Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87)A feature article in Catholic World Report tells the heartening story of Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a once-failing parochial school that is now thriving in every sense of the word. Enrollment, test scores, and fundraising are up. Parents have become more actively involved, and the spiritual life of the school is flourishing.  The reason? Three years ago, Sacred Heart switched to a classical Catholic liberal arts curriculum — and some Thomas Aquinas College alumni have played an instrumental role in that transition.

“The vision to restore the school to the classical Catholic liberal arts tradition has become a reality,” writes author Leslie Fain, in no small part because of “the guidance of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, an organization dedicated to the renewal of Catholic education.”

The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE) exists specifically to aid schools like Sacred Heart and the teachers who work there, offering conferences, development programs, in-service training, and consultation to would-be classical educators. Its executive director is Dr. Andrew Seeley (’87), a graduate who is now a member of the Thomas Aquinas College teaching faculty, and Michael Van Hecke (’86), the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California, and president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project.

The turnaround at Sacred Heart Academy is not an isolated incident, according to Dr. Seeley. With ICLE’s support, Catholic schools across the country are increasingly returning to the Church’s liberal arts tradition, and to great effect. “Academic communities rejoicing in the truth,” Catholic World Report quotes him as saying, “that’s what I find everywhere I go — the joy the students and teachers have at the schools we work with.”

Read the full story.

Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93) 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’s 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.

Carl Anderson and Patrick Mason (’03) Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Patrick Mason (’03), state deputy of the Knight’s New Mexico state council

Nearly a decade ago, Patrick Mason (’03), then a freshly minted attorney in Gallup, New Mexico, joined his local council of the Knights of Columbus. Much to his surprise, he soon found himself elected chancellor, the council’s third-highest position. Then, when his council’s grand knight was tragically killed by a drunk driver, and its terminally ill deputy grand knight entered hospice care, Mr. Mason — a new Knight and still only in his 20s — became the council’s leader.

By God’s grace, the council thrived, attracting new, younger members, and earning the prestigious Star Council Award from the Knights’ Supreme Council. Mr. Mason began representing his council at regional and national conventions and, in short order, was elected state advocate for the Knights in New Mexico. He then proceeded to work his way through the state organization’s ranks, culminating in his election, in May, as state deputy — the highest state-level position within the Knights of Columbus.

There are only approximately 70 KofC state deputies, or their foreign equivalents, in the world, and among those, Mr. Mason — a husband and father of two sons, with a third child due in October — may well be the youngest. At 35 years of age, he is also the youngest man ever to hold the position in New Mexico. In June, he traveled to Connecticut for a leadership orientation, during which he met with the Knights’ national Board of Directors as well as Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.

“The way I look at it, throughout history — for example, after Pearl Harbor or even 9-11 — men stood up in defense of their country,” says Mr. Mason. “In a lot of ways, the Knights of Columbus provides a similar kind of opportunity for men to stand up in defense of the Church and families. It allows them to stand up and be, as Pope St. John Paul II said, ‘the strong right arm of the Catholic Church.’”

With 105 councils and 10,000 members, the Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic lay organization in New Mexico. “As part of my duties, I have to meet with bishops, correspond with members of the Church hierarchy, and inspire and form our men in the Faith,” he says. “Being able to pull from my knowledge of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and being able to communicate the ideas that I developed and found at Thomas Aquinas College, has really helped me in all those regards. If it weren’t for the strength and faith that the College gave me, I don’t think I would be doing this.”

 Student and Alumnae at the GIVEN Forum Kathryn Claahsen (’12), Bridget Heffernan (’13), Clara Diodati (’17), Bridget Lynch (’12), Meghan Reichert (’18), Emily Sanchez (’17), and Emily (Barry ’11) Sullivan

The seven women pictured above, four alumnae and three current students at Thomas Aquinas College, all participated in the recently concluded GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

Organized by the Council of  Major Superiors of Women Religious — whose former chair, Sr. Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D., was the College’s 2015 Commencement Speaker — the forum included 300 Catholic lay women from across the United States, joined by 75 religious sisters. Its purpose was to provide faith formation to selected attendees, aiding them in their work within their parishes, communities, or dioceses. The weeklong forum included talks from prominent women leaders within the Church, such as Helen Alvaré and Sr. Mary Prudence Allen, R.S.M., as well as small mentoring groups.

