The culture wars come to Aquinas

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A group of Aquinas Institute parents and alumni, concerned with what they see as a leftward drift in the Catholic school’s academics and culture, want the school’s board of trustees to restore Aquinas to a “God-centered classic curriculum” and learning environment. The group’s petition has garnered more than 350 signatures on Change.org since being posted on Jan. 14.

Parents who support the petition say many of their grievances are longstanding, but what spurred them to organize and petition the board now was an incident that occurred in November when alumnus Robert Agostinelli visited the school and gave an invited talk to students—only to have his remarks disavowed within hours by the school’s top administrator. Agostinelli is managing director of Rhone Group, a global private equity firm he co-founded in 1996.

“This is bigger than (Agostinelli’s) condemnation,” Aquinas parent and alumnus Michael Kennedy wrote in an email. “His experience was the last straw—an event that sparked many parents to come together and fight for what we know is right.”

Entitled “Restore Academic Freedom and Christian Values at Aquinas,” the Concerned Aquinas Parents and Alumni petition alleges that Aquinas in recent years “has drifted from its Christian Core Beliefs and Mission, to accommodate political correctness.” It continues: “The school hides behind a façade of paper mâché Catholicism and is more closely aligned to a secular world view with a non-biblical explanation of life and justice. There is clear evidence of a ‘woke’ ideology embraced by members of the school’s board, administration and faculty.”

The petition drive sparked by Agostinelli’s visit to Aquinas in some sense mirrors the culture wars that have ripped at a number of public and private schools across the country. However, the local petition effort has the backing not only of impassioned Aquinas parents and alumni but also of a billionaire alumnus with influence far beyond Rochester.

Whether many Aquinas parents and alumni share the group’s views is uncertain. A few days ago, a counterpetition to the Aquinas trustees appeared on Change.org. Started by a group identified as Proud Alumni, it calls on the Aquinas community to “join us in showing your support for Aquinas’ board, administration and faculty for their dedication to quality education and their denunciation of racism, bigotry and hate.” 

Nor is it clear how the board will respond to the petition. On Tuesday, Kennedy sent the petition to Nick Dobbertin, chair of the Aquinas board of trustees. The next day, Dobbertin replied by email to Kennedy, confirming receipt of the petition and writing that “you can expect a response from our Executive Committee (representing the full Board) no later than January 31.”

My requests to speak directly to top Aquinas administrators were turned down. Dobbertin also declined my request for an interview. Most of the information I have gathered comes from parents and alumni upset about the school’s response to Agostinelli’s visit and dissatisfied with what they see as the cultural drift of the school, and from Agostinelli himself.

A storied institution

Aquinas Institute, a Catholic co-ed school for grades 6-12 located on Dewey Avenue, on Rochester’s west side, has been an important part of the Rochester community for 120 years. Among its distinguished alumni are former mayor and New York lieutenant governor Bob Duffy, who now leads the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and the late Robert Wegman, who donated $10 million to the school some two decades ago. Aquinas had long sought a major gift from Agostinelli, who graduated from the school in 1972 and is one of the school’s wealthiest alumni.

Robert Agostinelli at Aquinas

Agostinelli grew up on Rochester’s west side, both in the city and in Greece, in what he describes as a “classic Rochester immigrant middle-class family.” While at Aquinas, he worked at his father’s service station, at grocery stores including IGA on Lyell Avenue and Loblaws, and had a Democrat and Chronicle paper route.  After graduating from Aquinas in 1972, he attended St. John Fisher College, where he earned a B.A. and studied English and accounting.  After graduation, he worked at the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand in Boston, then Goldman Sachs, and later Lazard Freres, before co-founding his own firm.  Today, he’s an active member or director of many organizations and philanthropies, including the Council on Foreign Relations; the Friends of Israel Initiative, of which he’s a founding member; and the American Italian Cancer Foundation. He describes himself as a major contributor to the presidential campaign of John McCain and as a leader of “anti-Trump Republicans.”

Several months ago, Agostinelli accepted Aquinas’ invitation to visit the school. He was “prepared to consider,” he told me recently, “a seven-figure gift”—a million dollars. On Nov. 5, he and his wife, Francesca Agostinelli, were welcomed at the school by President Anthony Cook and Principal Theodore Mancini. After a tour, they went to the auditorium, where a select group of juniors and seniors had been assembled to hear them speak and to ask questions.  

