Living The Mission: Alumni Reflect on the School of Law's Impact on Their Lives

One is a commercial litigator in New York City. Another is a nun with the Order of St. Benedict. A third is just beginning his practice here in Minneapolis. These are just three examples of the paths that School of Law alumni have chosen. No matter what responsibilities our alumni have, they continue to ask…

One is a commercial litigator in New York City. Another is a nun with the Order of St. Benedict. A third is just beginning his practice here in Minneapolis. These are just three examples of the paths that School of Law alumni have chosen. No matter what responsibilities our alumni have, they continue to ask themselves how they can incorporate the school’s mission – integrating faith and reason in the search for truththrough a focus on morality and social justice – into their personal and professional lives. Here, seven alumni share how they are keeping the mission alive after graduation.

Matthew Donovan | Class of 2004

When I first moved to New York and began practicing in 2005, I found it easier to be attentive to the faithbased aspects of the mission. I was working closely with the Jesuit editors and management staff of America Magazine, a weekly religion-and-politics publication. In addition to my trademark- and employment-related work for the Jesuits of America, I was able to find time to be active in the Catholic Lawyers Guild and to do some pro bono work for another religious order. The demands of young children and a busy commercial litigation practice in New York City have since limited the time I can devote to such things, but I’m grateful for having landed with a firm that truly values the tenets of professional preparation, scholarly engagement and service in the community that are so essential to the curriculum at St. Thomas Law. I find myself guided by great mentors, given opportunities to write for legal publications and blogs and encouraged to remain active in community organizations – a situation not unlike that which I experienced at St. Thomas.

Donovan is an associate with Farrell Fritz, P.C., in New York City.

Mariana Vielma | Class of 2005

St. Thomas helped me prepare for practicing law in many ways. Incorporating discussions of faith, social justice, dignity, respect and morality into class helped shape my view of the law, my approach to my career path and my current responsibilities as a prosecutor. I’ve been a deputy district attorney for more than 3-1/2 years and know it’s exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in my journey. Every day I get to live my faith, values and the principles that shape my sense of justice and what is right or wrong. I keep a copy of the St. Thomas mission on my desk to remind me every day of my call and responsibilities. Integrating my faith and reason helps me to make decisions every day. It drives my decisions in extracurricular activities as well, whereI serve on my local Access to Justice Committee, the Colorado Bar Association Leadership Training, my local bar association, and as a youth minister at my parish. For me, St. Thomas Law’s mission isn’t just a statement in writing. It is a statement about how I am called to practice law and live my faith and vocation to the fullest.

Vielma is deputy district attorney for the Adams County District Attorney’s Office in Brighton, Colo.

Mark Haase | Class of 2006

The School of Law has reinforced my belief that the law should ultimately result in justice and that we have the power to make it so. It has brought me together with others who hold similar beliefs, and St. Thomas students, staff and faculty continue to serve as my inspiration to continue believing. In 2008, John McCullough ’05, recommended me for my current position – my dream job working for the Council on Crime and Justice. Since then, I have written an amicus brief for a case Leah Montgomery ’06, argued before the Minnesota Court of Appeals; Emily Baxter ’07, works with me at the council trying to reform and educate people about some of the consequences created by our criminal justice system; and I recently testified at the legislature on a bill that Diana Hamilton ’06, has been working on that will give people who have had their parental rights terminated a chance to reunite with their children. Iknow that other classmates are living the mission in their own no-less significant ways and so I am proud to represent our class’ fulfillment of UST law’s mission beyond its walls.

Haase is vice president for the Council on Crime and Justice in Minneapolis.

Erin Colgan | Class of 2007

I chose St. Thomas Law because of the mission. It spoke directly to my heart. In the interest of full disclosure, as a former college registrar I almost did not apply becausethe law school only had provisional accreditation; however, at the 2003 UMACRAO conference, St. Thomas Registrar Bob McCluskey set those fears to rest. God was working through Bob in getting me to St. Thomas. St. Thomas helped prepare me to integrate the mission into my professional life in numerous ways, but I will just mention two. First, the faculty either integrated prayer into the class or pointed out both the “high road” and “low road” on various issues, stressing we should always take the high road especially in questions involving ethics. Secondly, the community service requirement showed me that no matter how busy or stressed I might be, serving others (amazingly) helped reduce the stress. Since law school, I have been able to live the St. Thomas mission because of my Benedictine community. My community has allowed me to minister as a volunteer full time in legal aid at East River Legal Services. In addition, I participate in prison ministry and confirmation preparation for high school students.

Colgan is a sister with the Order of St. Benedict in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Maggie Green | Class of 2008

The spirit of St. Thomas’ mission is a constant component of my estate planning, trust, probate and business practice. While the business transactions are somewhat less personal, discussing end-of-life goals and planning for the transfer of property upon death are often overwhelming for clients. Clients from various backgrounds and life circumstances come to me with unique and often vexing legal questions. My goal is to listen attentively and to provide guidance, options and legal representation to prepare clients for or assist them with difficult and emotional issues. In my practice, the intersection of faith and law are intimately intertwined and the mission is a steadfast principle to which I turn when addressing these issues.

Green is an attorney with Donohue Green Law office, P.L.L.C., in Minneapolis.

Melanie Wimmer | Class of 2009

Following graduation, my legal career was happily delayed by the birth of my daughter, Nora. My family has been a great source of inspiration as I seek a career path with true work-life balance – a central concept at St. Thomas. In November 2010, I began a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Network. I serve low-income clients directly every day, assisting with intake and supporting volunteer attorneys to provide advice and brief services at the Legal Access Point Clinic and the Brian Coyle Community Center Clinic. My efforts ultimately are focused on capacity building, so that more lowincome Minnesotans can access justice. St. Thomas fostered both my legal skills and my curiosity for affecting change. My coursework helped meunderstand the challenges my clients face and appreciate the creativity necessaryfor survival on the economic fringes. My professors and mentors challenged me to use my skill set for the greater good. My colleagues and friends continue to support my work and sustain my spirit whenever we have the chance to reconnect. I feel blessed to be a member of the St. Thomas community.

Wimmer is an attorney with VISTA in Minneapolis.

Frank Aba-Onu | Class of 2010

My position as an associate provides me with a great amount of responsibility, and I consider it a great job to have; however, being a lawyer means more than just having a great job. I remember discussing the term “social justice” with Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds and Clinical Law Fellow Artika Tyner. To me, “social justice” is imbued in the School of Law’s focus on living the mission. I graduated from St. Thomas believing that, as an attorney, I owe a duty to myself, my profession and, most importantly, my community to be an engineer for social change. Social change comes in different shapes and sizes. That is why I volunteered my time as a coach for the School of Law’s Jessup International Moot Court Team. I saw that role as an opportunity to give back to an advocacy program that instilled confidence in me by helping develop my oral advocacy skills, thus shaping me for the better. I also volunteer my time at the Minnesota Innocence Project. I try to balance my volunteer commitments with my work obligations. However, without my volunteer opportunities, I would not be satisfied with my role in this community as an attorney.

Aba-Onu is an associate with Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, P.A., in Minneapolis.

Compiled by Will Ashenmacher

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