Among the Dominican friars and sisters who visited Thomas Aquinas College, California, last weekend, were three alumni who have followed the College’s namesake into the Order of Preachers. In between praying, giving talks, and visiting with students, these three alumni reflected on their vocations and TAC memories.
Rev. John Winkowitsch, O.P. (’04)
Twenty-four years ago, Fr. Winkowitsch arrived as a freshman at TAC, searching for the truth about God — which he found a year later, when he was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. After graduating in 2004, he taught high school and pursued a doctorate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America before discerning a Dominican vocation. He made his first profession in 2017 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2021.
For the last two years, Fr. Winkowitsch served in a Northern California parish, and late last year, the Order of Preachers named him its vocations director for the Western Province. Since then, he has spent his days in dialogue with young men and women, “asking the right questions” to help them discern God’s will for their lives — a task in which, he says, “I use a lot of skills that I learned at Thomas Aquinas College.”
Indeed, Fr. Winkowitsch sees a profound affinity between life at the College and the broader life of his order. “The College perfectly forms you to be a Dominican,” he says. “Our whole governmental structure is based on sitting around a table having conversations about what you’re going to do — it’s so Socratic!”
Br. Kevin Peter Cantu, O.P. (’15)
When he matriculated in 2011, Br. Kevin Peter had little connection to Thomas Aquinas College beyond his alumnus brother, the late Tim Cantu (’10). But within the first few months of his freshman year, Br. Kevin Peter fell in love with the beauty of the campus and the serious engagement with the Great Books in its classrooms, although he admits he did not fully appreciate the experience at the time.
That would change when, after graduating, he took a real-estate job in Florida, where he lived and worked for four years before realizing he wanted more from his life. “TAC’s education was key in helping me see the emptiness of some of the worldly things, like money, that I still really wanted,” he says. “I needed to spend my life in the service of the Kingdom. Some people work in business to support their families and so on, and that’s great, but that wasn’t my calling.”
Joining the Dominicans in 2019 gave him the freedom to live for something more — and reminded him of the rich life he lived at the College. Not only has he found a renewed love of study, he has once again found himself surrounded by true friends. “That was life-changing for me,” he says, encouraging students to “treasure being able to be friends with people who are seeking good things and share them together. Let it teach you that God is calling us into a deep communion with Himself, as well.”
Br. Michael Thomas Cain, O.P. (’18)
As the son of TAC tutor, Br. Michael Thomas all but grew up on the California campus. Familiarity with the academic program and friendship with many students led him to the College and drove him to take his faith more seriously as an adult. His deepened faith, in turn, gave birth to a desire for the priesthood, which he began actively discerning with the Dominicans in 2019.
After professing his first vows in 2020, Br. Michael Thomas has studied at St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland, California, where he has found himself calling on both the spiritual and academic habits he formed at the College. “Study and prayer are so integrally connected in my life that the Dominicans seemed like a really good fit,” he says. “One of our charisms is deep, contemplative prayer, and then preaching from that.”
Preaching from the inner depths of friendship with Christ is especially crucial at this time: In the world’s current agitated confusion, Br. Michael Thomas detects a pressing hunger for the Gospel. “It’s a time for Dominicans,” he says. “The Gospel needs to be preached with conviction, clarity, and love.”