Robert Agostinelli

Agostinelli says he spoke for about 30 minutes. No recording of his talk has surfaced, but by his own account and the recollections of a few students who were there, the bulk of his talk was about the dangers of what former Bishop of Rochester Fulton J. Sheen had termed “ego narcissism.” (While at Aquinas, Agostinelli served as an altar boy for Sheen and came to regard him as a mentor.) About 25 minutes into his talk, he exhorted students to pursue happiness and the American dream and not “fall prey to the tyranny of false deities,” as examples of which he mentioned critical race theory, the “Marxist Black Lives Matter organization,” feminism and “gender confusion.”

At that moment three or four students stood and walked out of the auditorium, according to students who attended the talk.

“They were sitting together, and they just got up and marched out,” Agostinelli told me. “In my day, if you walked out on a prominent alumnus speaking, you’d have gotten detention. You just wouldn’t do that; it was an insult.”

After Agostinelli completed his talk, his wife, a TV personality, spoke of her own career. When the couple finished their talks and answering questions, there was applause.  They spent about another 20 minutes in the auditorium with students who came up to speak to them. Then, they toured more of the school before leaving.

A few hours later, Cook sent this email to the Aquinas community:

Dear Aquinas Families,

Today we had on campus an alumnus and his wife who wanted to share with our students the secrets of their success in their business careers. They spoke to members of our junior and senior classes. Unexpectedly, both speakers shared some of their personal beliefs. We have heard from several students and parents that they were offended. Please know that this was not the intended purpose of today’s presentation. These personal opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by our guests do not reflect of the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the faculty, staff, and administration of The Aquinas Institute.

We will address this with our students on Monday morning. We will also use this as an opportunity for open dialogue and our belief that we will treat all others as children of God, deserving of respect and dignity.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel to contact me at (585) 254-2020 ext. 1097 or by email at [email protected]

Sincerely,

Dr. Anthony Cook ‘99

President

According to Agostinelli, Cook also wrote him directly about a football game scheduled that evening. Earlier, the football coach had invited Agostinelli—who had played football for Aquinas—to appear on the field that night as their special guest. In the email, says Agostinelli, Cook wrote they would “not be allowing visitors on the field” that night.

By Monday, according to students I spoke to, the school had arranged counseling for students who had been offended by Agostinelli’s speech, including those who had not attended but had heard about it. According to these students, those who walked out on Agostinelli faced no discipline. (I had messages sent to two of the students who walked out inviting them to share their perspectives, but have not heard back.)

Some teachers made a point of telling their students about Agostinelli’s talk. One senior told me one of his teachers told students “Agostinelli was racist and should be anti-racist,” and that “if students are upset by something they hear it’s OK to walk out to express how they feel.” A sixth grader (with parent’s permission) told me a teacher said “a man had come to school to talk, and he said lots of racist things and very hateful speech.”

Agostinelli was “shocked and disturbed,” he told me, by the reaction of administrators and teachers to his talk. 

Regarding students walking out on his talk, he said, “I would have thought if they didn’t agree with me—which is fine—they’d have asked questions. That’s what happens at other schools where I’ve spoken.” He mentioned high schools in England, including Harrow, and colleges in the U.S. including Harvard, Yale, and the Naval War College. “I’ve often gotten reactions, but we’ve always debated it.”

He described the behavior of school administrators in allowing students to walk out and not be disciplined for it as “disgraceful.” 

I asked Agostinelli if the gift he had contemplated making to Aquinas was now off the table.

“One hundred percent,” he said.   

He also said he’d received more than 200 supportive letters from parents and alumni, and partly in response he decided to go public with his concerns about the school. 

National spotlight

On Dec. 8, in the National Review, a prominent conservative magazine of which he sits on the board, Agostinelli responded in an article headlined, “An Alumnus Story: Going Home and Finding Woke.”  

Calling the administration at his alma mater “moral eunuchs,” he wrote that their actions “unmasked a cauldron of woke political correctness within the school’s teaching ranks, the administration, and the board of trustees.” At Aquinas, where “young men and women of sound mind … know intimately the tyranny of practicing leftists,” he continued, the school’s “institutional cave-ins have repulsed and roused—even emboldened—many students, parents, and alumni who are prepared to take back this heralded school from those determined to subvert its legacy and mission.” 

