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American to head Rome university

John Burger - published on 06/11/21 - updated on 06/11/21

Dominican Fr. Thomas Joseph White appointed rector of the Angelicum.

For the first time in history, an American priest has been appointed rector of Rome’s Angelicum University.

Dominican Fr. Thomas Joseph White, who became a Catholic while in college and is now a well-known theologian, was named rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, which is run by the Order of Preachers. His appointment is effective September 14. 

The Atlanta-born priest, who is 50, is currently a professor of theology at the Angelicum. He was the founding director of the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., an organization for intellectual evangelization at secular universities, now present on over 60 campuses across the U.S. and Europe.

He was also one of the founding members of the folk and bluegrass band The Hillbilly Thomists, playing banjo and dulcimer. The U.S.-based group, which is made up of Dominican friars, has released two albums since 2017.

White did his doctoral studies at Oxford University, and has research interests in metaphysics, Christology, Trinitarian theology, and the theology of grace. His books include The Incarnate Lord, A Thomistic Study in Christology (2015) and The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (2017). He is co-editor of the academic journal Nova et Vetera and in 2011 was appointed an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. In 2019 Fr. White was named a McDonald Agape Foundation Distinguished Scholar.

From 2008 to 2018, he was director of the Thomistic Institute and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C. Before that, he taught theology at Providence College in Rhode Island.

Ordained a priest in 2008, he is a member of the New York-based Dominican Province of St. Joseph.

In a statement released by the Dominican Order, Fr. White commented that “the Angelicum is a university especially dedicated to the universal mission of the Church. Building on the Dominican tradition of harmony between faith and natural reason, the university seeks to cultivate a deeper understanding of Christianity, and the doctrinal life of the Church, in ongoing conversation with traditions of philosophy, law, and social doctrine. St. Thomas Aquinas is our touchstone in this effort.”

The university currently has approximately 1,000 students from nearly 100 countries, with representation of seminarians, priests, religious and lay students alike. 

“The Angelicum is a school of future missionaries, where students can study theology so as to be in the service of a missionary Church,” Fr. White said. “Growth in knowledge of the mystery of Christ is meant to lead to growth in love, and the two together form an integral witness to the Catholic faith. This aim resonates deeply with what Pope Francis has wrote recently in a letter addressed to the Dominican Order on the occasion of the 800 year anniversary of St. Dominic’s death, ‘In our own age, characterized by epochal changes and new challenges to the Church’s evangelizing mission, Dominic can…serve as an inspiration to all the baptized, who are called, as missionary disciples, to reach every ‘periphery’ of our world with the light of the Gospel and the merciful love of Christ.’”

The new rector succeeds Fr. Michał Paluch O.P., whose initiatives helped renovate or found anew the university’s Institute for Ecumenical Studies, the St. John Paul II Institute of Culture, and the Thomistic Institute, while also creating new scholarship lines, recruiting new professors, and renovating infrastructure of the university.

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