First in Class

Gino Lambo and Father Ryan Lewis are two of Catholic Studies’ class of 1995 – the program’s first graduating class. Both men reflect here on how Catholic Studies deepened their faith and influenced their lives and work.

Gino Lambo and Father Ryan Lewis are two of Catholic Studies’ class of 1995 – the program’s first graduating class. Both men reflect here on how Catholic Studies deepened their faith and influenced their lives and work.

Gino Lambo

For Gino Lambo, a medical device account executive for Celleration, faith and career are indivisible.

The nature of Lambo’s work takes him in and out of hospitals, where he sees a lot of suffering – physical and emotional.

He credits his time at St. Thomas and the Center for Catholic Studies for developing what it means to be a Catholic, in and of itself and also how his faith plays out in all parts of his life. “I didn’t understand my faith or even try to understand it until I was at St. Thomas,” he said. Lambo, who was confirmed through Campus Ministry at St. Thomas, elaborated: “I appreciated that students had time to bear witness daily. Catholic Studies courses taught me how we are all connected as human beings. To not be critical and judgmental and to forgive others as well as myself. I took this approach after I graduated from St. Thomas.”

This approach enables Lambo to grasp the product he sells − MIST Therapy, a painless, noncontact, low-frequency ultrasound delivered through a saline mist to open wounds – as much more than “just a widget.”

“My motivation comes from seeing patients and offering a product I believe in and helping them lead healthier, more functioning lifestyles,” he noted.

Over his three and a half years with Celleration, Lambo has noticed that “There are a lot of lonely people in hospitals. I notice the loneliness of aging,” he said.

When he speaks of the remarkable results he has witnessed, it is clear that his pride lies not in his salesmanship but in his deeply held belief “that we are all a part of God’s creation,” a belief he traces to his Catholic Studies education.

That belief is embodied in his recollection of a 52-year-old patient who was healed by the device he sells. The patient, a restaurant owner, had hidradenitis suppurativa, an extremely painful disease in which bacteria clogged his pores. The resulting cysts leaked blood. Consequently, sizeable portions of his legs and buttocks had to be removed, which resulted in large, open wounds. The ensuing pain, along with his lack of a support system, hurled him into depression. “He was at a crucial point where if he didn’t have surgery he was going take his own life,” Lambo recalled. “I drew from my Catholic Studies experience because of the profound amount of pain he was in. I see the connection between the product I sell and the role I play in helping people get better.”

Lambo began visiting him routinely, shakes from McDonald’s in hand, and popping in at Thanksgiving and Christmas to deliver cookies. The story had a happy ending: The patient recovered and did not experience infection while using MIST. “He is back up and cooking at his restaurant,” Lambo said, adding that they still keep in touch.

Lambo attributes his instinct to forge what became a lasting friendship with the man to his Catholic Studies courses: “Catholic Studies helped me be a better person, a kinder person, who understands that we are all connected in this life. That we are called to help each other and serve each other in many roles.”

Among his most memorable Catholic Studies experiences, Lambo cited any of Dr. John Boyle’s courses, which he appreciated for their integration of culture and faith, and attending daily Mass with a group of his classmates. His regular attendance, he said, sharpened his discipline and insight into his faith.

Father Ryan Lewis

Father Ryan Lewis, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Omaha, Neb., his hometown, first sensed the Lord calling him to the priesthood while a high school student. Though the calling was strong, he wasn’t 100 percent sure it was right for him. So when he
enrolled at St. John Vianney at St. Thomas – under the auspices of the archbishop of Omaha − in 1991, he made sure he had a back-up plan.

“I always had an interest in law and public service. When I started at St. Thomas, I thought I might have an interest in law had the priesthood not worked out, so I majored in political science in case I wanted to pursue law school and minored in philosophy. As it turned out I didn’t need the political science degree because priesthood is where the Lord was calling me.”

When, during his sophomore year, Dr. Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies and one of Lewis’ favorite professors, told him a Catholic Studies major soon would launch, Lewis knew he wanted to add it as a double major. The only worry he had was that he needed to graduate in four years. Lucky for him, Briel and the CS staff “got a little creative” and made it work.

“Even in those earlier years, the course offerings – ‘Catholic Literary Tradition’ and ‘Faith and Doubt,’ where you grapple with intersection of faith and philosophy − were just incredible,” Lewis noted. “It’s been a real privilege to be one of the pioneers in getting a CS degree. It’s been just a tremendous gift to watch the program develop.”

Lewis attributes his years at St. Thomas and the Center for Catholic Studies as “vital in bringing clarity and certainty in knowing the Lord’s will for me.”

Immediately after graduating from St. Thomas he continued in his studies for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome then returned home and was ordained in 1999 for the Archdiocese of Omaha. He spent the ensuing years doing the Lord’s work in the education system, teaching three years at Roncalli Catholic High School, and two years at Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School, both in Omaha. In 2005 he was appointed vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha. In 2009 he became pastor at Omaha’s St. Thomas More Church, a position he holds to this day.

Throughout his nearly 15 years in the priesthood, Lewis regularly hearkened to his CS days. “My time there taught me that it’s a gift to be a Catholic. It’s a beautiful ethos and environment they’ve created with the center.” He especially appreciates the center’s interdisciplinary focus and “how it taught me just how appealing and how rich one can make the Catholic faith. ... How joyful they are for Christ and his church because they invite and propose this beautiful Catholic tradition, and the students discover this tradition.”

Lewis emphasized his gratitude for the opportunities that existed outside of class to immerse himself in the Catholic tradition. In particular he recalled the Friday night dinners hosted by Dr. Boyle and his wife, who would invite students into their homes for conversation.

“Those were rich experiences. We’d have a reading and discussion. I thought, ‘Now here’s a prof who’s opening his home to us.’ You got to see Catholic family life lived outside of the classroom. Kids were running around. It was rich and beautiful. Friendships were built at those dinners. Friendships I have to this day.”

As a parish priest, he said he uses “many of the same tools when new people come to my parish. I’ll simply say, ‘Come to Mass, and meet this community of believers.’ I try to develop a culture at my parish that is similar to the culture I experienced at St. Thomas.”

He encourages future generations of Catholic Studies’ students to immerse themselves in the program so they can see, as he did, “how the Catholic tradition really does touch on all disciplines.”

Read more from Perspectives magazine.

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