In declining my request to speak directly with Cook and Mancini, Aquinas’ public relations firm supplied a statement “on behalf of the Aquinas administration in lieu of an interview”:

Aquinas Institute remains committed to honoring our school’s values of goodness, discipline, and knowledge with respect and dignity for all of God’s children. We provide our students with a college preparatory educational environment that encourages ongoing and balanced dialogue. We foster critical thinking skills, in a nurturing learning environment, that will serve our students well in college and throughout their lives.

We value the feedback we have received from members of the Aquinas community following an alumnus visit in November 2021. As we do with all feedback we receive, our administration and Board has given this feedback thoughtful consideration. As an educational institution, Aquinas is committed to an open dialogue with our constituents and respects different points of view. We will continuously evolve to address contemporary issues in ways that are consistent with the mission of the school.

Demand for action

Word of how the school reacted to Agostinelli’s visit spurred like-minded parents and alumni to launch the petition drive. 

“The petition,” explains alumnus Dan Dwyer, “is a request by parents and alumni to assure that the board hears concerns they have had for quite some time that have come to a head since Agostinelli’s visit in November when he got treated inappropriately by our alma mater.”

Adds Kennedy, an alumnus with two children currently attending Aquinas: “Agostinelli’s talk has spearheaded this movement. The students who walked out were not disciplined but coddled. Wokism is turned up to 11 at my kids’ Catholic school. But the school should be religious and not be political. We’re trying now to create a platform for parents to be heard.”

In an open letter to parents and alumni urging them to sign the petition, Kennedy wrote Aquinas “has been under sustained assault by those who are brazenly dismantling its traditional Catholic teaching for political correctness, woke ideology and amoral secular bias. Sadly, this is rampant through the faculty and the administration.”

The petition calls for specific changes at the school: 

■ Replacement of the NY Common Core curriculum with a “God-centered classic curriculum, aligned with the philosophies of St. Thomas Aquinas and Christian values that teach children how to think, not what to think.”

 ■ Immediate action to “ensure that no administrator or teacher seeks to indoctrinate students with a particular dogma or self-serving version of current events that reflect personal philosophies or viewpoints. There is no place in our school for such heinous conduct.”

 ■ A return to the school’s “true foundation based on the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and Congregation of St. Basil; restoring an air of academic freedom, consciously and actively supporting good citizenship, firm and just discipline, and unbridled patriotic fervor to flag and country.”

The counterpetition, which by this morning had drawn more than 330 signatures, expresses a starkly different perspective. It says Agostinelli and parents who share his views have “spewed outrage that AQ has lost its Catholicity and caters to liberalism.” It continues: 

Indeed, Aquinas does exhibit a willingness to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own, an openness to new ideas and a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise (which is the actual Oxford Languages definition of “liberalism.”). It also embraces gospel values and reflects Catholic values and teachings. Plus, it offers a top-notch education, a rigorous curriculum and an opportunity for students to think critically and to become the citizens that this world so desperately needs.

Given the enormous schism made apparent by the dueling petitions, it seems unlikely the board’s forthcoming response to the Concerned Aquinas Parents and Alumni petition will significantly narrow the divide.

I asked Agostinelli what, if any, role he is taking regarding the petition to the board.

“I stand with these parents shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “I’m not in the lead, but what I’m doing is being a voice, and there’s going to be some changes made at the school. I will do everything in my power to help these parents and alumni bring their school back to respect the traditional teachings of the Catholic faith.”

Peter Lovenheim is Washington correspondent for the Rochester Beacon and author of “In the Neighborhood” and “The Attachment Effect.” He can be reached at [email protected]. Rochester Beacon Executive Editor Paul Ericson contributed to this article.

66 thoughts on “The culture wars come to Aquinas

  1. Sounds as though it was Agostinelli who brought his personal politics into the school, not the other way around. If I had been there, I would have also walked out.

      • Just to set the record straight, this guy has never supported Aquinas and from what I read stated only that he was considering a 7 figure gift. In any event, I’m proud of Aquinas for risking a substantial (potential donation) by setting the record straight regarding his message. As for the parents who are complaining that the school is trying to indoctrinate its students, what exactly do you think Agostinelli was trying to do.

      • There is nothing respectful about walking out on a guest that is taking his time to come and speak to a group of students.

      • Alexis Galusha: Respect works both ways. Did not Mr. Agostinelli owe a shred of respect to the people in the audience? He was an invited guest in their “home,” after all.

      • Good for you, Sadie.
        Never subject yourself to disrespectful blather for the sake of being polite.

