Catholic studies alumna volunteering

30 Years of Impact

Eight people, representing a broad spectrum of Catholic Studies alumni and friends, were interviewed for the 30th anniversary video. They are corporate and nonprofit leaders; they are lawyers, clergy and religious; they are parents and educators. While they each have a different Catholic Studies story to tell, they share something profound: they have been impacted by the interdisciplinary exploration of the Incarnation. As a result, they are making an impact on the world. Portions of their interviews are edited here for Lumen. 

Emery Koenig has served as chair of the Catholic Studies Advisory Board since 2018. He is a retired vice chairman and chief risk officer of Cargill, was elected to Cargill’s board of directors in 2010, and was a member of the Cargill corporate leadership team. He and his wife, Karen, enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren in Minnesota, Florida and Colorado.

Q: When was your first encounter with Catholic Studies?

A: My first encounter was when Dr. Michael Naughton asked me to give a talk on subsidiarity and how that is played out in the business world. First, I had to go home and find out what subsidiarity was. And as I got into that, I recognized there were a lot of things that were applicable to how I was operating in a global environment.

Q: What came next for you and Catholic Studies?

A: Dr. Naughton invited me to join the Advisory Board, and the first thing we did was plan a trip
to Rome. Even though my wife and I had lived in Europe and had been to Rome many times, a Catholic Studies pilgrimage to Rome was a very different experience. I got to know Dr. Naughton and Dr. John Boyle, and I got exposure to the students. Their faith and the joy that they were expressing was profound. The hand of God was at work, and I really was attracted to that.

Q: What do you tell people who don’t know anything about Catholic Studies?

A: If people could understand the impact Catholic Studies is having – the caliber of professors, the caliber of students, the joy that the students are living, how they’re building their faith and how they’re being formed – what’s not to love? I am honored to be a part of it.

Q: Where will Catholic Studies be in 30 years?

A: My favorite business model is to think big, start small and ramp up quickly. Catholic Studies had a great big vision that started small, classroom by classroom, student by student. As we grow that over time, I think it’s a great opportunity that can be perpetuated down the road. And I think as the more tension and the darker points of society get flushed up, I think it’s even more important that Catholic Studies brings light to the world.

Katie Danielson ’08 double majored in Catholic studies and international studies. She worked as a teacher and then administrator at Ave Maria Academy in Maple Grove, Minnesota, until she stepped away to raise seven children with her husband, Mike.

Q: What are some of the qualities of Catholic Studies that helped you?

A: There are three things about Catholic Studies that stick with me. First, the sense that every part of who we are as human beings and every part of what we can pass on to the next generation is integrated. Second, there is a unity of knowledge in everything that we learn, both about the world around us and about ourselves. And third, the importance of becoming authentic disciples of Christ.

Q: How did your Catholic Studies semester in Rome impact you?

A: I didn’t know at that moment what was happening, but I look back and realize how these little movements were happening inside of me that later allowed me to be open to running a Catholic school, to having a large family, to truly live as God intends me to live: with compassion, with drive and yet with acceptance as well.

Q: Do you think the Catholic Studies program enhanced your desire to be a teacher?

A: Yes. Catholic Studies really prepared me intellectually and spiritually to be a good teacher. Without the program, I would not have received the formation necessary to understand the human person, to understand the children that I was charged with teaching and forming.

Q: What makes Catholic Studies unique?

A: I think Catholic Studies is special because it is pursuing the truth. It believes in the ability to pass on the truth to the next generation.

Father Colin Jones ’14 triple majored in philosophy, Catholic studies, and classical languages. He was ordained in 2018 and is a formation advisor at Saint John Vianney College Seminary (SJV).

Q: What was your first impression of Catholic Studies?

A: I took my first Catholic Studies class junior year. I experienced a community unlike any I had before. The people that I got to know in Catholic Studies are still some of my best friends. I encountered the truth alongside them.

Q: What is a lasting memory from Catholic Studies?

A: One class that really changed my perspective was the Newman class with Dr. Don Briel. Being guided through the works of then Blessed John Henry Newman by this amazing Newman scholar opened me up to a love for the Church that I had never experienced before.

Q: Is Catholic Studies still important for college seminarians today?

A: I want the men at SJV to know that they need friendships with the laity. They need people in their lives who are going to inspire them with radical love. I get to see that with the seminarians as they go through Catholic Studies and as they meet wonderful people. I know that I wouldn’t be the priest I am today if it weren’t for Catholic Studies.

Q: What is going on in Catholic Studies that is different from other places?

A: Going through the doors of Sitzmann Hall, one really starts to be alive. We talk about how God calls us to life, he calls us to beatitude, he calls us to lay hold of this amazing imperishable inheritance that we have in virtue of our faith. I think everyone who comes to Catholic Studies, for any amount of time, gets to receive that. You can’t not be changed and not be inspired by what you receive.

Melina Arguello-Sotro ’18, ’20 MA double majored in Catholic studies and philosophy and was a Latino Scholar. She has served as the Latino Scholars program coordinator since 2020. Melina and her husband, Nestor, live in St. Paul with their daughter.

Q: How did you find out about Catholic Studies?

