Catholic Studies Blog
Faith and Career

The Stories We’re Telling

By Savannah Siegler ’14 (Catholic Studies and English)

One of my favorite classes at St. Thomas was The Catholic Vision with Dr. Kidd, where I learned a lot of interesting things about Augustine, The Gospel of John, philosophy and personal narratives. But the most important thing that I took away from that class was the idea that God speaks to each of us in the particular lives that we live, communicating His love through our families, friends, and experiences of joy and suffering.  This idea is simple, but so incredible at the same time, especially now as I prepare to graduate from St. Thomas (yikes!) and think about all the people, circumstances and blessings that have allowed me to be a student here. I have also been reflecting on where the Lord is leading me next as a FOCUS missionary.

What is FOCUS? In a nutshell, The Fellowship of Catholic University Students is an outreach program where missionaries meet college students where they are at in their faith journeys, inviting them into a deeper relationship with Christ that will ideally continue and grow throughout their lives. We do a lot of awesome (and scary) things like bear-handing—going up to strangers and presenting the Gospel Message—and fundraising our salaries (did I say scary…). But every missionary I have met is full of the joy, and I (along with Tommie of the Year Brandon Miranda!) am so excited that the Lord is calling me to be one of them.

So how did I get here? For starters, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher especially after sixteen years of Catholic education. Junior year, my plan was to apply for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program at Notre Dame, a Master’s program in Education which involves taking classes in the summer and teaching at under-resourced Catholic schools during the school year. Once Senior began I started thinking and planning more seriously—I had a timeline all set, a list of people to ask for recommendations ready, and a GRE date scheduled. Everything seemed ready but as I looked at all my lists and notes I had a feeling that maybe this wasn’t what I was supposed to do. Since I had already signed up for the GRE I decided that I would keep going with the process, but I told Jesus that if he wanted to direct my efforts somewhere else He had permission to do so.

About a week later I was having dinner with my friend Emma whose sister happened to be a FOCUS missionary. I told her about my not being sure about ACE anymore and she told me I should consider applying to be a missionary—there was even an interview weekend at St. Thomas so if my application was accepted I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere. The Lord knows me well. The next morning I looked at the FOCUS website and realized that the applications for the St. Paul interviews were less than a week away—yikes! If I was going to apply, I was going to do it right then. And, with a lot of encouragement and support from my friends I finished my application and submitted it on the feast of St. Therese of Liseux, patron of missionaries and of FOCUS.

My application was accepted and the interview weekend was beyond anything I could have imagined. All the other applicants were so energetic and holy and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with them. While everything had happened rather quickly, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something there for me. Friday night consisted of some solid talks and a great meal at Buca di Beppo, but Saturday was the big day. Because of the surplus of applicants my first interview wasn’t until 3:00 pm which meant that I had a lot of free time. We were in Sitzmann Hall, which has become like a second home to me during my time in Catholic Studies, and I had about three hours to pray in the Albertus Magnus Chapel before my interview. I asked the Lord so many times why He had brought me here—FOCUS definitely had not been on my radar and I knew if they asked me why I wanted to be a missionary I wasn’t going to have a coherent answer. I told Jesus that if He wanted me here He was going to have to give me the words to say, and he did. Both of my interviews were not only really awesome, but also tons of fun (and two of the interviewers added me on facebook, they must have enjoyed it too!). I left that weekend with the inner peace that I had been waiting for.

The next two weeks were a little nerve-wracking as I waited for a call from FOCUS. Finally on a Monday morning I was offered a position as a missionary. My parents weren’t thrilled at the idea, and because I value their opinion so much, it was a difficult decision. In fact, I really wanted to say no at that point. I remember my friend Gemma sitting at my kitchen table with me telling me that I should just say yes. I decided to trust her, and while it was scary at first, I’m glad I did. This was the feast day of Blessed Chiara Badano whose motto is ‘For you, Jesus’, which I want to adopt during my missionary work.

I had some doubts until January when I prayed a novena to St. Therese. I know that God loves for us to make decisions and wants us to trust Him, but I needed a concrete sign with this one. So one freezing-cold afternoon I went to the St. Paul Cathedral and prayed at the Sacred Heart of Jesus altar where he had three beautiful sunny-yellow roses waiting for me—His simple and sweet answer to my prayers.