      • As a student who witnessed the presentation first hand, I can state that Mr. Agostinelli by no means “forced” his opinions on the students who were there. He stated facts that needed to be said and needed to be heard. Instead of being respectful and listening to the presentation, students decided to get up and leave. I understand they might have opposing viewpoints of Mr. Agostinelli’s, but that is no excuse to leave while someone is talking and taking time out of their busy schedule to come and speak. In multiple instances I have had to sit through many class periods where I would have to listen to my teachers and classmates present their left ways of thinking and make myself, and other Republican classmates think we are bad for stating our thoughts. However, not once did I get up and leave because I was raised to be polite and conscientious of others. Instead I stayed and listened to what they had to say. I like to keep an open mind and understand where others are coming from, rather than being automatically close minded and not listen to people who have opposing viewpoints as I do. Aquinas has pushed their left ideology on the students and shoving their ideas down their throats rather than opening up discussion for both parties. There is no respect that is shown to Republican students. Every time I walk into the building I feel as though I have a target on my back because I am constantly being shamed for my beliefs. I get called a racist, a homophobe, etc. just because of my Republican beliefs. As a student, I am very disappointed in Aquinas and the administration.

      • Walking out of a speakers presentation says a lot about ones character. It’s times like these where I am grateful to be raised the way I did. I am able to hear the word “no” and understand that it’s okay to think differently from others, but still respect them. I wish the best and am praying for anyone that believes it was okay to disrespectfully walk out on someone speaking. What a character flaw! Respect is given when it is shown.

  2. Opened this to confirm that it was written by your resident right-winger. However many clicks these things might get, please don’t continue on the culture war path, Rochester Beacon. For more insight on what has shaped today’s young people, I strongly recommend the book Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America, by John Della Volpe.

    • “…please don’t continue on the culture warpath…” WHAT??? IT IS A CULTURAL WAR. I don’t understand your comment.

  3. Aquinas parents,
    You can wrestle with the administration OR you could try an alternative that already has what you’re looking for – Chesterton Academy of Rochester.

    https://www.chestertonacademyofrochester.org/

    OPEN HOUSE
    February 2, 2022 | 7 – 8:30pm
    125 Kings Hwy S. Rochester NY 14617 | (585) 471-1533
    Discover Chesterton Academy of Rochester

    The mission of Chesterton Academy is to raise up a generation of joyful leaders and saints, educated in the Classical tradition and the truths of the Catholic faith.

      • Hi Robert,

        The 2 schools I mentioned are truly gems – my wife and I are so blessed to be able to send our 7 children there. I’ll apologize for not reading all of the other comments on here, but I do think McQuaid was mentioned. I can assure you that they have also adopted the secular narrative. The 2 schools I mentioned are really the only options for faithful Catholics wanting to send their children to school. I think this is the case in most of the country – the establishment schools have gone woke. If you are interested in discussing sometime – feel free to email or call me – [email protected] – 585-678-1232. We are small and run on shoe-string budgets, but we pray hard (and work hard) and God has continued to shed His blessings upon us.

        Another org you might be interested in… our former headmaster is now the “Director of School Services” for the “The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education”. If you haven’t seen that organization – check them out. They are having a big impact.
        https://catholicliberaleducation.org/our-team/

        We are small, for sure, but that doesn’t bother us. We are doing the best we can with what we have and do our best to remain faithful to Our Creator and those who have gone before us.

  4. Mr.Agostinelli, despite his success and accumulated wealth, is a neocon who, somehow pushes his own brand of Christianity, eschewing the history of the Black experience in America as well as the acceptance and welcoming of youth undergoing gender dysphoria. It appears he wants to see our educational system return to the 1950’s when students were taught a rigid curriculum without the luxury and necessity of dissent. « Woke » has become a pejorative term misused by the Right to disparage anyone who disagrees with their rigid platform. Their reactionary response to let our students use their intellect to decide for themselves about their own beliefs is damaging their possibilities to become well-informed adults, accepting of all points of view. His views have the taint of book-banning and an inflexible restrictive educational system, rather than an enlightened educational philosophy that is needed now more than ever.

