Faith in Action Blog
In 1993, one year after one of its former medical students died of cancer, the University of Alaska Anchorage created an award in his honor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of that award, named for Jon B. Syren, a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1987.
The university website notes:
Jon Benedict Syren expected to graduate from the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Class of 1993. He began his medical training in Anchorage, Alaska, in the fall of 1989 as a member of the first class of WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) students enrolled in the Biomedical Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.…
Jon distinguished himself by earning honors in several categories of studies, both in Anchorage and Seattle. He is also remembered by those who knew him for his strong commitment to his family and his faith, and for his unflagging courage and equanimity in the face of personal adversity.
The Jon B. Syren Award recognizes a first-year medical student in the University of Alaska Anchorage WWAMI School of Medical Education who has demonstrated personal qualities of character, integrity, and compassion, combined with a commitment to and promise of community service in medicine.
Mr. Syren’s widow, Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly is a member of the College’s Board of Governors. She has spoken eloquently about the blessing that accompanied her first husband’s holy death for those around him:
When Jon died, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I saw the effect that our education at the College had had on him. It was absolutely beautiful. And there was a ripple effect on the entire medical community and all that knew him and watched him suffer — in a way so beautifully, not dismayed or broken by it. His suffering was so faith-filled that it was just triumphant.
Twenty-one years later, Jon Syren’s life and death continue to touch lives. May he rest in peace.
Mary Rose (Bacani ’93) Valenti, the recently retired TV producer/reporter who left the news business to turn her full attention to motherhood, has written two new columns for the Knights of Columbus’ “Fathers for Good” website. In the first, Little Rich Girl, she describes how, in striving to give her daughter, Chiara, a simple life, she has come to appreciate simplicity all the more for herself:
I provide a daily rhythm in the home that’s important for me as a human being. Manual labor, involving my whole person, connects me to reality, fulfills me wholly because I’m using my body. And if I move slowly and rhythmically, almost prayerfully, my child absorbs this, too. She imitates not only what I do, but the spirit with which I do it.
When Chiara was born, I stopped “working.” I now have a work that demands my whole being. Aside from my love, the greatest thing I can offer is a spirit of poverty that enriches her life.
This theme continues in the second column, A Nightly Prayer, in which Mrs. Valenti writes about other ways that motherhood has shaper her outlook:
“… our lifestyle decisions have surprised us. We always thought we were city people, but we found our happiness in the suburbs, close to quiet nature and away from the busyness. We are happily getting rid of stuff and are so content with owning very few things. We are starting to appreciate the mystery of Sunday, our Sabbath, when we let ourselves rest.”
Mrs. Valenti also reveals the exciting news that she and her husband, Richard, are now expecting their second child! May God bless their growing family!
The last time this blog mentioned Mary Rose (Bacani ’93) Valenti, it was to report that the veteran TV producer and host was hanging up her microphone to become a fulltime mother. Now, less than two years later, we have an insight into what Mrs. Valenti’s new life is like, thanks to a column she has written for Fathers for Good, an initiative sponsored by the Knights of Columbus:
“I had traveled to different parts of the world as a television producer — from North America to Australia, from Europe to the Middle East. In my new job as a stay-at-home mom, the farthest I have to travel is from the kitchen to the bedroom and back. My previous job entailed interviewing high-profile people. Today, I am the one interrogated by a two-and-a-half year old toddler.…
“The heart of what I did professionally and what I loved about my work was telling stories. Ironically, I’ve never been pressured as much as I am pressured now by my child to come up with stories. Where are the earthworms hiding today? Did the bubble get hurt when it popped? I am doing what I love — learning, teaching, studying, storytelling, and being and being loved for just being.”
The above video is a trailer for Diary of a Country Mother, a new book by Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro that chronicles the life of her beloved son Tim, with the liturgical year and changing seasons as a frame. The book reflects a yearlong journey of prayer and meditation, begun about six months after Tim’s death in 2005 at the age of 15. Written in diary form, it includes Scriptural, religious, and literary quotations, as well as beautiful photographs of Tim captured by his dad, Andrew Montanaro (’78).
“I envisioned an extended period of time in which to record, before memory failed me, all of the little humorous and profound incidents that made up my son Tim’s short life,” says Mrs. Montanaro. The result is a work that is replete with the love of a mother. That love is also on display in Mrs. Montanaro’s blog.
Writes Dr. Thomas Howard, author of Chance or the Dance and Hallowed Be This House, “Cynthia Montanaro have given us the story of a splendidly faithful Catholic household. … The word ‘contemplative’ is the key to this memoir … and the quiet pace belongs to its essence.… Every chapter (or meditation) entails some concrete, softly-textured, domestic narrative, all of it bespeaking both Tim’s inner man, and the household in which the Lord placed him to pass his brief time here on this earth.”
“Like Our Blessed Mother’s sorrow,” says fellow alumna author Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, “Cynthia’s sadness is illuminated and shot through by the light of the resurrected Christ. This book is in no way depressing. Instead, Cynthia’s diary entries record time and again the peace that passes all understanding, the beautiful hope that only true faith can give, and most of all, love elevated and fulfilled by Love.”
A worthy read for the Easter season, Diary of a Country Mother is available via Amazon.com.
