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.”
Tonight an audience at the University of British Columbia will be delighted by a father-daughter concert featuring two Thomas Aquinas College alumni, Mark (’89) and Colleen Donnelly (’14). The concert, billed as Love Songs Old & New, in honor of St. Valentine’s Day, is set to begin with the “Ecco la primavera” of Francesco Landini (d. 1397), and then continue on “through seven centuries and three languages.” It will feature masterpieces by Mozart and Beethoven as well as many Broadway favorites. Notably, the production will also include the premier of Mr. Donnelly’s musical setting of Alfred Noyes’ classic ballad “The Highwayman.”
An opera singer, teacher, and composer, Mr. Donnelly is most famous for leading crowds in the singing of “O Canada” at Vancouver Canucks’ home games. Since graduating from the College two years ago, Miss Donnelly has enrolled in the UBC’s School of Music, where she is concentrating in opera performance.
Readers in the Vancouver area can still purchase tickets online!
Head Chaplain Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., has asked for prayers for Matthew Reiser (’00) and his wife Sharon (Raskob ’99), the College’s director of foundation relations. Fr. Paul visited and anointed Matthew at a local hospital this morning. “His condition is critical,” says Fr. Paul, “and he is very much in need of prayers, as well as Sharon.”
The College community is gathering this morning in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel to pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Matt. Please join us in prayer!
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.
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
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 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
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
Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’ReillyA home-schooling mother of 12 children, Margaret (Steichen ’84) O’Reilly has remarkably found time to pen a beautiful essay about the Holy Eucharist in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
“That the infinite Son of God would give himself entirely to his beloved Church — not just his image or a mere symbol of his love, but his very self, whole and complete — is unfathomable by finite minds,” writes Mrs. O’Reilly, who earned catechetical certification from Our Lady of Peace Pontifical Catechetical Institute in Beaverton, Oregon. “That he would remain forever present to his people in a form that does not overpower us, but that can enter into and transform us, springs from an intellect surpassing all created intellects. It flows from a love surpassing all human love.”
Among the many wonderful insights Mrs. O’Reilly includes in her article is that “the Lord of all creation, who made things as they are, alone has the authority to alter the natural order of created things.” Following His command, “the disciples and their consecrated successors … accomplish the unimaginable.”
The full article, A Divine Reflection: You and the Holy Eucharist, is available via the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website.
Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)
This week educators from across the United States are gathering in Cleveland, Ohio, for Rejoicing Together in Truth, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education's Third Annual Catholic Schools Conference. Among the speakers (PDF) are four graduates of the College:
- Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), a tutor at Thomas Aquinas College and the executive director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education
- Luke Macik (’87), headmaster of The Lyceum in South Euclid, Ohio, which is hosting the conference
- Michael Van Hecke (’86), headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, and president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education
- Dr. Arthur Hippler (’89), a member of the theology department at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota
- Mark Langley (’89), founder and academic dean of The Lyceum
- Jessie (Ellis ’86) Van Hecke, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California
- Merrill Roberts (’03), teacher at St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Maryland
In June Dr. Seeley, Mr. Van Hecke, and Mr. Macik spoke about the conference and the broader Catholic classical schools movement on the From the Median program on the Salem Radio Network's WHK in Cleveland. Audio of that program is available courtesy of From the Median:
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and Pope Francis’s second encyclical, Laudato Si’, some Catholics have complained that the Holy Father has spent too much time talking about the environment, and not enough about the sanctity of marriage. Dr. John Finley (’99), however, suggests another perspective. In Catholic World Report, the alumnus and former tutor offers “three reasons why Catholics should take seriously the encyclical’s subject matter, precisely in view of the Supreme Court’s decision.”
“The concerns of Laudato Si' are not foreign — indeed, they are closely akin — to the age-old concerns hubristically dismissed by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges,” writes Dr. Finley. “In a pre-Christian world, the normative goodness of the natural world and of human sexuality could be recognized.… In a post-Christian world dominated by the will to power, the love of money, and an increasing enslavement to technology, rejection of Christ includes rejection of that greater whole, with all its parts, down to things as fundamental as nature and nature’s stewards: man and woman.”
A professor of philosophy at the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, as well as a husband and the father of two young sons, Dr. Finley contends that modern attempts to redefine marriage are part of a larger tendency to view nature as the plaything of human desires. Thus “any work of evangelization today has a greater job than it did in the days of the early martyrs,” he continues, “for it has to be as much concerned with the natural as with the supernatural.”
The full article is available via Catholic World Report.
“I was in my dress and getting ready to leave,” recalls Lane (Smith ’04) Scott, describing that woeful day in 2011 when she almost got her Ph.D.
After spending three years completing her coursework and another four writing a dissertation, she had made the six-hour, 400-mile drive from her home in Angels Camp, California, to Los Angeles to defend her dissertation at Claremont Graduate University. Then the phone rang.
It was her adviser. “He said that the department chair had not actually bothered to read my dissertation until the night before, and then determined that I had an incomplete understanding of the subject,” she sighs. The defense was canceled. “Dissertation defenses never get canceled. Everyone knows that once the defense is scheduled, you’re golden. It was mortifying — unprecedented. I was in my dress and on my way to the campus, and instead of being done I had to write an entirely new dissertation.”Read more
When alumnus Jared Kuebler (’03) joined the Thomas Aquinas College teaching faculty in 2011, he had already completed his doctoral studies (theology, Ave Maria University), but not his dissertation. He therefore spent most of his vacation and free time over the last few years completing this requirement — a challenging task for a full-time college instructor and father of six. His diligence, however, has paid off and, as a result, he has earned the title of doctor.
Last week, Dr. Kuebler traveled back to Ave Maria and successfully defended his dissertation, “Created and Uncreated Duration: Time and Eternity in St. Thomas Aquinas.”
“Ultimately, my thesis was that the divine eternity is understood by St. Thomas as including the notions of duration and measure, but that both notions are understood in an analogous sense,” Dr. Kuebler explains. “I attempted to lay out the way in which one should understand those analogies based on our first knowledge of time, duration, and measure as taken from our experience of the sensible world.”
Rev. Matthew Lamb, S.T.L, the founder of Ave Maria’s theology graduate program, served as Dr. Kuebler’s thesis director, and the dissertation received the examining board’s hearty approval. Dr. Kuebler is now the fifth Thomas Aquinas College alumnus — and the third member of its teaching faulty — to earn a doctorate at Ave Maria, in a program that is just 10 years old and has accepted only three or four Ph.D. students per year. The other alumni are Dr. John Froula (’99), Dr. Jeff Froula (’02), and tutors Dr. Katherine Gardner (’06) and Dr. Paul Shields (’07).
Congratulations, Dr. Kuebler!