Faith in Action Blog
Yesterday we posted the first in a series of reflections by Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City. Below is part two.
View from Inside Rome
Michael Van Hecke (’86)By Michael Van Hecke (’86)
World Congress on Education
Castel Gondolfo/Vatican City
Thursday, November 19, 2015
During the first full day of the congress, I was very much occupied — with my list. As I met people, and passed them or had lunch next to them, I added them to a list of countries from which they hailed. I counted 62 nations — 62 nations of Catholic educators — and those are only the ones I personally encountered. I do not know the total number of nations represented, but what a grand exhibition of the universality of our church! How beautiful the commitment and love for the Church and children this showing represented. Second on my list of memorable moments today was meeting a most gracious son of the Church, one of the archbishops from Nigeria, and dozens of other holders of the torch of the Gospel mission from the African continent: Cameroon, Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, Congo, Gabon, etc. It was inspiring to be among them.
Other than that, it was a very long day, marked by almost two dozen talks. It was quite a lot to take in, given the worldwide representation and the global perspective. By global perspective, I do not refer to one idea that fits the whole globe, but many ideas emanating from a myriad circumstances of politics, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, war, and persecution. It was overwhelming at points. Yet, in the face of all of that, the message of the necessity of the Gospel and love of neighbor reigned universal. It was the one thing all speakers had in common.
That was the upside.
One downside was a seeming lack of response to the many problems and challenges that face Catholic education. With all the “leaders” in Catholic education from so many varied areas of the world speaking, none seized upon one of the most obvious aids to improving education globally, and that is a better grasp of Christian anthropology as it relates to the manner and material of education. There seemed to be a collective misconception that our world has advanced tremendously from primitive cultures to a most advanced civilization. We seem to not see the beauty around us here in Rome, where every church seems to have a Bernini, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, or a Raphael. How has this come about? By education. By philosophy. By defining terms and honoring the dignity of man, which is a direct result of a growing Catholic intellectual custom. Why have we forgotten this? Why can we not consider our dilemma and ask the simple questions of how we got to where we are today — how have we come this far? And why are we now seeing so many troubles? And to ask all such questions and, yet, not despair!
However, questions from the floor, comments from some presenters, and many conversations between sessions revealed that there still is a common, collective, and reflective sense. Generally, the speakers seemed very committed and focused on the need for relationship and true, sound, Catholic education. The import of many of the participants was that a sound, liberal arts education, rooted in Catholic intellectual traditions, is the human piece of the puzzle that gets us there. It was clear that we need to renew the liberal arts approach, and we need to provide to students sound materials which support Catholic thought, philosophy, and moral structure.
Yes, there is hope. While there still remains confusion, as there always will, a big concern we see in speeches and the document is that we are increasing our reliance and dependence on governmental educational structures which are becoming more antithetical to our mission and the soul of Catholic education. We must recapture the passion and purpose of a true Catholic education. We must not succumb to social, economic, and political pressures — we must do everything it takes to provide sound Catholic education for our children. We must do this for the future of our Church and the future of civilization. As one speaker, representing parents from Italy, challenged the Church: “Do not close the schools!”
Michael Van Hecke (’86)Michael Van Hecke (’86), an American delegate to the World Congress on Catholic Education in Vatican City, has published the first in a planned series of dispatches about the international gathering of Catholic educators. The Church has convened the Congress to address “the challenges that the ‘educational emergency’ unavoidably provokes,” while commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Gravissimum Educationis and the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
Prior to the start of the conference, Mr. Van Hecke and his wife, Jessie (Ellis ’86), paid a visit to the tomb of St. Monica, which prompted the following reflection:
“Everything was ordered correctly in St. Monica’s world. She knew her son’s profound intellectual gifts would take him far and wide and make him an intellectual figure of historic proportions, but she also knew that all that really mattered was his immortal soul’s salvation. This is exactly the right orientation to take to a meeting in which we contemplate and discuss Catholic education in the modern world. It is the proper orientation all Catholic education should be modeled upon, in any time or place, but especially the modern world. ‘Ever ancient, ever new,’ as Augustine said.