It’s been such an incredible and unexpected journey getting to this point and the Lord has been revealing to me more and more that He really has given me a heart for this mission. As I look ahead to the next two years I can’t help but look back on the last four with gratitude. College is a transition time for all of us, especially here at St. Thomas where so many students travel from all over the country only to return to those places—or others– once their education is complete. I don’t think we can help but be changed by this experience and to share it with others as we move into our careers and vocations. The Lord is telling such beautiful and intricate stories with our lives, and Catholic Studies will be something that we all have in common.

This story that the Lord had been telling has been quite the adventure so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Catholic at UST

Peer Ministry: Evangelizing Campus One Student at a Time

Written by Caroline Stiles ’15, Catholic Studies and Philosophy 

The GrapeFun fact: Any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope. This means, my fine Catholic Studies gentlemen, that you, yes you, could be elected pope. Of course, let’s be real. You all reside in Minnesota after all, and your accents are far too thick for the world to experience. So rest assured, you have nothing to worry about….you’re welcome.

I was asked to write this blog post because I am a Peer Minister and the President of Catholic Studies Incorporated. Apparently this is a sufficient condition for having an interesting story to tell.

A bit about Eer-pay Inistry-may: we are a group of four women and four men who live in the dorms and work to encourage and enrich the faith lives of other students. This includes putting on programs such as Theology of the Body, women’s groups, soul mate seminars, retreats and much more. We also put on Praise and Worship as well as Journey in Faith every other week. It’s pretty neat.

In my opinion, we have the most wonderful job on campus. How could it not be? I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but there really cannot be any better job. Working as a peer minister has been by far the most humbling experience of my life, and nothing says blessed like having the opportunity to bring others close to the Lord. The close, intimate relationships that we build with other students are beautiful, crucial and wholesome.

I know what you’re thinking: “Pshh, are they really even doing anything? Seems like a vague job description to me.” I’ve heard it before. What do Peer Ministers even do? Why don’t we have FOCUS? I get it. But in the most honest and humble way possible, I have to believe that the Lord is working through us to impact lives. Perhaps I am the only one, but for me, I grow by example. I need someone close to me who is pushing me to grow with the Lord either by tangible challenges or simply through their holiness.

This, my friends, is the very idea behind Peer Ministry. Sure we put on events, providing students with promising opportunities to push themselves, but more than ever we try to lead by example and build intimate relationships so we can have a partner in this battle for Heaven. Clearly this path to holiness is not a path we can take by ourselves. That’s where we come in. And when I say we, I mean WE, as in this whole campus, state, and world. I may have a title as Peer Minister, but let me assure you that there are more than eight peer ministers on this campus. We, especially as Catholics, are all in this as one. If there is one thing I have learned this year it is that the Lord uses each and every one of us to bring glory to Him. You don’t need a title to make an impact.

So that’s it. That’s Peer Ministry. Raw, life-on-life, God-driven relationships. It seems worthwhile to me. Praise the Lord.

Alumni, Service, Student Profiles

Being “Christ in the City”

Written by Abby Kowitz, Catholic Studies Alumna, Class of 2012

As a recent college grad, most people nod their heads in approval when I tell them I have a degree in Accounting, but that same head nod quickly turns into a sort of confused neck spasm when I nonchalantly add that I also have a degree in Catholic Studies; and the great paradox is, that if given the ultimatum, I would drop the Accounting and cling to my Catholic Studies education in a heartbeat. Why? Because Catholic Studies has not only formed my perspective of my work, but has permeated every aspect of my life.

When it came time to decide what to do after graduation, one thought continued to ring loud and clear: “Our times need disciples for Christ who are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.” Okay…that sounds great, but how do we actually do it? How do we do the seemingly impossible placed on our hearts by a realistic yet demanding Father?

I started to answer this by recognizing that I am a daughter of God and a member of the Body of Christ. I have been given everything with which to do anything, just not the controller. I have been called to use my talents and gifts to serve the Lord under no conditions, and after pretending for many months that my plan was better than His, I admitted that He knew better and am now serving as a missionary with Christ in the City in Denver, Colorado for one year.

Something that I will forever hold onto from my Catholic Studies education is that true leadership has everything to do with our being and nothing to do with our title; it is who we are, and not what we do. It has taken four months of humble missionary work for me to really internalize that definition in a practical way. Being a missionary, you are on the bottom of the Totem Pole… and I mean the literal bottom.

Why can’t someone more qualified process payroll as the Accountant for Christ in the City? Why does it matter that it’s me and not a random social worker counseling the young women who walk into the crisis pregnancy center? Couldn’t I be doing something better with my time than washing dishes by hand for the fifth time that day for my fellow missionaries and community members?

