The Forum The Official Newsletter of Belmont Abbey College


We hope this finds you and your families well. The Fall 2020 semester looked very different from others, with thorough Covid precautions being taken for the in-person portion of the semester and the last week of classes and finals taking place online. However, even with the many challenges brought on by the pandemic, all the students, teachers, and college staff rose to the occasion and enabled us to continue to cultivate the sense of community that is characteristic of the Honors College.

In this issue of The Forum, we highlight the latest Honors events and gatherings, interviews with two of our newest freshmen, an interview with the much-beloved theology professor, Dr. Rovati, and many exciting alumni announcements. We would also like to introduce an addition to The Forum’s editing team, Patricia Kolakowski (’22) who helped us to create this issue of the newsletter. Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy receiving updates on the program and its growing community!

-Laura DiMarzio, Class of ’23, Honors College student and Assistant Editor of The Forum


Dedication to Community

While this year saw many changes to the community life at Belmont, through the hard work of the college's staff and students we were able to have in-person classes and even some outdoor activities throughout the year. (From the top left, clockwise: an in-person class with the seniors, a trip to Skytop Orchard for apple picking, and a hike on South Fork Trail.)

Cultural Events

First Meeting of the 2020 Semester

The first meeting of the semester was held outdoors by the William Gaston Science Building. Featuring a series of talks from Dr. Wysocki, Dr. Basil, and a closing prayer led by Dr. Hren, the event was a chance for new and current students to meet each other and learn what to expect during the rest of the semester.

Hamilton and Constitution

Students were invited to attend a Constitution Day event, where thanks to a grant from the Jack Miller Center, the Honors College hosted an online webinar with Dr. Bradford Wilson from the James Madison Center at Princeton University.

Agora Night

Students were also invited to Agora's Poetry, Song, and Story Night, where the literary magazine of the school encourages students to pursue the arts by inviting them to come and read, sing, or recite any literary work they have prepared. Agora's leadership has now been handed over to the Honors College's own Dr. Hren, and many of the students and professors have made appearances, including a special visit from President Thierfelder.

|Student Spotlights|

Cailin Sullivan

Year: 2024

Major: Biology

High School: St. Joseph’s Catholic School

Hometown: Greenville, SC

Why the Abbey? I love BAC because of its size and because it’s so beautiful. It’s small enough and my professors in Biology, Chemistry, and the Honors College are ready to help with anything. I’m not just a number here. They’re here to help me learn and grow. I came because of the importance of faith in my life. With the basilica right on campus, campus ministry, and the chapel I’m kept grounded in encouragement. The whole environment fosters my faith.

Why the Honors College? I love the smaller community of really genuine people who inspire me to be better—after all, you are who you surround yourself with, and they make me better. Also the teachers are so kind, and take an interest in my life, which you don’t see in other colleges. I know they’re there for whatever I need, not only academically but also in terms of personal growth and formation for life after college—they form every part of us in faith and maturity.

How was your Corona college experience? I have loved the way that BAC has approached this. So many friends have been 100% online and I’m thriving with mostly in-person classes. Even though it wasn’t the same, I still think we made the most of it and I was still able to build community through things like hiking and office hours. I had an almost-normal experience. The ability to be in person is so necessary and we did it in a safe way.

Nikolas Von Spakovsky

Year: 2024

Major: Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE)

High School: Mother of Divine Grace

Hometown: Blacksburg, VA

Why the Abbey and the Honors College? I thought I’d never go here when my older sister came years ago. But then I fell in love with the campus over time when visiting friends and family in the area, and Belmont Abbey wound up being the only college I applied to. I really chose Belmont Abbey because of the Honors College. The Great Books curriculum—reading the Republic, Homer, Virgil just in my first semester—appealed to me. I really liked the idea behind it—to learn to think critically by pursuing the realm of great books in a way that would develop these skills and will help me in any number of career paths.

What is the Honors community like? In terms of the community, there’s a wide variety of personalities, but we’re all close and tightly knit. All of us are engaging in it. I wasn’t worried about friends, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to develop life-long friendships. Not only do I have that, it’s almost like I have too many (studying and hanging out and sleeping are a lot to balance!). All of my professors have been understanding and willing to work with us and willing to meet us where we are.

What was your Corona college experience like? It was crazy and not at all what I thought my first semester of college would be. I was actually very pleased by and appreciated the college’s efforts to give us stuff to do (Plays, Community days, Abbey Fest, etc.). It was weird but under the circumstances it was actually pretty great.

