The theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., has been appointed rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, becoming the first American to hold the position.
White, who has taught at the university commonly known as the Angelicum since 2018, will start as rector on Sept. 14.
White’s appointment was announced June 10 by Fr. Gerard Timoner, O.P., Master of the Order of Preachers, on the Dominican order’s website.
As “rector magnificus” of the Angelicum, White will lead an institution where the future Pope John Paul II studied. The Polish saint earned his doctorate in philosophy from the university in 1948.
“I’m deeply honored that the order has asked me to take on this responsibility,” White, 50, told CNA. “It’s an opportunity to serve the whole Church and an opportunity to help advance the mission of the Dominican order, which is to seek the truth and to communicate with truth, charity, and in the light of Christ.”
In addition to teaching theology at the Angelicum, one of seven pontifical universities in Rome, the theologian was charged with reorganizing the university’s Thomistic Institute, which promotes the study of the Catholic Church’s Thomistic tradition.
White converted to the Catholic faith in college. Prior to entering the Dominican order’s Province of St. Joseph in 2003, he completed his masters and doctorate in theology at the University of Oxford. He was ordained a priest in 2008 in Washington, D.C., and completed a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.
He came to Rome after serving as a professor of theology at the Dominican House of Studies for 10 years. While in Washington D.C., White was also the founding director of the Thomistic Institute.
The Georgia-born priest is also a musician and one of the founding members of the American folk and bluegrass band The Hillbilly Thomists, for which he sings and plays the banjo and dulcimer. The U.S.-based group, which is composed of Dominican friars, has released two albums since 2017.
The Angelicum has around 1,000 students coming from almost 100 countries around the world. The Dominican priest said that the university “is a venerable institution located at the heart of Rome and at the heart of the Church’s institutional life.”
The Angelicum “forms priests, seminarians, religious, and lay people for excellence in philosophical and theological learning and for pastoral ministry throughout the world.”
In a press release, White said 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.”
He told CNA that “the Dominicans are fully committed to this beautiful mission we’ve been given by the Holy Father and by the Holy See to study sacred truth and bring the light of the Gospel to all people.”
White is a member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas and the author of several books, including “Wisdom in the Face of Modernity: A Study in Thomistic Natural Theology” and “The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism.” His latest book, “The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God,” will be released in 2022.
White succeeds Fr. Michał Paluch O.P., who is from Poland and has led the Angelicum as rector since 2017.
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