Note: Miss Dufresne is a junior from Ventura, Calif. The following is adapted from remarks she made to the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors at its fall 2012 meeting.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak today. It is such a joy to be standing in front of you, looking at the faces of so many people who help to support our education at Thomas Aquinas College. We owe you a debt that can never truly be repaid, so please just know of our prayers for all of you.
To speak briefly about how I came to Thomas Aquinas College, I have to admit that I did not really know about the College until my junior or senior year at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif. At that time, I was blessed to have a theology teacher who was very formative for me in my love for the Lord. Bridgid McCarthy (’04), a beloved graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, helped to model for me a spirituality which began to form me as a woman and as a student. At her suggestion, I began the application process to the College, which provided me an occasion to think about what I wanted from a college education. How did I want to spend four years?
Thinking back on that, the way in which the Lord really turned my heart to even look at the College and think about the College, is quite remarkable for me. So I am happy to be able to reflect on that today with you. I would also like to take a couple of moments to reflect on my time at Thomas Aquinas College and discuss what I believe Thomas Aquinas College students should be prepared for after graduation.
Searching for Truth
During his papacy, Bl. John Paul II would often speak about bringing the culture to Christ. We have to be present with the culture, to minister to our fellow brothers and sisters. I am confident that my education at Thomas Aquinas College — thanks to your generosity and support and prayers — is preparing me to do just that.
At Thomas Aquinas College we believe, as you know, that there is a truth to be found and that it is a truth to be loved as well. Looking into the classrooms, the questions that the great books prompt us to consider are the questions that our culture so desperately desires to answer. We want to know the answers to the hard questions. We want to know what love is; we want to know what true loyalty is; we want to know what it means to be virtuous. Is holiness even possible? Can the Christian truly be holy in our culture today? These are questions that, if answered and if understood, would bring our culture closer to Christ.
The things we talk about concern the heart and the human mind — their intricacies, their failings, their strengths, their tendencies. Sometimes I have to step back and pinch myself because we actually talk about these things in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. There is a joy to be had in the heart of someone who gets to talk about things like this.
The Graduate in the World
I would like to take a couple of moments to reflect on what I feel a Thomas Aquinas student should be prepared for after graduation. So often we students measure our intellect and our accomplishments, asking ourselves questions such as: How well do I understand these principles? Do I understand these theorems? These are important questions to ask, and we have to make sure that we map our progress intellectually. But at the same time, I think we have to ask the more probing question: Is the wisdom that we are learning and gaining truly transforming our hearts? Is it transforming us into saints?
Simply put, we are seeking to understand and grow closer to truth and the wisdom of the almighty God. And if we are truly desiring this, then we will grow in our love and appreciation and in our awe of the Lord. We will see how small we are compared to His goodness. We will see how His love has the power to transform our hearts. We will see how great is His love for us. We will come closer to what it means to have true humility.
One of the things that I have prayed for while at the College, oftentimes in the gorgeous chapel that sits at the head of the campus, is to be given the grace to be daily in awe of His goodness and His love for His children. You see on a day-to-day basis His goodness manifested in the works of Aristotle; you see His goodness manifested in St. Thomas; you see His goodness, His love, His Passion, and His mercy manifested in the Confessions of St. Augustine — all works and men that we get to study at the College. You see how He deeply desires to know us, His children. The truths that we pursue at the College inform the mind in knowledge while at the same time increasing in the heart a love for God.
One of the greatest skills we gain through the education at the College is to be able to sift through an argument or hear a conversation and to acknowledge and affirm the truth that is present. Every day in the classroom we learn how to listen and respond with intellectual charity in a way that dignifies our fellow students, our fellow tutor, our fellow visitor. We are called truly to speak the truth with love.