The answer is that it does matter that this person is me. I need to be the one processing payroll, and sitting with that vulnerable woman, and washing what seems like hundreds of dishes, because by recognizing that it is not what I am doing, but that I have literally been called to be Christ in these moments, that those seemingly small things take on the capacity to permeate and radically change our culture.

 “Our times need disciples for Christ who are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel…”

Thank you, Catholic Studies, for inspiring this desire within me, and thank you Jesus and Mary, for giving me the courage and grace to respond to it through Christ in the City!

Rome Abroad

The New Evangelization in Broken Italian

 Written by Maureen Harrington ’14, Catholic Studies and English

It has been about two months since the fall 2012 Bernardi clan first congregated in the Eternal City, and I can say with confidence that the Spirit is moving! Over the last six weeks we have had an abundance of opportunities to see the Church as the Body of Christ in a very tangible way, not only through the sacred art and history of Rome, but through the literal thousands of pilgrims, clergy, and religious we encounter daily.

Another good thing about living in Rome, and even Europe in general, is that one is afforded many opportunities to visit the tombs, birthplaces, schools, and relics of almost any saint, blessed, venerable, Servant of God, or random holy person who will probably be canonized at some point. Neither of my closest patrons, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Teresa of Avila, are buried here in Italy, but I’ve still been amazed at how present they’ve been since I left the US back in September. I am blessed not only to take classes at yet another university named after my favorite socially awkward, phlegmatic philosopher, but to have two of his fellow Dominicans as professors. One of them, Fr. Paul Murray (who was Mother Teresa’s spiritual director, no big deal) quotes Teresa of Avila at least twice per class, which increases his awesome factor by about one thousand percent, if that is possible.

Speaking of that fabulously sassy Carmelite sister, in addition to her frequent appearances in my Spiritual Theology notes, Teresa of Avila has had a particular presence in my attempts to enter into the Year of Faith here in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI’s homily to open the Year of Faith hearkened back to Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi, in which he stressed the importance of reinvigorating the Church from the inside out. As recent events in our country have made clear, complacent evangelization in this day and age will not be enough to sustain religious freedom, let alone spread the gospel. This makes the task of effective witnessing all the more important for us as Catholics.  A few weeks ago, I was reading Teresa’s Interior Castle when the Lord allowed me to stumble upon this gem:

Let it cost her what it may and as dear as she desires, for she longs to lose a thousand lives to lead one soul to praise Thee but a little better. If as many lives were hers to give, she would count them well spent in such a cause, knowing as a truth most certain that she is unworthy to bear the lightest cross, much less to die for Thee. (6.3)

On the “how humbling is this?” scale of 1 to 10, I would say that this was an 11, except that it actually probably didn’t humble me enough because I’m so dang prideful and Teresa is so dang holy. Over the years since I’ve truly started to live my faith, I don’t think I’ve once stopped to ponder the fact that any suffering I undergo for the gospel is not a gift simply because I can offer it up, but because I am completely unworthy to do so. I’m not even talking about real suffering; I’m talking putting on a retreat when I’m tired or waking up for morning prayer after a late night of homework. I am blessed to suffer even the tiniest discomforts for the kingdom only because He is humble enough to work through weak and corrupt human beings.

Teresa’s pep-talk came at a providentially opportune moment for me, because there’s nothing like being plopped in a foreign country and surrounded by people who are much holier than you to affirm that you are not God’s gift to the new evangelization. As full of blessings and consolations as this semester has been, there are definitely trials that come along with being uprooted. For one thing, I don’t really speak much Italian, and most of the words I do know have to do with food. Being so limited in how I can relate to people outside of our community vocally makes imperfections in how I act and present myself glaringly apparent. Just when I start to tell myself that I’m a patient person, I get lost on my way to class and have to ask for directions from someone who can’t understand a word of my Minnesota-accented Italian, and then they tell me the wrong way because they’re confused and I end up missing 45 minutes of Modern Philosophy… hypothetically, of course. On top of the language barrier is the fact that, as difficult as asking for help or directions is, I have to do it a lot. I’m just starting to get used to things like ordering food and buying train tickets, so I’ve had more of these humbling interactions than I can begin to count.