“If this Congress is to bless the world, it will be because it will have clearly defined Catholic education’s role as a tool of the Church to pass on Catholic culture, both intellectual and moral, to future generations. This culture we aim to pass on means nothing less than living our baptismal call to bring Christ to the world through love of neighbor with our ultimate end, Heaven, as the arbiter of all our acts and decisions.”
Mr. Van Hecke is the headmaster of St. Augustine Academy, a K-12 classical school in Ventura, California, that is consistently ranked among the best Catholic schools in the United States. He is also the president of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project and the president and founder of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE).
This blog will provide links to Mr. Van Hecke’s subsequent dispatches as they are published.
Rev. Patrick Carter, O.S.B. (’05), Governor Lloyd Noble, President Michael F. McLean, Dr. John Nieto (’89), and Rev. Peter Miller, O.S.B. (’07)
This past Sunday, the Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery, Bishop of Tulsa, ordained into the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ two Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Rev. Patrick Carter, O.S.B. (’05), and Rev. Peter Miller, O.S.B. (’07). Fr. Carter and Fr. Miller are two of the 11 Thomas Aquinas College alumni serving at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma.
Among the alumni and friends of the College who traveled to Northeastern Oklahoma for the occasion were President Michael F. McLean, Governor Lloyd Noble II, and Dr. John Nieto (’89). A senior tutor, Dr. Nieto gave the new priests a small foretaste of their monastic life when he taught them Gregorian chant in the College’s Schola Cantorum.
With these two latest ordinations, the College can now claim — by God’s grace — 64 alumni priests! Deo gratias!
Katie Short (’80), attorney for David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, at federal court in San Francisco.
When David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress first devised his plan to expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of harvesting and selling the organs of aborted babies, he knew he would need legal advice. So the undercover journalist turned to San Francisco’s Life Legal Defense Foundation and its co-founder and vice president, Katie Short (’80). Mrs. Short and others helped Mr. Daleiden to prepare for the inevitable legal challenges and to navigate the myriad laws in several jurisdictions.
Katie Short (’80) with David Daleiden of the Center for Medical ProgressNearly three years later, that effort has proved to be a tremendous success, drawing national attention to Planned Parenthood’s gruesome practices and fueling a Congressional movement to strip the abortion provider of federal funding. Predictably, the abortion industry’s premier trade group, the National Abortion Federation, has struck back with a lawsuit designed to ruin Mr. Daleiden and suppress his findings. And so the young filmmaker has turned to Mrs. Short once again, asking her foundation to defend him against a fevered legal onslaught.
“We at Life Legal have fought for decades to guarantee the First Amendment rights of pro-life activists,” says Mrs. Short. “Usually this happens on a small scale right in front of an abortion mill. Now we are seeing the same drama play out on a grand scale in the public eye, as the NAF throws its resources into crushing David Daleiden’s witness. There’s really little else that they can do, as David truly has the goods on the abortion industry in general and on Planned Parenthood in particular. Only by doing our all at this crucial juncture can Life Legal keep the truth about Planned Parenthood available to the public.”
A home-schooling mother of nine children, Mrs. Short has written numerous briefs for state and federal courts, including petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court. She co-authored the text of Propositions 73, 85, and 4, California ballot initiatives aimed at requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. She additionally served as co-counsel in People’s Advocate v. ICOC, a suit challenging the constitutionality of the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency established by Proposition 71 to fund embryonic stem cell research.
Last week Mrs. Short was at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, leading Mr. Daleiden’s pro bono defense team during his deposition — one small step in what promises to be a lengthy, exhausting, and expensive legal battle. “The case has extremely high stakes for all participants,” says Mrs. Short’s husband, Bill (’80), a fellow attorney. “Please pray for Daleiden, the project, Katie, and the rest of the legal team, and encourage others to do so as well.”
Director of Alumni Mark Kretschmer (’99) passes along the following prayer requests:
- Please pray for Hui Liu (’03), who last year became deathly ill while working with the Missionaries of Charity in Mexico, and has since returned to his home in China. Sarah Kaiser (’02) reports that he is getting weaker and apparently does not have long to live.