A: When I was a senior in high school, a group of Latino Scholars were leading a video series at my parish. I was really impressed by them. They were articulate, normal, joyful students. They encouraged me to apply to the program, and I received a scholarship which allowed me to be able to afford university.

Q: Why was the Latino Scholars Program so important to you in college?

A: Latino Scholars introduced me to the Catholic Studies culture. It instilled in me a worldview. It was so hopeful and nourishing. It was helping me develop a sense of what is true, good and beautiful. It was a genuinely happy experience of college.

Q: What did you enjoy most about being a Latino Scholar?

A: A highlight was our monthly formation nights gathered around a table eating a good meal and discussing a topic. Our coordinator led us in conversation about an article or a book that we were asked to read. To have that space to have a good conversation about difficult topics was a real highlight.

Q: How do you describe Catholic Studies to Latino students in the program today?

A: The Catholic Studies project is creating a culture of students who are engaging in an interdisciplinary form of education which instills in them a certain worldview. It helps them to adopt the mind of Christ and to take that with them into the professional world.

Rick Halbur spent a semester in Rome in 2008 with Catholic Studies. He practices agricultural and lending law in Minnesota and Iowa as a partner with Gislason & Hunter. He and his wife, Anne, and their three children live in New Ulm, Minnesota.

Q: Who influenced you in Catholic Studies?

A: Dr. John Boyle, Dr. Gregory Coulter, Dr. Don Briel and Dr. Tom Sullivan played pivotal roles during my time at St. Thomas.

Q: How has Catholic Studies impacted your life?

A: Catholic Studies affected the way I worship and pray. When my wife and I got married in 2015, the two priests who presided at our Nuptial Mass were Catholic Studies grads. We now have three children and the first two were baptized by priests with Catholic Studies degrees. So, it has directly affected my sacramental life in that respect, particularly with an interest in proper and fitting liturgical celebrations.

Q: Why do you support Catholic Studies?

A: I really like that other kids and future generations of Catholics get to have the same educational opportunities that I did.

Sam Vosters ’10 (above right) double majored in Catholic studies and psychology. She is the mission intern and formation manager at Kinship Community Food Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Q: We often say, “Catholic Studies helps you do your other major better.” Was this true for you?

A: In one of my classes, I got to be in the psych ward at Regions Hospital every week. Catholic Studies really formed me to seek God in all things and to be present with the patients.

Q: How did the Catholic Studies experience in Rome impact you?

A: Rome was a big reason why I chose St. Thomas and the Catholic Studies program. The most impactful experience in Rome was the weekly community nights. We were rooted in the Mass and prayer, and it was beautiful. I also helped coordinate volunteers going to the Missionaries of Charity every week. The humility of being alongside the sisters and with the poor was formative.

Q: How does Kinship’s mission align with Catholic Studies?

A: I think it is this whole idea of building a culture for people to experience the Lord. With Catholic Studies, we did not just have this academic program; we had households and things like that. Newman might say a person does not need to be just educated; they need to be formed. People come to us for food, but they stay because there is community.

Sister Annunciata (Rebecca Messall) ’24 CSMA and Sister Ancilla Joy (Annie LoCoco) ’19 are Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, an order of religious women who live in imitation of Mary in serving as spiritual mothers in the diocesan Church.

Q: (Sister Annunciata) How has Catholic Studies impacted your religious community?

A: Catholic Studies has been hugely impactful for our community, especially for Mother Mary Claire and for some of the first sisters who went through the program. They would often express how life- changing it was for them. It helped them to see the world with new eyes and to come to experience how Jesus Christ is in all things.

Q: (Sister Annunciata) How does Catholic Studies impact you as an educator?

A: I think the remarkable gift of Catholic Studies is that it allows the students, especially in the master’s program, to experience what Catholic education should be when it is done well and how life-changing that is. It helps to form you, not just academically and intellectually, but the whole person on the human and intellectual and spiritual level to help you realize the fullness of who you are created to be. That changes everything.

Q: (Sister Annunciata) How does Catholic Studies impact you as a religious sister?

A: Catholic Studies has had a profound impact on me as a religious sister. The whole point of my life is about belonging entirely to God. In Catholic Studies, it has been a powerful experience of coming to know, in deeper and more profound ways, who God is and coming to experience the way that He wants to belong entirely to me. That has allowed me to fall even more in love with Him.

Q: (Sister Anchilla Joy) How did Catholic Studies impact you in college?

A: The first class you take as a Catholic Studies student is Search for Happiness. And I remember sitting in that class thinking, “I want happiness. That is a great emotion to feel.” And I remember the moment that I realized that the search for happiness was the beatitude with God, seeing him face to face. I remember leaving that class and thinking my life has to change.

Q: (Sister Anchilla Joy) How did your semester in Rome impact you?

A: I went to Rome only because I thought it would look good on my med school applications. But there were so many beautiful aspects about the program. The most pivotal part was the silence that it gave me. The silence was where I found God even though I didn’t really know what was happening at the time.

Q: (Sister Anchilla Joy) How does Catholic Studies impact you today?

A: Catholic Studies sees the whole person. They see that ordinary life can be so extraordinary when you allow God to be in it. My life as a Handmaid is very ordinary, but I live the greatest life that I could possibly live because it is imbued with God.

This story is featured in the winter 2024 issue of Lumen.