    • Dear Doctor Mayer ,
      Thank you for validating the truth of my position and affirming the rutted intellectually and morally bankrupt thesis of the so called “progressive “ school.
      First comes the “envy” of the social justice warrior by citing “wealth” as if that were relevant .
      As all progressives you attempt to legitimize the so called “black experience “ when it is nothing more than the invented divisive technique of the radical communist organizers like the self ascribed Marxist organization Black Lives Matter to rupture our social fabric. I welcome you to read BLM:The Making of a New Marxist revolution by the learned Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation and a former editor of the Wall Street Journal to make sure you separate emotion from fact based reality.
      As you know this nation was founded on the principal of all men having certain inalienable rights these rights have been reaffirmed and advanced through the galvanized sword and blood of the civi war , the abolition of slavery leading ultimately to the full emancipation and indeed integration of blacks into our now colorless society . Attitudes such as those so expressed in fact are an insult to all black men and woman.
      Further as a doctor it is shameful that you confuse my point on “Gender confusion” This the conscious attempt to indoctrinate young children and early adolescents to accept the concept that there are multiple genders which is simply contrary to the catholic faith is not the same as your manipulation of my words via the introduction of the psychiatry term of “gender dysphasia”. I would respectfully suggest more honesty on your part but then I understand it does not fit the “progressive” narrative .
      Second comes the characterization of a neocon the only relevance of this is to confirm that yes I am as was his eminence Bishop Sheen a devoutly committed adversary of communism and radical thought both of which are predicates to the evil that is swallowing our hallowed pillars of our nation.
      And you reaffirm your status as a useful idiot of the idiom adopted by dear Uncle Joe Stalin by wildly embracing these false deities cited in my talk.
      Like all self proclaimed progressives you quickly characterize any reassertion of our ancient beliefs as retrograde and outdated. Lacking the modernity that I specifically addressed in my talk with the students. Congratulations again for you have proven to be an exhibit of the precise malaise of the ego -neurotic for you “truth”and the “Word” are by your definition of thought relative terms and “rigid “ on their face . And your ultimate point is again wrong for far from restraining learning we seek academic freedom to teach children how to think NOT what to think guided by the grounding of our faith and patriotic values. Again you misuse the term “enlightened” for the tyranny wrought by your like is in fact censorship and imposition of thought and command our youth to reject our very moral mooring.
      Best Regards Robert Agostinelli

      • You pretend to know what is best for a school, despite making your living spitting on the beliefs of its namesake. According to G.K. Chasterton, Aquinas believed usury to be sinful and believed the act should be banned. His belief was lenders have typically more resources than necessary to cover their needs and this allows them to loan money. In these circumstances, lending with interest implies two sins for lenders: first, they take advantage of the needy, and second, they want more than they need, i.e., they commit the sins of vanity and greed. Aquinas believed it to be sin to use money to make money. Sounds a lot like what a private equity firm does, doesn’t it?

        A few other belief’s of St Thomas Aquinas::

        “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” You’re beliefs are no more relevant or true than those that disagree with you. Just because you have the money to flex, does not make you right. You have not been to the school in 50 years and don’t even live in the US. What makes you think you understand the city of Rochester or what Aquinas has become?

        “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need” That sure seems like, dare I say, communism?

        “If someone would be greatly helped by something belonging to someone else, and the seller not similarly harmed by losing it, the seller must not sell for a higher price: because the usefulness that goes to the buyer comes not from the seller, but from the buyer’s needy condition: no one ought to sell something that doesn’t belong to him.” Again, another one of these darn beliefs that spits in the face of capitalism.

  5. I graduated from McQuaid Jesuit a year prior to Mr. Agostinelli’s graduation from Aquinas and one of the things I most appreciated about McQuaid was that the Jesuits taught us how to think, not what to think. I suspect that was probably once true about Aquinas as well. It seems to me that the Aquinas Administration missed an important teaching opportunity. They could have said to AQ’s students, “when you go out into the world, you’ll find that our nation encompasses a wide range of opinions, not all of which you will agree with. History will render some of the positions you take in life to have been right and some will have been wrong. But informed opinions are derived from listening to all sides of an argument or debate prior to staking out a position. If we shelter you from points of view outside your comfort zone, how will you ever learn to discern the best path forward? And, of even greater importance, how will you learn to live, work and peacefully coexist with those who see things differently than you do?” Sadly, AQ failed to do that. Instead, they appear to have reflexively picked a side. And, as a result, they are now reaping the whirlwind.

    It’s been a half century, but I’ve never forgotten McQuaid’s Fr. Bill O’Malley’s insightful observation —- I think he may have referred to it as O’Malley’s Law: “The less you know, the more certain you may be”. He sure knew how the teenage mind worked. We all thought we knew more than we really did.