- Please pray for Phillip Chavez (’86), who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. While his doctor tells him it is slow-growing and treatable, there is a high ranking on the Gleason index, indicating a grave concern. He is at peace and is doing his research on treatments and lifestyle changes. Soon he will have another test to see if the cancer has spread.
- Finally, please pray for Andy Shapiro, husband of Mary Ann (Halpin ’79) and father of Caecilia (’16). He is facing a major health issue with complications
Three members of the Class of 2015 — Samantha Flanders, Tori Miller, and Joanna Kaiser — have recently returned from a post-graduation mission trip to Port au Price, Haiti, where they worked with the Missionaries of Charity. Writes Miss Flanders:
“We began every morning at 5:00 a.m. in the chapel with morning prayer, meditations on Scripture, and Holy Mass; after which I would go and help take care of the 115 babies (mostly suffering from malnutrition) that the sisters provided care for in the compound. Once a month I would help the sisters with a food distribution to 900 needy people. We would give them 10 cups of rice and beans, 30 cups of cornmeal, 1cup of oil, 1can of tomato paste, and 1chicken. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, I would help out at the sisters’ St. Joseph wound clinic. The poor people of Haiti would come in long lines and wait for us to dress their wounds, mostly third-degree burns covering their arms and legs, and injuries such as machete hacks and bullet wounds.
“The weather was very humid and balmy. Every day my clothes would be drenched in sweat, and in the afternoon the heat was usually unbearable. It is truly incredible how much the MC sisters endure. Not only do they put up with the heat but they also live in such a detached way — it is truly a beautiful vocation. The trip was an amazing experience, and I am so grateful to God for all of the benefactors who supported it, and especially to all the angels He put on my road. I was able to meet a lot of other wonderful volunteers in Haiti.”
Miss Flanders and Miss Kaiser are currently continuing their journey with a 33-day pilgrimage to Spain, where they are backpacking 800 km. of the Camino de Santiago.
Greg Pfundstein (’05), president of the New York-based Chiaroscuro Foundation, recently appeared on the Canadian television program Context with Lorna Dueck to discuss the recent visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United States. (Interview begins at the 1:08 mark.)
Answering a question about the ostensible tension between mercy and doctrine, Mr. Pfundstein responded, “The interesting thing about mercy is that there is no mercy if there is no justice. If there is no law, if there is no sin, why does anyone need any mercy? There is nothing to forgive; there is nothing to be sorry for. So there is always this balance between upholding what is true about human nature — and what we are all called to live in our lives as Christians and as human beings — and, on the other hand, embracing people where they are, in their own struggles and their own weaknesses, and trying to draw them in.” The Holy Father’s approach, Mr. Pfundstein continued, is like that of Our Lord’s comments to the woman caught in adultery, offering mercy while at the same time upholding truth. “It’s a delicate balance,” he continued, “and this pope, I think, has struck it very well.”
Mr. Pfundstein also cautioned against the tendency to force papal statements into a narrowly political framework. “The American political situation is a small part of the wider world, and the Pope is speaking … to the whole world and to the Universal Church,” he said. “His comments transcend our political categories, and I think it’s a mistake to think of them only in those terms. If anyone feels completely comfortable with everything he says, they’re probably not listening carefully. He’s got something that should challenge all of us.”
Br. Augustine, O.S.B. (’13)
The College has received the joyful news that on September 8 — the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Philip Wilmeth (’13) made his simple vows at the Monastero di San Benedetto. He is now Brother Augustine, O.S.B., and a novice at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica.
“I was so grateful to be there and share this beautiful celebration with the monks of Norcia,” writes Br. Augustine’s mother, Anne T. Wilmeth. “They are a wonderful community of brothers who exemplify God’s grace.”
Among those present for the profession Mass were four Thomas Aquinas College alumni: Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., one of Br. Augustine’s fellow Benedictines; Deneys Williamson (’10) and David Allen (’10), seminarians who are studying in Rome for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and the Norbertine Fathers in Silverado, California, respectively; and Br. Augustine’s brother, John Parker Wilmeth (’14), who is studying classical architecture in University of Notre Dame’s graduate program.
