“The St. Thomas Society is a group open to graduate students who are studying theology or philosophy and who want to continue pursuing an academic intellectual life,” said the 31-year-old mother of five who started the club this semester.
The St. Thomas Society is an idea Tabitha Silva had shortly after she came to Franciscan University of Steubenville as a theology graduate student. Only now, during her last semester at the university, is it coming to fulfillment.
“I realized that a lot of students didn’t have theology backgrounds as graduate students, and it’s so intense,” Silva said. “When you’re looking at it, you ask, ‘How am I going to plan my life with this type of career?’ Then other problems emerge, like ‘How do I separate my spiritual life from my study time or from my job?’”
These common difficulties she encountered led Silva to establish the St. Thomas Society, taking the Dominican theologian and saint Thomas Aquinas as the society’s namesake and patron.
Silva chose St. Thomas as the patron for her group because he was a mystic.
“He knew the human person very well and was very close to God in that way,” she said.
She said even Aquinas had to start somewhere.
“We have this vision of Thomas Aquinas as someone who was like us, who, at one point in time, was the student who was trying to live for God through his academic studies,” she said.
Silva said she hopes that this view of Aquinas as a student will inspire graduate students who might be unsure about their abilities.
“It’s more personable,” she said, speaking of the atmosphere of the group. “It’s a small group; we’re not huge. There’s not a lot of graduate students (in general).”
She said members could bring guests who are not theology or philosophy students to meetings and events.
The club is academic, not social.
“From my understanding, we are the only graduate student club (on campus),” Silva said.
Although the club is young, Silva said the St. Thomas Society hopes to make use of the faculty members at Franciscan to provide knowledge and grounding for the students.
“There’s a lot to gain from them in kind of being able to understand what the path looks like in becoming stronger academically and spiritually,” she said.
William Newton, who holds a doctorate in theology and is the director of the graduate theology program, is the advisor to the club and helped to guide its creation. He spoke at the most recent meeting on the topic of intellectual life, being married and having children as it has played out in his own life.
Silva and others have been talking with Michael Waldstein, who holds doctorates in philosophy and the New Testament, to give the society a talk on study skills in the future.
Silva said “We have all these professors here who are amazing. How they got here, we don’t really know, but they made it O.K.”
To support its members, Silva said the club has a room in Egan reserved every day at 6 p.m. for studying.
“The library is nice, but there’s a social aspect, and one can get lost in the books,” Silva said.
“Sometimes, as graduate students, you feel like you can’t talk to other people,” she said. “It’s really about having some time to be with other people who understand and that you can talk to.”
The club offers spiritual support to its members as well as academic help. “If someone’s concerned about taking, say, a proficiency exam, we say a prayer for them,” Silva said.
Silva said the ultimate goal of the club for its members is that “when we leave here, we are the most prepared we could possibly be to live in the world and how to continue being an intellectual who’s serving God.”
Silva said she hopes the St. Thomas Society will make the job of being a graduate student a little less daunting,
The St. Thomas Society holds bimonthly meetings in the St. Leo Room, and more information can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.