    • In other words, you don’t THINK students should have been supported in their intelligent DECISION AND RIGHT to PROTEST when RACIST folks offend them. Stop it!

      • So it’s racist to disagree with the Black Lives Matter organization (separate from the concept)? Calling it out for its self-avowed Marxism is racist? Disagreeing with a black person about ideology is automatically racist?

        The promiscuous and dishonest use of the “racist” epithet cheapens it and leaves no meaningful term to use for people who actually are bigoted against members of other races.

      • I don’t think that Mr. Agostonelli was trying to get the kids to believe or follow one thing or the other. He was simply telling them not to base their opinions on what the media says or what society is pushing them to believe. And in this case teachers as well. He simply says that they need to be able to think for themselves.
        Isn’t this what we want for our children?? To be able to think for themselves and not succumb to peer pressure.
        As a parent of Aq students and and alumni myself I always bragged about how the school had an array of ethnic backgrounds and how there was never any racial divide among the students. Everyone got along and no-one saw color . This is one of the reasons that I sent my kids to AQ. Another reason that I sent my kids to AQ is because of the discipline that I was taught there . There was no talking back to a teacher without consequences, no breaking the Dress code, no bullying. If any of these things happened you would be disciplined!! You would get a “JUG” or Mr. McGuire would yell at you and you would take it!!! I might not have liked it then but It made me into the person that I am today.
        The Kids that walked out on Mr. Agostonelli showed disrespect by doing so. I believe that they have a right to their own opinion but I DO NOT AGREE that they had the right to walk out in the middle of his speech without being reprimanded. As adults in the real world these kids are not always going to like what they hear whether it be from a boss, coworker friend or relative. but they will have to learn how to handle it with class and grace. Instead of the administration telling the kids that they were wrong and disrespectful and giving them a jug or even suspending them, they were offered counseling the next day to talk about their feelings!!!!!
        This to me is doing the kids an injustice. I love AQ and I loved my experience there. It is not however the same experience that my kids are having. Politics are being brought into the classroom, they are being pulled to think a certain way by the left and made to feel that they are bad if they don’t. Myself and majority of the students and parents were grateful to hear Mr. Agostonelli speak, unfortunately the administration chose to worry more about the 3 students who were offended than by the majority of people that were grateful and appreciative of what Mr. Agostonelli and his wife had to say.

    • This is thoughtful and well stated . And sadly accurate on the malaise at Aquinas and thankfully appears not to be at McQuaid. This is exactly what i head from may parents over last months

      RFA

      • My suggestion to one of the s leaders of this attempted coup (whom by the way I know quite well) is to spend a day at the school to see for himself what goes on rather than continue to spread misinformation as he like I is not there during the school day. I’m not claiming that everything is perfect (there is only one place about which that can be said) but I think the good far outweighs the bad. My suggestion to the parents is to schedule a private meeting with the leadership of the school to see if your concerns can be addressed. As for my comment regarding Mr. Agostinelli forcing his views on the students, that is based on the fact that they were led to believe the talk was going to be about his career rather than his social beliefs. The bottom line is that Aquinas is still a great school as is evidenced by the quality of graduates that it produces.

    • I wonder how the McQuaid of today would reaact if Mr. Agostinelli gave the same speech at their school. Mr. Agostinelli mentions the fact that the Aquinas of today is not the same as the one he left 50 years ago. My question to him would be, what is the same as it was half a century ago? By the way, I consider myself to be a conservative but I would never try to force my views on a bunch of students as he did.

      • Robert Ebert, you have no idea what is going on at Aquinas right now…..I’m a die hard AQ fan as you are…..best 4 years of my life……my 3 daughters are there, my whole family went there, as did my husband and I, if you only knew the things that my kids tell me, day in and day out what is happening…..you’d be appalled. Do you have grandkids that go there? Maybe you only see what’s going on from the AQ football sidelines 6 nights out of the year…..trust me, if you witnessed more, you’d have some questions. My daughter sat in on his speech and he didn’t force his views, he gave facts, she just listened and love what he had to say, as did the majority. You have no idea unless you were in there yourself or your family member could tell you.

  6. Peter a thoughtful piece considering all sides. There’s plenty for both sides to learn if they are open to it. Whose right tends to muzzle the conversation of what’s right

  7. They “want the school’s board of trustees to restore Aquinas to a God-centered classic curriculum.” WHAT??? “CLASSIC CURRICULUM” — WHOSE SO-CALLED “CLASSICS”??? DOES THAT MEAN — A GOLDEN-HAIRED, WHITE IMAGE OF GOD??? I THINK SO.