As uncomfortable as these experiences can be, they’ve forced me to focus on reflecting Christ to people in little ways, like answering with a smile when somebody gets annoyed that I can’t understand what they’re telling me in Italian. As Mother Teresa so aptly says, “We can do no great things- only small things with great love.” This truth has never been clearer to me than now. Sometimes I can’t even remember how to tell someone to have a nice day, let alone tell them about the Lord. All I have is Christ, and the ability to let him love through me. Living in Bernardi is such a gift, because I’m surrounded by people who are striving to live their Catholic faith as well, and definitely call me on to holiness.  This sometimes puts my life into rather harsh perspective, but it has allowed me to grow in areas that I didn’t even recognize previously. There’s nothing more humbling or beautiful than interacting with people who allow themselves to be filled with Christ, and I’m blessed to do this constantly.

In one of our first meetings back at St. Thomas last semester, I remember being told that the Rome experience was sometimes difficult in the midst of it. Although I will say that it has overall been a wonderfully peaceful and joyful time for me, it is also certainly challenging for all of the reasons that I described. However, being so removed from distractions, living under the same roof as the Eucharist, and being physically surrounded by the saints, martyrs, and a faith-filled community, these difficulties have born much more fruit than I’ve ever allowed them to before. For each trial that I’ve had (and really, they’re small trials), I’ve been better able realize that any tiny good I do is only possible by the grace of God. Only when I’m really humble will I be able to be a light to anyone, and then only because He allows me to be.

Classes, Faculty & Staff

The Church dwells among a modern people

Written by Jace Bravo ’13 –  Catholic Studies and Communication and Journalism

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again – I dwell among the people.” – John Henry Newman

As I climbed to the second floor of the Catholic Studies building I discovered a classroom with students itching to learn more about the topic of our course: Modernity and the Church. I have had only one other in-class experience with Father Keating besides this one and words cannot begin to describe how much I enjoy his classes.  I think the consensus among my fellow students is that after each class everyone wants to just walk downstairs and dwell in the Albertus Magnus chapel.

Inside the heart of the classroom sit many students always eager to hear the words of our fearless leader, Father Keating.  As we come to class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we anticipate the beginning of the class when Father clasps his hands together and begins—always on time—with the St. Thomas Aquinas prayer.  Although many of us in the class have loud laughs, loud voices, and show up in the middle of the prayer looking like a deer in the headlights as we map our way to an open seat, Father Keating never fails to grab each of our attention with a simple reverent gesture.  Every class period we learn something that we have yet to experience before, or we have experienced it, Father introduces it in a gripping unique way.

This course has opened my eyes to many things about the Church and the modern era.  We have learned about the French Revolution and how one revolution drastically changed much of the world’s understanding of religion.  We are beginning to see the role the Church has played during times when many believed the Church had sung its last hymn.  Father Keating consistently notes how the Church always marvelously pulls through these drastic times singing even louder hymns of praise.  The class is filled with readings from past popes, past philosophers, as well as past theologians. No matter the reading, Father Keating continues to instruct us that although there may be people trying to sing different songs, the Church always stands faithful to the one true hymn taught by Jesus and practiced since the days of St. Paul.

 I do not know how to explain what goes on in the mind of Father Keating, nor any other Catholic Studies professor, but what I do know is that the Holy Spirit’s presence is quite evident in all Catholic Studies courses.

(photo: Fred Conrad/New York Times)

Catholic at UST, Classes, Rome Abroad, Student Profiles

An Immense Gift for Seminarians

Written by Colin Jones ’14, Philosophy, Catholic Studies, and Classical Languages

When I first came to Saint John Vianney Seminary, my academic advisor gave me two reasons why I should major in Catholic Studies in addition to my required Philosophy major.  One, it wasn’t very hard to do, since a few of the classes overlapped with the seminary curriculum, and two, it offered the once-in-a-lifetime experience of studying in Rome.  Let’s just say it didn’t take me a very long time to make a decision (I mean, come on, it’s Rome!).  Before I had even taken my first class in Catholic Studies, I had declared it as one of my majors.

While you would probably be correct in saying that this was a rash, spur of the moment decision, looking back two years later I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  And I haven’t even gone to Rome yet!

For a seminarian studying to be one day ordained to the priesthood, God willing, the Catholic Studies program at St. Thomas has been one of the most tremendous blessings of my formation.  In the two Catholic Studies classes that I have completed, and the one that I am currently taking in the program, I have been blessed with the rich, profound, and transformative experience of learning about the beautiful faith of the Catholic Church, the Church which I hope to one day take as my bride.

In Catholic Studies 101, The Search for Happiness, Fr. Keating gave us a description of the Church which I will never forget: “To believe the way of truth, to pray the way of sanctification, and to live the way of love and transformation.” As a priest, my ultimate task will be to impart this understanding of the Catholic Church to every man, woman, and child who walks through the doors of my parish.  It will be my job to teach my parishioners that it is only in the Catholic Church that they will obtain the truth, the sanctification, the love, and the transformation for which they so ardently long.  And it will be up to me to show my flock that in a world which so often sees religion, particularly the Catholic Church, as a detriment and a hindrance to society, it is actually only through the salvific teachings of the Church that we can become truly free.