The Thomas Aquinas College student should have the ability to affirm truth when it is present in others, because when we leave the campus — and I have had a bit of experience with this already — we will be surrounded by people who haven’t been formed as we are, who don’t have the principles of Aristotle or St. Thomas or Plato memorized or understood. But we still need to be able to affirm the truth that is present in those souls, and we need to be able to rejoice in that truth, because Christ Himself asked us to rejoice in His truth.
Putting it into Practice
I am happy to say that I have been able to see the fruits of a Thomas Aquinas College education already. I worked part time this past summer with a pro-life organization called Justice for All. They travel nationwide to different college campuses and put on pro-life training seminars for college students. During my time with Justice for All, I was excited to have a conversation with a guy named Dan in Colorado.
Dan was a philosophy major. I have had two years of Aristotelian philosophy, for which I am thankful, and in talking with Dan, I was able to see the early fruits of this learning. Dan and I started talking about the humanity of the unborn, and we started asking questions such as, “Is the unborn a potential human or is it a human being actually?” Although it is a joy to receive this education for its own sake, it was a special joy to see it practically applied in this situation, to see that these truths that we have and that we hold onto are helpful in leading others to Christ or leading them closer to truth.
I would love to assure you, members of the Board of Governors, that you are helping to support so many, not only forming their minds, but also their hearts and their souls. You may have seen on the College’s website the claim that the College is “forming leaders in the service of the truth.” I can say that this cannot be a truer statement. A Thomas Aquinas College graduate should leave the College renewed in the Faith, revitalized by truth, and consoled in a love for the Lord. The graduate should be prepared to be a witness to a culture in need of truth and in need of God’s love.
A Student in the Year of Faith
It is such a gift to get to journey though my junior year here at the College during the Year of Faith. We students here often ask ourselves, what does that phrase, “Year of Faith,” mean for a 21st century college student at one of the most faithfully Catholic schools in the world? I think it calls us to a lot, but more particularly, it forces us to ask the question: Are we ready to be modern-day martyrs for the Church and for the truth of Christ?
For sophomore theology, I was blessed to have as a tutor one of the College’s founders, Dr. John W. Neumayr, who reminded me that the scholarly works of St. Thomas and St. Augustine were their devotions to the Lord, or the way in which they glorified the Lord. How is the Lord calling each and every one of us students to glorify Him and to make His love manifest to one another and to the world?
I think it starts in the classroom, first and foremost, given our vocation as students. It starts in conversation and it starts in prayer. We should never let our studies be devoid of devotion, and the College, through its rich sacramental life, provides channels of grace, allowing us to journey toward this end.
One of the greatest things that can be brought forth in the hearts of the Thomas Aquinas College graduate is intellectual charity. Our work and our studies should be animated by joy. We are called to joy, and we are called to make our lives a prayer.
There is spirit of joy on campus, and I hope that you have experienced it when talking with students and talking with faculty. I know I have, and this has been so refreshing for me and such a consolation when we are surrounded by a culture that would serve us excitement, entertainment, pleasure, and all other sorts of worldly forms of happiness, but would never seek to sustain us. Thomas Aquinas College does seek to sustain the heart and the mind of its students.
Just to speak a little bit about what I hope to do, or what I sense the Lord may be prompting me to do, after graduation: I would love to continue to pursue studies in theology, maybe focusing on evangelization and catechesis, and to work for the Church in this way. The Church needs men and women who have humble hearts and minds that have been formed in His truth, and the College that you support is really at the forefront of that, forming children of God to be able to be witnesses to the world.
So I just again want to thank you for your support. As I mentioned, we owe you a debt that can never truly be repaid; but I hope you know that we pray for you every single day, and that we thank you for your generosity and for your prayers. Thank you for being sources of joy and sources of hope for so many of us. God bless you all.
“The education teaches you how to think in a structured, ordered fashion. In modern medicine … that is very helpful.”
– Major Paul W. White (’95)
Vascular Surgeon, U.S. Army Medical Corps
“Few schools anywhere can match Thomas Aquinas College’s extraordinary blend of deep Catholic faith and rich academic formation.”
– The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Philadelphia