Br. Augustine, meanwhile, recently enjoyed a home visit, during which he took a break from his duties as the manager of the Benedictines’ brewery and gift shop. His voice can be heard on the community’s new musical album, Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia.
Deneys Williamson (’10), Br. Evagrius Hayden (’08), O.S.B., Br. Augustine Wilmeth, O.S.B. (’13), and David Allen (’10)
Saints Zelie and Louis Martin
Suzie Andres (’87)
Fresh after writing her testimonial to St. Junipero Serra, alumna novelist Suzie Andres (’87) has authored a tribute to the Church’s two most recently canonized saints, Louis and Zelie Martin. The Martins “are quite near to us,” Mrs. Andres observes, and this proximity makes their holiness tangible — and attainable — to us, their faithful contemporaries. As such, they are a valuable and much-needed model for our time:
“Louis and Zelie’s message isn’t new; it’s the same message their daughter has been spreading so handily for the last 120 years, the message of the Gospel. But if we ask where Saint Thérèse learned her little and very ordinary way of sanctity, the answer comes back from the Church: she learned it first in the home of her parents, whose way was absolutely ordinary. …
“The message of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin is simply this: Sanctity is not beyond our reach — it is Christ’s doing, and He thirsts to do it in us. The Church will not rest until she gets this message through our very thick heads: the saints were human like we are, and we need not be daunted by their greatness. It is just such greatness that Jesus has in mind for us, the greatness of the little ones. Without Him, we are nothing, and when He makes us great, it is simply His greatness shining forth in us.”
His Holiness Pope Francis canonized the Martins this past weekend on World Mission Sunday. Saints Louis and Zelie, pray for us!
Classmates: Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99) and Director of Alumni Affairs Mark Kretschmer (’99)
Sixteen years after his graduation, Rev. Michael Hurley, O.P. (’99), returned to Thomas Aquinas Tuesday night to present a vocational talk, “The Life of a Dominican Priest.” Some 20 young men came to the discussion, in which Fr. Michael, the pastor of the 2,500-family St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, described his journey to Thomas Aquinas College, his vocational discernment, and a “typical day” of shepherding souls in a busy urban parish.
Fr. Michael graduated from the College in 1999, and joined the Western Dominican Province shortly thereafter. He then studied at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, earner master’s degree in both philosophy and theology. Since his ordination in 2007 he has served various parishes in the Bay Area before becoming the pastor of St. Dominic’s Church.
“What led me to the Dominicans and the Dominican life,” he reflected at Tuesday’s dinnertime discussion, is “very similar to the reason why I came to the College.” When he was a teenager, his parents enrolled him in a fundamentalist Protestant school where his peers challenged his faith, he says, and “I became the Catholic answer guy, but I had no idea how to be the Catholic answer guy.” Seeking a college experience “that would help me think about my faith in a kind of deeper, personal way,” he came to Thomas Aquinas College, he says, drawn by the strong sense of Catholic community and robust sacramental life” — qualities that ultimately drew him to the Order of Preachers, as well.
Over the course of his talk, Fr. Michael took questions and spoke frankly about both the challenges and blessing of his vocation. “Let me give you my schedule from two Saturdays ago,” he said. “I got up, and we celebrated the 8:00 a.m. Mass. Then I had a baptism at 10, followed by a funeral. Then we had a wedding. Then there were confessions before the 5:30 Mass. Then came the vigil Mass, after which I got a phone call, because we are on call for three hospitals in the area. Someone had had a heart attack while swimming in the Bay and was basically on life support” — and so the priest had to rush to the scene to perform an anointing.
“I have to say, at the end of the day, no doubt, I was taking a deep breath,” he recalled. “But I just said, O Lord, what a life — to be able to be rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.”
As a pastor, he continued, he has the privilege of being an alter Christus in the lives of the faithful. “A lot of these folks I don’t even know personally, but when you’re a priest, when you’re a Dominican, when you wear this habit, people know you in a sense. They have that sense of connection, and you can be personally Christ for them. It’s not like they know who I am; they know who Christ needs to be for them. For me, there is nothing more inspiring, delightful, and wonderful.”