From the Desk of the Director

Dear Friends,

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity...for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.” Ps. 133 (132). In the midst of the continued isolating effects of the pandemic, these words from my favorite psalm remind me of the great gift we have been given in our time in the Honors Program, Institute, and College at Belmont Abbey. Thanks to the tireless work of the Abbey’s administration, faculty, and staff, our students were able to actually dwell together in person once again this semester, unified in their pursuit of wisdom and virtue.

Still, important parts of our normal community life have been put on hold. Beloved cultural events to the symphony, bonfire singalongs, our Shakespeare retreat, and study abroad have been delayed. We especially missed our chance to see all of you at our annual honors homecoming reception! How fitting it is then for our first full semester back to end during Advent, a season that calls on us to watch and wait. Yet, our faith reminds us that this watching and waiting is not in vain and it is not passive. “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” Ps 145 (144). As you can see from the stories of our students and faculty included in this edition on The Forum, we have spent our time preparing. Limited as our time together has been, we have kept the lamps burning. Just as the fullness of the Incarnation will bring us closer to Christ this Christmas, so too we look forward to the fullness of Honors College community life as we move into the spring semester. It is our hope that by late spring we will be able to welcome you back to alumni events. Until then, I wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! You will all be remembered especially in my family’s prayers during this season.

God Bless,

Dr. Joe Wysocki ‘04

Dean of the Honors College

Belmont Abbey College


Special thanks for the generous support of Fr. Paschal A. Morlino, Thomas Kelly, Craig and Abby Taffaro, and Matt and Lori Tortorich.

Community and The Life of Faith

An interview with Dr. Alessandro Rovati, Chair of the Theology Department & Assistant Professor

Dr. Alessandro Rovati has been teaching at Belmont Abbey College for many years, beginning as an adjunct professor in 2015 and eventually becoming a Department Chair and Assistant Professor for the Theology Department in 2019. He began his education in Milan, Italy at Istituto Sacro Cuore di Milano and earned his B.A., M.A., and P.H.D. at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano. Dr. Rovati has taught classes for both the Honors Institute and the Honors College, including the Senior Theology Seminar, Augustine and Aquinas I and II, and Biblical Texts I and II.

Q. What has been your favorite class to teach and why? A. I have enjoyed teaching all the classes! I taught Biblical Texts, Augustine and Aquinas, and the Senior Theology Seminar. It is impossible to pick a favorite because Scripture is at the heart of theology, and the great theologians I teach always help us to enter more fully in the scriptures. It turns out that all the classes I teach are not as different as you think, as they all help you discover the self-manifestation of Jesus. I will say, I originally resisted when Dr. Wysocki asked me to teach the Biblical Texts class because I’m not a Scripture scholar. However, he told me that it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but a way of reading the texts that is in dialogue with their on-going teaching—and that is something I could do, as I am continually surprised by what God tells us through Scripture. I think that as long as I can continue to be surprised by the Bible and the Christian tradition and communicate that surprise to the students, I will enjoy teaching every one of these classes.

Q. What was your education like and where did you go for school? A. I was born and grew up in Milan— the same place of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine's conversion! However, because they don’t offer theology courses for the laity in Italy, I never dreamed of studying theology. I spent most of my education studying philosophy and all the important texts of the Western tradition in a way similar to the Honors College curriculum here. Eventually, I came to have a passion for moral philosophy and even wrote my senior thesis on it.

While working on my thesis, I started studying Alasdair MacIntyre, who wrote After Virtue, and he changed my perspective on philosophy. He showed me the connection between ideas, society, and the moral formation of people. The culture in which we live is shaped by a vision of life that changes us. That is why it is so important to decide what practices, books, and people are the object of our attention. And it also why recovering some of the ideas the Christian tradition has cherished is important to be able to embody a new way of life.

Because I wanted to systematically study the ideas that MacIntyre describes, a mentor of mine sent me to Duke University to study under the direction of theologian Stanley Hauerwas. While studying MacIntyre with him, Hauerwas helped me discover a passion and interest for theology. In particular, I came to realize that the community that most fully embodies the moral philosophy I had found in MacIntyre is the church. The church is the community that lives out the vision of the good MacIntyre describes so well, and so I decided to focus on the church’s life and theological tradition. One could say that I jumped over to the dark side—or rather the luminous side—and began to study theology. Because I couldn’t study theology in Italy, I created a partnership between my Italian Ph.D. program and Duke that allowed me to take classes and do my research at Duke Divinity School—and Duke is actually where I met my wife!

