This August, the University of Dallas was honored to welcome Kansas native and UD alumna Sr. John Thomas O.P. back to the hills of Irving.
Though she first felt the call to religious life at the age of 15, Sr. John Thomas wanted to experience other things, embracing adventure and travel. “I was afraid that religious life wouldn’t make me happy,” she said. Landing at the University of Dallas to pursue her studies in English and theology, she received the exciting opportunity to travel to Rome.
Sr. John Thomas shared some key moments she experienced in Rome when she realized that God knew better than she did what would make her the happiest. One of them in particular was when she was paragliding in Switzerland. “I had looked forward to it all semester, and it was exhilarating,” she said. “But when I came down from the sky and landed on the field, I felt an incredible sense of emptiness.”
Her love for travel and adventure still led to her to serve for a year as an RC after graduating from UD. From kayaking across Lago di Albano to performing a Greek play in Sicily against the backdrop of the active Mount Etna, all of her experiences traveling the world were adventurous to say the least. Yet, even after these great experiences, she still felt restless. “If it wasn’t with and for the Lord, it wasn’t fulfilling,” she said. “I was willing to ask ‘Okay, Lord, you made my heart, what will fulfill it?’” She then decided to become a ‘Nashville Dominican’ and join the St. Cecilia Congregation.
Sr. John Thomas’ congregation is committed to the teaching apostolate, from the elementary up to the collegiate level. She has been on both ends of this spectrum, teaching everything from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to kindergarteners to spending the last four years serving in the Education and English departments of Aquinas College, the congregation-run college in Nashville.
One of her favorite parts about teaching is grading papers. “Whether through reading their papers or through discussing them, I get to hear their thoughts and really engage together with whatever question they’re wrestling with in their paper,” she said. “I just find it a fun and exciting encounter.”
Sr. John Thomas was recently assigned to come back to Irving, to begin the IPS program for a PhD in Literature. “For me to be able to receive a formation at the University of Dallas that I can also share with my future students, many of whom would possibly be our own sisters at our own college, would be wonderful,” she said. “I think it’s one of the purposes of me being here.”
In addition to the IPS program, Sr. John Thomas was also assigned to teach a Lit Trad I course. She feels especially honored to teach in the English department among Drs. Crider and Davies, who taught her Lit Trad courses when she was an undergraduate student here. She added, “I also have a delightful, engaging set of students that just makes me love UD all the more.”
Joining the Dominican Order as a UD alumna and then returning to Irving as a Dominican sister has felt somewhat natural to her. “One of the mottos of the Dominican Order is to contemplate and give to others the fruits of contemplation,” she said. “The communal dimension of the search for truth is very much a part of our Dominican life. And I think it’s also very much part of the University of Dallas atmosphere.”
Though many of the buildings and professors have since exited the stage of the university in the time between her undergraduate experience and returning to teach, what she has been most struck by is the continuity of the culture and atmosphere of UD. She especially notes the unique enthusiasm for truth held by both professors and students. She recalls her UD professors caring not only for their students’ education but also for their souls.
“It was very much like we were asking the same questions together,” she said. “The conversation was real because the questions were still alive. And I think that’s what I am experiencing [now].”
Sr. John Thomas enjoys witnessing this yearning for truth at UD and encountering people who ask her random theological questions. “Being dressed like this, you get a lot of questions,” she said. “But I have been impressed with the openness of the students and their willingness to be themselves and to connect. I just love that these things matter to the students and they want to understand more deeply.”
So, next time you see Sr. John Thomas on the Mall, make sure to stop by, say hello and try to top her last visitor’s theological question!