In 1995 the first two Catholic Studies Majors graduated from what was then the Catholic Studies Program. Although even its founders did not anticipate the extent of its popularity and potential, 13 years later the Department of Catholic Studies now boasts over 250 majors with promise of continued growth into the future. Students in the program come from across the country, and they frequently double major in Catholic Studies and another discipline ranging from science to education, from business to art history. In its early years, most students found out about Catholic Studies only after they had started their studies at St. Thomas: they often heard about the program through a UST faculty member or fellow student. Today, though, it is increasingly common for students to choose St. Thomas because of Catholic Studies, the largest and oldest such program in the nation. In order to take a closer look at this trend, Catholic Studies program recruiter Theresa Klein surveyed this year’s incoming freshman class and provided Perspectives with a representative sample of the backgrounds and interests of some of the students who came to St. Thomas for Catholic Studies. Here are their profiles.

Matt Slattery

Matt Slattery is a freshman from Toledo, Ohio. Following in the footsteps of his older brothers, William and Jason, Slattery chose the University of St. Thomas because he had heard of the excellent reputation of the Department of Catholic Studies.

In Toledo, I attended a suburban public high school, where I took advanced placement classes and participated in the German club and the chemistry club. My extra-curricular activities ranged from playing lacrosse to volunteering at hospital. I think I received what some might cal a typical “chop it up and eat it” education. Essentially, high school got the job done, kept me busy and afforded me the opportunity to make some great friendships along the way.

Throughout this time, however, I realized that I was missing a key part of my education. I had an unquenchable desire for more that my basic education was not satisfying. I found myself longing to know more about the faith I believed in and the church I attended. Most importantly, I desired to know and to love the God who is the source and summit of my life. The University of St. Thomas was the best option for me because of its Catholic nature, and I was attracted not only to the Catholic Studies program but also to the idea of living in the Catholic men’s house. Never in my life have I witnessed such great men and women united under one faith as I have here. With its primary goal of spiritual formation and vocational discernment, and its focus on the sacraments and prayer life, the men’s house community has greatly inspired me to pursue my faith wholeheartedly. It has been such an honor to live in this house.

Having two of my brothers nearby, one a junior at St. John Vianney seminary and the other a Catholic Studies alum, also was, undeniably, a big part of my decision to attend St. Thomas. My brothers have played a very important role in my formation, and it is truly a blessing to be living close to them again.

Right now, I plan to pursue majors in Catholic Studies, chemistry and German. Each of these subjects interests me, and although the course load demands a lot of time and attention, I find it very fulfilling.

Besides my academic studies, I am also involved in extra-curricular activities on and off campus, including Students for Human Life, Catholic Witness and the Knights of Columbus. Last spring, I also helped a group of students set up an event, “Building a Culture of Life,” at the university.

Irma Montes

Irma Montes, a freshman from Nebraska, came to call the University of St. Thomas home not long after she found a home in the Catholic Church.

I come from the small town of Schuyler, Neb., where I have lived for the past seven years. I was raised by my mother, a single mother of two, who did the best she could to instill in us a sense of values, morality and religion. Following my baptism at around the age of four, my family moved around a lot, jumping from religious congregation to congregation and attending church only sporadically. Junior high brought about a major change in my life when my family moved to Schuyler, a small tight-knit community where, literally, everybody knows each other.

Soon I began to realize that I was missing out on what seemed to be a major town social event: Sunday Mass. I was asked by a friend to attend a Life Teen Mass, and as I stepped into the church that night, I felt immediately at home. From then on, my faith life has been moving forward. My freshman year of high school I received my first Holy Communion, followed by confirmation with my class later that same year. After having moved around so much, I felt I had truly become part of something and had a place to call home: home not only in the Schuyler community but also in the Catholic Church.

I was drawn to the University of St. Thomas for a couple of reasons. First, I really like the color purple! But more importantly, when I came to visit in September of 2006 I knew I was home immediately when I stepped on to the St. Thomas campus, just like I had known that Sunday when I first set foot in a Catholic Church. Sensing that God is calling me to something bigger, I feel called to grow in my faith. As my Catholic faith is still relatively new to me, I hope to grow in knowledge and appreciation of the faith through a major in Catholic Studies.

In addition to Catholic Studies, I am pursuing a major in psychology because I love learning about people. I hope to someday be able to turn around and help all those kids who remind me of myself at their age and lead them closer to Christ.

