Magister Theologie/STM, International Theological Institute, 2009; Ph.D., theology, Ave Maria University, 2013; Instructor in Theology, Ave Maria University, 2012-2013; Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College, 2013-.
Among the nine children of Michele and Arthur Gardner, four have attended Thomas Aquinas College — but Dr. Katherine M. Gardner (’06) was the first. So when she left the family’s home in Wisconsin in 2002 for a college in California that she had only read about, it was with some trepidation.
Those fears soon subsided, as Dr. Gardner immediately felt at home in the College’s community of faith and learning. “I was overwhelmed by the authenticity of the school, by the liveliness of the spirituality, and most of all by the way every part of the academic program was ordered in a wise way,” she reflects. Her studies brought her to a newfound sense of awe and wonder.
“The integrated approach of the curriculum made me alive with love for the Creator,” Dr. Gardner observes — so much so that she left the College midway through sophomore year to pursue a vocation with the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Cecilia. Life in the convent, she thought, could not wait until graduation: “What I experienced here gave me a sense of urgency in praising God, because it was so beautiful.”
Despite treasuring her time with the Nashville Dominicans, after 19 months Dr. Gardner discerned that God was calling her elsewhere. Desiring to continue studying theology more deeply, she entered the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, where she went on to earn a master’s degree. She was then accepted into the doctoral program at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, where she studied theology alongside fellow tutors Dr. Paul K. Shields (’07) and Dr. Jared Kuebler (’03) under the direction of another Thomas Aquinas College alumnus, Dr. Michael Waldstein (’77).
Although theology was her chief love, Dr. Gardner often thought about her experience of the integrated program at Thomas Aquinas College, and sometimes joked that, upon earning her Ph.D., she wanted to resume her undergraduate studies at Thomas Aquinas College. “But I knew that was unrealistic,” she says. “God had given me the gift of an advanced education so that I could share it as a teacher.” Rather than apply for readmission, she applied for, and received, a position as a tutor in 2013.
This time, coming to the College was not a lonely “pioneer” experience. Dr. Gardner’s elder brother, Patrick, is a fellow member of the teaching faculty, and two of their younger siblings were students. “Including my nephews, a little over half my family are here,” she notes. In more ways than one, she is at home.