In my current Catholic Vision class with Dr. Junker, this has been precisely the topic at hand.  We have been reading everything from the Gospel of John, to Pope Benedict’s homilies on creation, to St. Augustine’s City of God, and in doing so have delved into two of the deepest realities of humanity with a “Catholic lens,” showing how the human person only comes into his true self when he is in union with Christ.  It is my prayer that, as a priest, I will be able to help others to see the world through this same “Catholic lens,” and thus show them the way to Christ.

In his 2012 letter to seminarians on the topic of Intellectual Formation, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington states that “ you are required to take so many courses in Catholic teaching, history and philosophy so that you are not only aware of the immense gift of the Catholic tradition, but that you are also well prepared to access it, understand it, appropriate it and share it”

While the Catholic Studies program is by no means a “required” field for SJV seminarians, it fits exactly into this description of intellectual formation which Cardinal Wuerl describes.  Through the Catholic Studies program, I have indeed gained a much greater awareness of and appreciation for the “immense gift of the Catholic tradition,” and have become “well prepared to access it, understand it, appropriate it and share it.” If it be the Father’s will that I one day bring Christ to world as his priest, I have no doubt that the beautiful gift of the Catholic Studies program will be an immense blessing for my priesthood.

And I haven’t even gone to Rome yet.  Praised be Jesus Christ!



Catholic at UST, Catholic Residences, Social Events

Good Company on Sunday Nights


Written by Jacqueline Lucca ’14, English and Catholic Studies

So often, Sunday nights can get lost in last minute homework cramming stress or that dreaded feeling – I am sure we are all familiar with –  that it’s the ending of the weekend.

            In Chateau Burgundie this is not the case.

            Every Sunday evening at 6p.m., Chateau Burgundie (the fancy name we have for the little house on Cretin and Summit) begins to fill up with students from every area of study to share a meal together. The house is easy to recognize these nights as the golden and white papal flag is flying from it and it is with bursting laughter and conversation. These dinners are not only a great way to get free food, which is obviously enticing, but also a beautiful way enter into Catholic community. Although one does not need to go to St. Thomas or even be Catholic to come, we always begin the meal with a decade of the rosary and end the night with the Salve Regina. These two prayers are the perfect bookends to keep the night focused on Christ through Mary and bring us together in prayer.

            These dinners, which were started by the Catholic Men’s house – the Fraternity of St. Michael, were originally much smaller. While originally there were only a couple of people coming to the dinners, there are now often over 50 people per night.

            The first dinner of this semester had close to 60 people there, all of whom enjoyed as much taco salad as they wanted.  Since the evening was lovely, students spilled out onto the lawn to enjoy the last of the warm weather.  Every night has a slightly different feel as there is always some variety in who the chefs are, what style food they choose to make, and which awesome people decide to show up. One night we had huge pots of chili boiling on every burner at Chateau Burgundy and people filling up the chairs, stairs, and kitchen.  Other nights we had chocolate chip pancakes and it was a little quieter. After the meal there are always people who stick around to chat some more, clean up, or occasionally, even start swing dancing. I’ve also known nights which end with people standing around the baby grand piano and singing duets at the tops of their lungs.

            How could anybody say no to free food and good company steeped in Catholic tradition?

Catholic at UST, Social Events

Sitzmann Smells of a New Season



Whether or not you are ready for it, when September arrives, it is goodbye summer, hello school.  The long, lazy days of summer fade fast and you are wise to quickly embrace the new season of cool classes and crisp fall days.  But a new season doesn’t mean a no-fun season.

In fact, at Catholic Studies, we are all about embracing new seasons, in style.  Sometimes that means prolonging the joys of the old seasons.  So, on a steamy 90 degree day in mid-September, under a hot summer sun, Catholic Studies faculty, staff, students, friends, and family gathered together to officially welcome the new semester with a backyard BBQ.   The Sitzmann Hall patio overflowed with burgers and brats, conversation and croquet, ladder golf and laughter, and of course, ice cream.  Old friends were reunited and new friends were made.  With a healthy dose of summer air, barbeque, and ice cream, the rich life of Catholic Studies once again landed full force at UST.

There is something going on at that big brick house across the street.  Can you smell it?