New England

The seniors of Thomas Aquinas College, New England, finished their final final exam on Wednesday, May 10, and after some afternoon celebrating — and probably a nap! — they convened in the Bl. Pier-Giorgio Frassati Student Center for the annual President’s Dinner, the faculty’s chance to say goodbye, as the sophomores and juniors did earlier this month, to the Class of 2023.

After a social hour, guests took their seats, and dinner got started with an invocation from Head Chaplain Rev. Greg Markey. Then, over dessert and coffee, the evening’s speeches began. First up was Dr. Patrick Gardner, the outgoing assistant dean, who commended the senior prefects who have assisted him in his task of supervising student life: Rebecca Scheurer, John Metilly, Irene Collins, and Clara Ramos.

But before finishing his remarks, and thereby his tenure as assistant dean, Dr. Gardner especially thanked his wife, Kate. Filling the role of the assistant dean can be time-consuming and unpredictable, he noted. He marveled that through four years of “not knowing when, or even if, I would be home for dinner,” Mrs. Gardner showed nothing but “gentle patience.”

  • Guests congregate and chat before dinner starts
  • Dr. Cain makes some opening remarks
  • President O'Reilly addresses the assembly
  • One of the seniors checkles
  • Three at table 4
  • Seniors at one of the tables
  • Tutors and their spouses at one of the tables
  • The table servers line up and are applauded by the guests
  • Dr. Gardner, assistant dean, thanks the departing senior prefects
  • Dr. Gardner presents the Resident Directors with a painting
  • Onlookers applaud
  • Dr. Cain presents Mr. and Mrs. Gardner with an icon of the Trinity
  • Standing ovation
  • Dr. Cain introduces Mr. Shivone and his wife as the new assistant dean
  • Dr. O'Reilly addresses the audience
  • The audience chuckles
  • Seniors display prints of the class gifts
  • The choir sings
  • The choir sings
  • The choir sings

Next, Dr. Steven Cain, dean of the New England campus, took to the podium, where he was keen to applaud the Gardners for their friendship, noting Dr. Gardner’s humble dedication to the good of the College’s students. “I remember often seeing the light still on in his office when I was leaving late for dinner,” he laughed. Then Dr. Cain welcomed the new assistant dean, Dr. Stephen Shivone, and his wife, Mary Ann, with a bottle of wine and his best wishes.

Dr. Cain next offered some remarks on the Class of 2023. After a humorous comparison of this and last years’ graduating classes in scrupulously Thomistic fashion — complete with careful distinctions and linguistic clarifications unfolded in St. Thomas’s famous “disputed question” format — he turned to more serious considerations.

“In your time here, you have studied and grasped something of wisdom,” Dr. Cain told the seniors. “It is, as we say, only a beginning. But if it has been a good beginning, maybe we should drop the ‘only,’ for as the saying goes, well begun is half done.” He exhorted them to deepen their acquaintance with this wisdom after they leave the College, and never to forget that all true wisdom leads to Christ.

Dr. Paul O’Reilly, president of the College, delivered the evening’s principal address, in which he echoed St. John Henry Newman’s reflections on St. Andrew, offering the apostle as a reliable example for the graduates-to-be to follow in their lives beyond the College. Like St. Andrew, “we should be open to the truth even if it turns our lives upside-down,” he said. “Andrew’s role in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes suggests that we, too, should follow the example of Jesus’s mother. And finally, his role in the beginning of bringing the Gentiles to Jesus suggests that we, too, should have the courage and confidence in faith.”

After these speeches, it was the seniors’ turn to express their gratitude to the College. Matthew Witzaney (’23) presented the Class of 2023’s parting gift of three large canvas prints, to be hung in Billings Hall. The prints include Raphael’s “School of Athens” and “The Disputation,” as well as another Renaissance-era painting of a summery Venetian canal, intended, according to Mr. Witzaney, to console future students during snowy days in February.

The evening at last concluded with music from the Thomas Aquinas College Choir, which featured a performance of an original motet composed by Paul Dinan (’23), who traded places with Choir Director Stephen Grimm to conduct the piece himself. The motet, which Mr. Dinan offered as a token of his gratitude for his time at the College, was built around a text from the Book of Wisdom which must resound with all students and alumni of the College: “Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wisdom 7:7).