In order to attend the forum, participants had to complete a rigorous application that included three letters of recommendation and a detailed action plan for upcoming projects related to their work or apostolates. All expenses for the forum, including travel and accommodations at The Catholic University of America, were paid for through the generous support of the Hilton Foundation.

The video above is a message of welcome from the incoming headmaster of Holy Spirit Academy in Monticello, Minnesota — Andrew M. Lang (’06). A private high school that features a classical curriculum, Holy Spirit strives to offer a faithfully Catholic education in “an environment grounded in the Truth, which prepares students for a life at the service of others.”

Previously Mr. Lang, who studied at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, served as a pastoral associate for a cluster of four parishes in Bellevue, Iowa. He officially assumes his new post at Holy Spirit Academy on July 1.

“Please join me in my prayers,” writes this husband and father of five, “for a peaceful and expedient transition for my family and for continued success under my leadership of this promising classical Catholic high school.”

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!

Maureen Gahan (’76) with some of her Milestone clients at her retirement party in September Maureen Gahan (’76) with some of her Milestone clients at her retirement party in September

It is a “repeating story,” says Maureen Gahan (’76), one she heard thousands of times during her recently concluded tenure as the founding director of Milestones Clinical and Health Resources in Bloomington, Indiana. The story typically begins when a child first goes to school, and intellectual disabilities or mental-health problems start to surface — or become unmanageable. “Parents notice that one of their children may not be developing the same way their others did, or the child has trouble in school. Nobody knows what to do.”

For the last 15 years — the second act of a remarkable, three-decade career as a social-services executive — Miss Gahan worked to find answers for families struggling with mental-health disorders or intellectual disabilities. On September 30, that career came to an end, as Miss Gahan retired as the director of Milestones, a job that, at one time, she never would have imagined for herself, at an institution that would not have existed without her initiative, in a field that, though not her first choice, proved to be her calling.

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Kayla (Kermode ’12) SixKayla (Kermode ’12) Six

Four years ago, as she was wrapping up her Senior Thesis, Kayla (Kermode ’12) Six was recruited by the insurance conglomerate WellPoint for a process-consulting position at its Thousand Oaks headquarters. Four years later, WellPoint is now called Anthem, Mrs. Six has risen to the position of sourcing manager, and she has been named to the supply-chain industry’s list of 30 under 30 Rising Stars.

The list, which is a joint venture of the Institute for Supply Management and ThomasNet, “highlights the accomplishments of rising supply management professionals” under the age of 30. “During her four years in procurement, Six has been the enterprise-wide strategic sourcing lead for multiple business areas and spend categories simultaneously,” reads her “30 Under 30” profile. Says Anthem’s director of strategic sourcing, Greg Antoniono, “Kayla’s ability to gain mastery of technically complex areas of sourcing, manage demanding internal clients and still drive innovation and great results — 37 percent savings in a mature category is just one example — is extraordinary.”

The profile additionally notes that Mrs. Six “is most proud of negotiating an integrated voice-response contract, which had to be coordinated and collaborated with more than 40 business owners to implement consolidation and create a joint-governance model between Anthem and the supplier. The project had to assure compliance to regulations, drive innovation, address current issues and opportunities and track service level agreements.”

Just last month, Mrs. Six returned to her alma mater to offer students advice at a Career Strategies Workshop.

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.

Below is the third in a series of reflections by Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City. (See parts one and two.)

View from Inside Rome

Michael Van Hecke (’86)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.