Liturgical life on the St. Thomas campus is emphatically at the heart of the Basilian tradition and values of goodness, discipline, and knowledge. Lay people, clergy, religious, and students are visibly committed to making God known, loved, and served.
President Fr. James Murphy, CSB and Principal Aaron Dominguez ‘96 have empowered a collaborative Campus Ministry team that has emerged as an energetic and resolute force.
Director Andrew Quittenton (above, left) with fellow faculty members Dr. Grover Green ‘04 (above, right) and Casey Johnson ’05, coordinator of service Joe O’Brien and assistant Veronica Looper are a thriving, people-loving presence, fostering spiritual growth through worship and prayer, reflection and service, faith formation, and education.
In particular, the Father/Son retreats and Camp Aquinas initiative are bookend events staged at Camp Cho-Yeh outside of Livingston, providing measurable impact within individual students and extending to the daily engagement of the campus community.
Andrew Quittenton: The retreats are essentially avenues for fathers and sons to identify and explore areas of their relationships. We wanted a remote setting with physical activities to expand comfort zones and create dialogue. On the last day fathers and sons composed insightful letters to each other and exchanged them along a two-hour walk.
When Fr. Murphy celebrated a unity Mass, rather than delivering a homily, the fathers were invited in front of the group and were given a number of prompts – here is my son, I love you because (blank), I’m proud of you because (blank). Very emotional and powerful, that kind of public affirmation, maybe for the first time in any setting. The feedback, even from those families who were perhaps initially reluctant to participate, was overwhelmingly positive. Open conversations that otherwise may not have taken place were initiated and have continued.
Grover Green: Choices Counselor Thomson Ivins led discussions with only the fathers, a forum to give them a window to exchange pressing issues or struggles. It could be bad grades and bad breakups, the trials of the pandemic, anxieties or peer pressures, or on a few tragic occasions, even the loss of a classmate. And then Thompson flipped the groups with only the sons with the same intent from the other perspective.
Students who have fathers who have passed or are simply not in the picture were encouraged to participate with a male role model or teachers serving as a proxy. The clear message was that there are those at St. Thomas willing to step forward, fill that void, and be that mentor if the circumstances dictate.
Green and Quittenton are the chief architects behind Camp Aquinas, the five-day immersion for freshmen and named for the institution’s patron St. Thomas Aquinas. The consummate union of sanctity and intellect originated in 2017 and has expanded to incorporate the Eagle house system. Unplugged from electronics and technology, students have developed character, community, and culture. And most importantly, gained an authentic understanding that a leader’s greatness is found in bringing out greatness in others.
St. Thomas has long discovered that students are enriched by the diversity of backgrounds, academic interests and experiences, talents, and goals. The house platform was designed to provide a deeply positive influence on student well-being, creating further opportunities for healthy camaraderie and competition among young men.
Green: We’re witnessing the relationships between senior leaders and freshmen at Camp Aquinas remaining strong throughout the academic year. That’s a definitive endorsement for the potential of this endeavor as we continue to grow the event in the future. We have a pilot program set for the spring, an advisory setup where students would meet weekly within their houses and maintain the interchange that spawned at camp with a leadership component. We hope to extend the themes and experiences throughout the academic year. We’ve made some attempts in that vein with the freshmen but the goal is to better build that support and mentorship, reinforcing what we introduce in the camp.
Quittenton: We have 117 juniors who are interested in becoming senior leaders in 2022. We won’t take that many but that is a significant number who desire to work with the freshmen. That response is a statement we’re on the correct track. We’re also weighing a Friday through Monday format involving twice as many faculty members.
The faith formation program during the academic year is offering Mass on campus twice a week. On Tuesdays, there is a bible study focused on the wisdom and teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, then community prayer on Wednesdays, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays. This is a committed effort with faculty collaborating with students outside of the curriculum. A variety of spiritual habits are taking root. Students are seeing consistent participation from teachers outside the theology department, and that gives the enterprise genuine credibility that cannot be measured. Everyone within Campus Ministry is incredibly encouraged by the momentum that is taking traction within our students.
Catholic. Basilian. Teaching Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge since 1900.