One Sunday evening this spring, the rafters of St. Joseph Commons were festooned with flags from around the world. On the wall beside the community bulletin board were dozens of handwritten copies of the Lord’s Prayer, each translated into a different language — Nepali, French, Hindi, and Portuguese, among others. And, at the front of the room, students played music from Brazil and Germany, performed dances from Ireland, and recited poems from Russia, England, and Argentina.
The students had gathered for an event of their own creation, Cor Unum, or “One Heart,” named for a former dicastery of the Roman Curia, signifying, in the words of Bl. Paul VI, “a heart that beats in rhythm with the heart of Christ.” The first of its kind, the gathering was intended not only to showcase the international character of the student body, but to celebrate the universality of the Church. “Its purpose was to show appreciation for the College’s support of international students,” said Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18), “as well as to celebrate the solidarity among cultures in the Church.”
The event’s organizers were all students with an international background: Miss Heekin-Canedy, who skated for Ukraine at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and interned this summer in the U.S. State Department’s sports diplomacy division; Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17), who hails from Nigeria and recently enrolled at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs; and Esteban Rocha (’18), from Argentina, who spent several of his formative years in England. “Our thought was that an international student event would unite us all under one common theme,” says Mr. Rocha, “the Catholic universal church.”
Make Disciples of All Nations
“We have never deliberately recruited international students,” says Director of Admissions Jon Daly. “There has never been a need. They find us on their own. We are glad to welcome them, and honored that our program of Catholic liberal education is so far-reaching.”
Consider Mr. Onyekuru, who learned about the College when he stumbled upon the 2004 Commencement Address of a fellow Nigerian, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Inspired by what he read, Mr. Onyekuru pored over every page of the College’s website. “When Nnadozie first contacted the Admissions Office, we all marveled at how much he knew about the College,” recalls Mr. Daly. “His interest and devotion couldn’t have been more clear, and the Admissions Committee concluded that he would make a fine addition to the next year’s Freshman Class.”
Over the years the College has enrolled students from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, France, Ghana, Ireland, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Nepal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. “It is amazing to see students from so many cultures come together as one to pursue this course of studies,” says Mr. Daly. “It speaks to the versatility and universality of our program.”
Neither Jew nor Greek
Yet what separates Thomas Aquinas College from many other schools with sizable international populations is that the College treats students from foreign countries no differently than it does their domestic counterparts with regard to admissions and financial aid. At most American colleges and universities, citizens of foreign countries — who are generally ineligible for Pell Grants or federally backed student loans — do not qualify for institutional financial assistance. As such, only the wealthiest can enroll, and admissions offices are sometimes known to regard foreign nationals more as sources of revenue than as members of the student body.
“The College’s policy has always been to make this program available to anyone who has the ability and the sincere desire to pursue it,” says Director of Financial Aid Greg Becher. “So that’s what our office does.”
As with all students, the families of foreign nationals must make a maximum effort to pay as much of the cost of tuition as they reasonably can, and the students themselves are required to borrow a fixed amount (not more than $18,000 over four years) before seeking need-based aid from the College. Because foreign students cannot typically qualify for student loans, the College acts as the lender of last resort, extending the loans directly. Any remaining need is covered by the College’s institutionally funded work-study program and direct grants, made possible through the generosity of the College’s benefactors.
Thus, whereas at most colleges international students receive no financial aid, at Thomas Aquinas College they are eligible for a plan that publications such as U.S. News and The Princeton Review describe as one of the best in the country. “We see our policy as fair, equitable, and in keeping with the universality of the Church,” says Mr. Becher. “The Church needs good leaders in every nation. If we can play a role in forming those leaders, we consider that an honor.”
Give Thanks in all Circumstances
Indeed, gratitude for the College’s support of its international students was one of the principal motivations of Cor Unum’s organizers. “I had just been reading so much in magazines and newspapers about education, and the ways that international students are occasionally regarded at other schools, and it made me think, ‘Wow, this school does so much for us,’” says Mr. Onyekuru. “The College will not blow its own trumpet, so we should blow a trumpet for the College!”
The event began with a late-afternoon seminar on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 message for the World Day of Peace, The Human Family, a Community of Peace, led by tutor Dr. Anthony Andres, who for years directed the College’s conferences on the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Director of College Relations Anne Forsyth, who lived in Africa and the Caribbean when her late husband was a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. “The conversation was centered around the Universal Church, and how it exists for all people,” says Mrs. Forsyth. “We also discussed the family as the birthplace and nurturer of peace, without which there can be no peace in the world.”
From there followed the celebration in St. Joseph Commons, complete with the global decorations, cultural performances, and foods from around the world. The night also included trivia questions about the Church and international affairs, as well as Mr. Rocha’s grateful account of how he came to the College.
As the Body is One
“It is heartening that our international students are so appreciative of the College,” says Dean John J. Goyette. “The College, too, is very grateful — not only that they would come this far to be here, but for all that they contribute to our academic program.”
Dr. Goyette likens the presence of international students to that of non-Catholics, who, because they do not share the same theological assumptions as the College’s Catholic majority, compel their classmates to think critically about what they believe and why they believe it. “We see something similar take place when, for example, our international students read the documents of the American founding, or when we study the Sacraments, which — though in essence the same — are often celebrated differently in other Catholic rites and cultures,” he says. “The various understandings that students from other countries bring to the classroom reinforce our commitment to approach the text that we are reading on its own terms, rather than relying on preconceived notions.”
So works the Body of Christ, each part serving a different purpose, all nurtured by the same cor unum.