    “Christian Values???” I think we’ve heard that somewhere before >>> https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/ .

    “…the local petition effort has the backing not only of impassioned Aquinas parents and alumni but also of a billionaire alumnus with influence far beyond Rochester???” WHO??? These white fellows and/or their off-spring: Chris Bostick, Dick Buerkle, Robert Duffy, Brian Gionta, Frank Judge, Don Holleder, Nicholas Kehoe, Jamir Jones, Kevin McMahan, ​ Donald Mark, John Porcari, Thomas Rosica, Robert Wegman, etc… ???

    Reportedly, one of the parent’s demands is: “Immediate action to ensure that no administrator or teacher seeks to indoctrinate students with a particular dogma or self-serving version of current events that reflect personal philosophies or viewpoints.” What in the hell do they THINK Robert Agostinelli was trying to do??? They are also demanding “return to unbridled patriotic fervor to flag and country.” WHAT??? WHAT???

  8. One can only be perplexed at the treatment of Mr. Agostinelli by the administrators, teachers and students at Aquinas Institute. The coarseness and contempt shown by the students who stood and left the auditorium is not a statement of moral bravery but a product of a culture that permits disdain and mockery of another’s perspective.
    How ironic that this embarrassing and public “canceling” was supported by faculty that condemned Mr. Agostinelli as a “racist” absent any evidence to support that banal and empty moniker. How twisted that his speech was called “hateful” because it supports an opinion that is contrary to contemporary “woke culture”.
    Was it not St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it”?
    In his remarks Dr. Anthony Cook states “We will also use this as an opportunity for open dialogue and our belief that we will treat all others as children of God, deserving of respect and dignity.” One can only hope that the administrators, faculty and students at Aquinas use this teachable moment to create an atmosphere that permits and supports a discussion of a broad range of philosophies and opinions.

    • I did not find any love in the speech that I had to listen to. I was one of the students that walked out. I did not walk out until he mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and his thoughts on it. I could not sit there and listen to his hateful speech. I sat through the homophobic portion of his speech near the beginning and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I tried my best to stay. I quietly and respectfully walked out so that I could preserve my mental health. Christian “love” has been one of the most damaging things in the world to many people and I did not feel loved or accepted by Robert Agostinelli. AQ was right to distance themselves from this man’s hateful views.

      • Sadie,
        I’m working on follow up story- would you be willing to speak to me?

        Ginny Ryan

      • Rock on. I’m AQ ‘68 and it’s my hope that there are more thoughtful students like you. Peace

      • I also agree with the students who walked out as this guy was brought in to talk about how he achieved his goals not to ambush them and the school with his hateful speech. This may come as a shock to Mr. Agostinelli and his supporters but Aquinas welcomes everyone rather than just the ones who agree with him. The fact that he has spent the last few weeks bad mouthing the school tells me a lot about his maturity level.

  9. As one of the students who walked out, I’m glad that he feels “insulted”. News flash, but it is not “your time” anymore. It’s 2022, where people’s lives are on the line. I walked out briskly and quietly to not disturb anyone around me who was listening to his speech. Bringing politics into schools to persuade children would bring chaos, and he knew that. Whos the snowflake now Robert? Because you are extremely upset and writing many articles over a 17 year old, 5’2 young woman who silently walked out during your speech. Love Trumps Hate. Stay healthy, safe, and happy everyone.

    • In “his time” lives were very much on the line. Look up “Vietnam War”. Look up “Draft Boards” and “Selective Service Registration”. Spend some time at the Viet Nam Memorial in Highland Park. You’ll find several Aquinas graduates among the deceased American service members honored there.

    • Congratulations, you are clearly developing into the type of leader that we need so badly in the present and future.

      Thank you!!!

  10. Great article Peter! I wish all journalists were like you…..right down the middle.

    Thank you Mr. Agostinelli for coming in from London and sharing your story with the kids. So many students were texting their parents telling them how much they loved what you had to say.

    I’m so sorry AQ treated you the way they did.

    Credo Quid Quid Dixit Dei Filius!