Q. Why did you choose the Abbey? A. My wife found a job opportunity close to the college, and we just happened to see it on a map. It felt so providential for our family to move close to a place like Belmont Abbey dedicated to seeking knowledge and following God. Eventually, I became an adjunct professor, a lecturer and, when the college needed it, the chair of the theology department. I am very thankful that God called us to this community!

Q. What is your favorite part of teaching at the Abbey? A. It really is the classroom experience and dialogue where I get to meet the students. The joy of the work I do here is the common journey of investigating and learning with the students. Their discovery of the riches of Scripture and the Christian tradition elicits in me a rediscovery of the inspiring and challenging message of Jesus. Working with students, I continuously rediscover the joy of our common search for the meaning of these things. Woe to me when I stop being constantly surprised by what God reveals to us through Scripture and the Christian Tradition! If what I am reading does not resonate with and surprise me, then I will not be able to make it resonate with my students.

Q. What is the most influential class you ever took? A. Actually, I would say the most influential class I ever took was not a class at all but my senior thesis project studying the MacIntyre’s philosophy. Then, nothing has been more important for my formation than the four years of studying under the direction of Hauerwas at Duke. He taught me how to be a theologian.

Q. If you could pick any book to live in, what book would it be? A. I have no idea! I guess I have to pick the Bible—and in a way we already live in it because the story continues on into today.

Q. Favorite topics or books to discuss? A. Jesus! Actually, I cannot pick— I truly enjoy all the books I have taught in the Honors College. The Bible and St. Augustine’s Confessions are the dearest to me because they show the journey of faith required from each of us. Of course, the circumstances in which each one of us experiences this journey are different, but the same journey described by Augustine and Scripture must happen in each of us in some way. It is a journey to see what really satisfies the human heart, and if we do not search for the answer to our eternal longing, then we will not truly flourish. The journey of faith is the discovery that only God is what fully corresponds to our hearts.

Q. If you could learn any new skill what would it be? A. I would love to be able to keep up with all my two and five-year-old’s running! Other than that, I would also like to be able to memorize poetry and plays in English better. I have an Italian brain and I can never remember prose or poetry in English!

Honors Alumni News & Announcements

Nathan Shomette and Stephanie Lugo are engaged and will be married in May 2021.

Elisa Torres and Alex Neff were engaged Summer 2020.

Alexis von Spakovsky (Honors ‘17) and Vincent Ginski (Honors ‘17) were engaged Fall 2020.

Bonnie Aberle (Honors ‘18) and Mark Trompeter (Honors ‘19) were married on July 11, 2020 at St. Michael’s in Gastonia, NC.

Helen Ginski (Honors ‘19) and Cofield Hilburn (BAC ‘18) got married on Oct 10th at St. Ann’s in Charlotte, NC.

Helen Ginski (Honors ‘19) graduated nursing school from UTHSC (University of Tennessee Health Science Center) in August, (accelerated BSN nursing program) and is now working as a nurse on a Covid floor in Knoxville.

Melody Rose (Honors '15) earned her master's degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Saint Michael's College in Vermont, USA, in August of 2020. She also became a senior teacher at the language school, Spěváček, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she observes and trains novice teachers as well as giving teaching seminars for the Czech ministry of education this autumn.

Welcome to the World!

Bren (Murphy) Gerten (Honors '13) and Bob Gerten welcomed Gideon Micahel Gerten to their family on October 3rd, 2020.

John Wilson (Honors '18) and Mary (Jacobean) Wilson (Honors '18) welcomed Gregory Lawrence Wilson into the world on October 6th, 2020.

Emily Kobet (BAC '17) and Peter Kobet (BAC '17) welcomed James Francis Kobet into the world on April 11th, 2020.

Ruth (Hymel) Sterett (Honors '13) and Keith Sterett (BAC '13) welcomed Judah Henry Sterett in June, 2020.

Ruth, Keith, and Judah Sterett
Stephanie and Felix Du Sablon and their new baby girl!
Emma and Cameron James Baggett and their new baby girl, Bernadette!
The Gerten Family welcomes Gideon Michael


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In Fine

A special thank you to Rolando Rivas, Christopher Mee (Honors '24), and Kevin Gillett (Honors '23) for use of their photos throughout.