Lost in the ongoing political debate over marriage is a more fundamental question, namely, where does marriage come from? Does the state have the power to define what marriage is, or does the definition precede and transcend the state — something government cannot alter?
Rev. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem. (’94), a regular guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program, takes on this question and others in a recent episode titled, The Nature of Marriage.
Marriage, Fr. Sebastian says, “comes about as a result of nature,” and as such is not subject to human redefinition. “The state doesn’t have the right to define triangles. The state doesn’t have the right to define dogs and cats. They are what they are. So the state doesn’t have the right to define marriage,” he explains. Moreover, for government to claim authority in this instance is to assert for itself “absolute power” over marriage “and, as a consequence, family life, because the foundational relationship in any family is the relationship of marriage.”
The show is available both in streaming and downloadable form on the Catholic Answers website, as are these other episodes featuring Fr. Sebastian:
- Open Forum for Non-Catholics (December 9, 2011)
- How Biblical Inspiration Works (October 21)
- The Role of Logic in Apologetics (May 7)
- Are You Predestined? (February 10)
- The Nature of Prophecy (December 6, 2010)
- Can Doctrine Develop? (April 26, 2010)
Among the issues at stake in today’s election is the future of marriage in four states, including Washington. There, a group of dissenting Catholics recently published an open letter that defied Church teaching on the subject. In response, Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93) and two other prominent Catholics have published a rebuttal in the Seattle Times titled, We Are Catholics and We oppose Referendum 74 to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.
The article defends both the Church’s position and marriage itself, stressing the institution’s importance to families, society, and religious freedom:
The state does not involve itself in marriage in an effort to regulate its citizens’ sexual activities. It does so because marriage generally involves children by the very nature in which the spouses express intimacy and union. As such, the family becomes the basic unit of society and thus deserves special protection.…
As Catholics, we believe that marriage is the unique bond of love and life between a woman and a man, which is the source of the family. In union with our church and our bishops, we are voting to reject Referendum 74. We urge other Catholics and people of goodwill to join us.
Go read the whole article — and be sure to vote!
Some 18 months after its publication, A Little Way of Homeschooling continues to elicit great interest. The second work of alumna author Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, the book profiles 12 Catholic homeschooling families and their use of the “unschooling” educational method, while drawing upon the works of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. John Bosco, and ancient philosophers.
On Friday morning Mrs. Andres appeared on the Mothers at Home radio program with Judy Dudich on BlogTalkRadio. You can listen to the broadcast in the player below.
Be sure not to miss these recent articles by alumni writers:
In The Public Discourse, S. Adam Seagrave (’05), a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, addresses the often unspoken question that lies at the heart of debates about marriage law: Why does the state concern itself with marriage in the first place?
Although civil marriage is now commonly understood in the elevated terms characteristic of marriage’s more fundamental and profoundly fulfilling aspects, the purpose of civil marriage is, in fact, more in keeping with its sterile legality. Governments assign legal responsibilities and benefits to marriage, rather than to other relationships, to help mitigate the potentially destructive and tragic consequences of irresponsible procreation.
Writing for the National Catholic Register, Sophia Mason (’09), a graduate student at the Catholic University of America and a blogger, describes an informal evening with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Washington’s Catholic Information Center:
The separation of church and state is, Scalia noted, “a subject that has been particularly good for Americans and that Americans have been particularly good at.”
The American skill in distinguishing the two is due in part to the diversity of American religious views, the “300 religions,” which makes separation of church and state “more politically needful in the United States than elsewhere.” It is also due, Scalia added less happily, to the growing decline in religiosity. “If one is a skeptic, it is easy to believe that one’s religious beliefs should not be imposed. … After all, one might be wrong!”
Also be sure also to see Miss Mason’s September story in the Register comparing the sagas of superheroes to the lives of the saints.
Finally, The New Oxford Review, Christopher Zehnder (’87), the general editor of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, considers the question: What does it mean to “serve Mammon?”
The possession of great riches, thought not to be condemned in itself, nevertheless presents grave difficulties to the soul that seeks perfection. Great wealth coaxes us with a delight that “chokes the word.” It deludes us with a false security, tempting us to hoard our riches and to pull down our barns for larger ones. We become unwilling to live like the birds of the air or the lilies of the field and seek the Kingdom of God (Lk. 12:22-31); rather we are anxious to maintain what we have amassed and seek to amass more.
Venerable Fr. Solanus CaseyMichele (Grimm ’81) Loughman, a mother of 10, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She will be undergoing more tests over the next few days, and she and her husband, Pat (’78), a member of the Greater Los Angeles Board of Regents, will be weighing her options.
The Loughmans invite all to join them in seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey. Please keep Michele, her family, and her doctors in your prayers!
Daniel J. Grimm (’76) and his wife, Rose (Teichert ’76)Having obtained a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology in 2006; having completed 3,000 hours of supervised treatment of couples, families, and individuals; and having passed the two exams specified by the State of California, Daniel J. Grimm (’76) is now a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has an office in Ojai, Calif., and also sees clients at Stillpoint Family Resources in South Pasadena. Additionally, he continues to direct the Thomas Aquinas College Choir, which will be performing Bach’s Mass in B at its Advent Concert on November 30.