Dominican priest and pivotal member of the esteemed bluegrass music group The Hillbilly Thomists Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., has been awarded the title of Master of Sacred Theology. The accolades are really piling up for this talented musician and theologian, who became the first American to hold the position of Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome in 2021.
According to the Angelicum website, the Master of Sacred Theology title dates back to 1303, when it was established by Pope Benedict XI, a Dominican himself. This rank within the Order of Preachers was created to allow the order to independently grant permission to teach theology without seeking approval from a university theology faculty. It is one of the highest academic honors that the Dominican order can award.
Achieving this high rank is no mean feat. It requires a friar to teach at the graduate level for no less than 10 years, the publication of at least one book positively reviewed by academic journals, and multiple articles published in said journals.
With 13 published books and dozens of academic articles under his belt, Fr. White was a solid candidate for the title, awarded by Father Gerard Timoner, Master of the Order of Preachers. The Angelicum provides a list of his many high profile positions, including holding the 2018-2019 McInnes Chair for theological inquiry at the Angelicum and serving as the Director of the Angelicum Thomistic Institute from 2018-2021.
The honor will be officially conferred on December 7, in a ceremony at the Angelicum. As recipient, Fr. White will be required to give a lecture at the event, to be presided over by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia. Fr. White has already announced that his lecture will be on the topic of “Mariology and the Sense of Mystery: The Virgin Mary and the Practice of Catholic Theology.”
The announcement from the Angelicum website makes no mention of the title impeding Fr. White’s continued work with the beloved bluegrass band of the Dominican order, The Hillbilly Thomists. This is important, because Fr. White is a pivotal member of the band, who provides banjo and vocals on some of their songs.
Want to see just how astute Fr. White’s banjo skills are? Check out this concert the Hillbilly Thomists put on in Cincinnati during the summer of 2023. Fr. White is the one who introduces the band and proceeds to put on a clinic both singing and playing the leads on “Bourbon, Bluegrass, and the Bible.”