Story by Grace Vanhaitsma, Reporter
Every year at Aquinas College, students, faculty and alumni alike eagerly await the celebrations of St. Thomas Aquinas Week. St. Thomas Aquinas Week is an opportunity for the Aquinas college community to celebrate our patron saint. It is a full community event where we embrace our Dominican values.
According to Robert Gilmore, Associate Dean of Mission Ministry and Service Learning, St. Thomas Aquinas Week is an honored tradition among the Aquinas community that embraces the different Dominican pillars, which include service and prayer. When asked what the main goal of St. Thomas Aquinas Week is, Gilmore responded saying that it is about “bringing people together to celebrate where we come from, and recognizing each other in all our different pursuits and being able to appreciate one another and Aquinas College.”
The origins of St. Thomas Aquinas Week are a bit complicated. There was always a patronal mass, even before the college was named Aquinas. The first official St. Thomas Aquinas Week occurred in 1987, and started as a project with the committee New Traditions. At the time, Paul Nelson was the president of the college, which is who our mascot, Nelson the Saint Bernard, is named after. The week itself has taken many different shapes and forms throughout the years. Medieval drama theatre performances and madrigal dinners were a huge part of the first St. Thomas Aquinas Weeks. A key component of St. Thomas Aquinas Week is that many different parts of campus contribute- a keynote hosted by Catholic Studies is a highlight.
The longest tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas Week is the history club viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which first started in 1975. Every St. Thomas Aquinas Week, people would gather to watch the movie together and the history club would act out parts of it. Another long-standing tradition is having a basketball game with the Dominican sisters, where the Dominican sisters would offer blessings to the players before the game. Gilmore states that this is usually a highlight for everyone, as the sisters get very involved in the game and become quite intense about it.
Of course, St. Thomas Aquinas Week looks a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Aquinas community will still be celebrating, a lot of events had to be altered or changed this year due to social distancing and safety guidelines.
“A week meant to bring people together when it can’t physically happen can hopefully happen in spirit,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore does state, however, that not all the changes to St. Thomas Aquinas Week because of COVID are negative. People are able to attend events virtually that they couldn’t otherwise due to distance. There is also an ability to get speakers for keynotes they could not have gotten otherwise if it were not virtual. Gilmore says the key to organizing St. Thomas Aquinas Week during COVID times is “being creative, having good will, and bringing innovation to it.”
This year, there are plenty of virtual and in-person events to celebrate St. Thomas Aquinas Week. A weeklong photo contest is taking place, as well as fun socially-distanced events, such as laser tag and a scavenger hunt. Important conversations about racial justice will be taking place, as well as a virtual improv performance and trivia night. And of course, the viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail will still occur, even if it has to be virtual this year. The Aquinas community was truly able to make the best of this pandemic, and it shows through this celebration of our patron saint.
“The greatest overall tradition is our Dominican heritage which we celebrate,” Gilmore said.
This will always be able to be celebrated, no matter the climate of our world.