Dr. Seagrave concludes, the National Parks play a vital role in helping Americans to “connect — or rather reconnect — with something important and distinctive about our national heritage.”
The full article I available via The Public Discourse.
- Alumnus Examines ISIS and Philosophy (2015)
- Alumnus Reviews Fellow Grad’s New Book (2015)
- College’s Latest Alumni Author (2014)
- Two Class of 2005 Authors in The Public Discourse (2013)
- What Pro-Lifers Can Learn from Frederick Douglass (2013)
- Recent Reads by Alumni Authors (2012)
Sierra Silverstrings, featuring the children of Eve (Bouchey ’97) and Jeremy McNeil (’96)
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, KOLO 8, the ABC affiliate in Reno, Nevada, has put together the following segment about Sierra Silverstrings — a local Irish band whose members are the children of Eve (Bouchey ’97) and Jeremy McNeil (’96):
“When people say you play together, you stay together, it’s kind of true, because we were friends, but now we know each other better,” young Brigit McNeil tells KOLO News. “It’s hard to explain. It connects us. We play together, and when you play music, it’s such a joyful thing to create those sounds with each other.”
According to the Sierra Silverstrings website, the band is booked for three shows today, St. Patrick’s Day, and another two more on Saturday, the Feast of St. Joseph.
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.