On campus I participate in Saint Paul’s Outreach, SHINE, Cor Jesus and Theotokus. I also live on the Catholic women’s floor in Dowling Hall, from where, in addition to the campus as a whole, I’ve begun building some good, solid friendships.

Being at St. Thomas is an experience that I wouldn’t exchange for anything in the world because I know it is where I am meant to be. I think it is truly exciting to see the way that God brings different people and places into your life, and how everyone has their unique story to tell.

Mike Pohl

Mike Pohl is a Minnesota native who was led to the St. Thomas Catholic Studies Department through his high school, St. Agnes, in St. Paul.

I am from St. Anthony, Minn., and have lived there my entire life. Before making a decision about what sort of college I would attend, I had to make a similar decision in choosing a high school. I have always loved sports, so as an eighth grader it was challenging for me to choose between a large local school with big athletic programs or a school a lot farther away that would give me a strong, orthodox Catholic faith formation. St. Agnes High School ended up being the perfect fit with its abundant athletic opportunities and a comprehensive program in faith formation. I began to better understand how integral my faith is to every aspect of my life. This guided me in choosing a Catholic university.

In deciding on a university, I knew I wanted two things: a solid Catholic school and a strong business program. I researched and learned about the good reputation of the St. Thomas business program. I then found out about its solid Department of Catholic Studies through my religion teacher at St. Agnes, Mr. Blonigen, and from the many recommendations of the St. Agnes graduates that preceded me in the Catholic Studies program. I particularly appreciate Catholic Studies’ focus on the rich sources of the Catholic faith, including the teachings of the university’s patron saint, St. Thomas Aquinas, the catechism of the Catholic Church, and the fathers and doctors of the Church.

For me, some of the most exciting aspects about being at St. Thomas are the many opportunities offered in both academics and athletics. I am planning on double-majoring in business accounting and Catholic Studies. Outside of the classroom I participate in intramural football, and I am currently playing on the JV basketball team. I also am considering trying out for baseball and joining the accounting club next year.

My experience at St. Thomas has been extraordinary. The professors are very knowledgeable, the courses, especially theology and philosophy, have great content, and the people are very friendly. A Catholic university has the advantage of being able to openly teach the truths of the faith, which makes it very valuable to a college student’s education. It is my strong desire to graduate from the University of St. Thomas not only with a bachelor’s degree but also with a deeper understanding and practice of my faith, so that I can, in the words of the Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, “perfectly accomplish what is pleasing” to God, for his glory.

Meghan Garcia

Meghan Garcia is from South Bend, Ind., and chose St. Thomas for its Catholic Studies program even though the University of Notre Dame was a tempting second choice right in her backyard.

I attended a small Catholic high school in South Bend, and although my high school years were difficult in some ways, I met a number of people who really helped me grow in my faith. Two of my religion teachers were particularly influential, as was my weekly involvement in my diocesan youth group, Antioch. With this group I attended weekly meetings and holy hours and helped organize teen retreats. Antioch provided a place for me to meet other Catholic teenagers who were interested in actively practicing their faith.

As it is for most students, choosing a college was not a simple or quickly made choice. I was accepted at the University of Notre Dame, and as it was located a mere five minutes from my house, it seemed like a natural choice. But I also decided to submit an application to the University of St. Thomas, and when my youth minister found out about this, he praised the university for its strong Department of Catholic Studies. I think the deciding factor came when, again and again, I heard people tell me of the vibrant Catholic community at St. Thomas. I didn’t sense that the Catholic identity at Notre Dame might be equally as strong, so after a lot of prayer, I finally chose St. Thomas.

Currently, I am a Catholic Studies major with a double minor in music and physics. After college I am considering heading back home to South Bend for graduate school at Notre Dame. I would love to be a youth minister or to become involved in music ministry after I graduate. This love for music has encouraged me to join a number of musical ensembles at St. Thomas including band, string ensemble and women’s choir. Other campus activities that I am engaged in are SHINE and Campus Ministry; and I am eagerly anticipating the beginning of swing dance club this spring.

So far I have been very impressed by St. Thomas, especially its Catholic community and the friendliness of its students and professors. Classes can be challenging, but the instructors are great. In addition, living on the Catholic women’s floor has been a wonderful experience for me. The support and friendship from the other girls has been amazing. I have grown a lot in my faith and have made friendships that I am convinced will last a lifetime.