  11. The leftist ways have infected all aspects of our society. These ideals inevitably spit on the graves of all those who fought for this country. It is appalling. Whenever you go against the left you are automatically deemed a racist, homophobe, bigot ect. All these terms have lost their meaning due to its overuse. The fact that Aquinas supported the handful of students who walked out of the presentation is the problem. Offering counseling , denouncing a successful alum for what he spoke about. Do not forget that 95 percent of the students were moved by his speech and not offended. So in the end you lose. You get nothing . Keep giving an ear to the weak as they destroy what is right in the name of progressive ideals. It will never work, it’s not meant to. Hard work always wins. May change come soon

  12. I too received a Catholic School education, yet through the eyes and experiences reported by my “AQ student”, it is quite evident that things have drastically changed. My child thoroughly enjoyed attending school at AQ until the red flags began to reveal themselves. I want to be clear, student interaction and relationships have NEVER been the problem; friendships are solid, authentic, and long lasting. The problems have been with teachers pushing their own politics and personal opinions on the students.
    These are only some of the accounts my child has shared with me that have been said by teachers:
    – “All white people are racist”
    – ” Unvaccinated people are uneducated”
    – ” If you support Trump, you should be ashamed of your self”
    -” You are insubordinate if you don’t put your mask up ”
    (not to mention unrelated topics of conversation that arise during class time)
    I have contacted Mr. Mancini with these concerns only to be met with lack luster responses that neglect to amount to anything. These teachers are still there spewing their “poison” with no consequences.
    My suggestion to Mr. Mancini was this: survey the STAKEHOLDERS (students and parents) with specific questions related to these concerns, then take those results to the board. We need to clean house in my opinion to help unify our students, allow them the share opinions without feeling intimidated, tell teachers it is NOT in the curriculum to indoctrinate, and to put students first!

    • The real question here is what would happen if your child walked out of class after hearing:
      “All white people are racist”
      – ” Unvaccinated people are uneducated”
      – ” If you support Trump, you should be ashamed of your self”
      -” You are insubordinate if you don’t put your mask up ”
      The answer is significant disciplinary action.

      Since these comments are much worse that any exaggerated conclusions drawn from Agostonelli’s comments, the mindset of the administration is clear. I sent a large check to Aquinas in December, and I have been a yearly donator for fifty years. However, that will stop, including my will provisions, unless the administration takes appropriate action. Either eliminate all political commentary or allow all political commentary. I prefer the former, particularly in primary education.

      • Michael
        Your response frames well the dilemma faced by the administrators, staff ,teachers and Board members of our Alma Mater.
        It’s really quite simple. Do they wish to recommit to the rich and storied history which at one time was a bastion of Roman Catholicism in the Diocese and Basilian influence or continue to embrace by word and action the ideological idiocy of ‘wokeness’.
        Now if they chose the side of the students who desired counseling after the Agostinelli’s presentation, then the choice is clear. The school should disavow from any reference to “Catholic “ or “Basilian” and re-label itself as “a Christian(?) School on Dewey Avenue “.
        As with you, no more contributions until this matter is resolved.
        J McGee ‘65

  13. It’s hard for me to understand how a husband and wife, a graduate of Aquinas, successful business person and philanthropist could wound or injury teenagers so much the school had to send out a letter of apology to students and make arrangements for therapy sessions because he and his wife told students to work hard to get ahead.
    What kind of wimps are we raising.
    Even if Mr. Agostinelli’s theory’s on life were different from the institutions shouldn’t the school allow all philosophies be heard and pondered by our students?

    • The question I have is, did Mr. Agostinelli provide the school with a copy of his speech prior to presenting it to the students? I would think that’s the proper thing to do rather than hopping on a jet and leaving the school with a mess to clean up.

      • the mess was there well before Mr. Agostinelli came to visit. He only exposed Aquinas’ hypocrisies on a grand scale.

        Mind you, the mess started when Aquinas denounced his talk via an email to the entire school, and in doing so, rebuked the beliefs and morals of well over half the school.

    • Mr. Agostinelli wasn’t invited to share his political views but rather to share his road to success. I read one post where the poster stated that 95% of the students loved his speech but has anyone stopped to consider the feeling of the other 5%. The bottom line is that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss these issues as no matter what side you’re on someone was going to be hurt. My advice to the students is to enjoy your time in high school with your friends as the politics can wait until college or beyond.

  14. Mr. Agostinelli came to Aquinas to speak on his success in business not his personal opinions and beliefs. Many students including myself were extremely uncomfortable and were not excepting him to get political. After leaving this assembly many student were filled with so many emotions and some were crying. The fact that we had to social distance and wear mask while Mr. Agostinelli and his wife came in without mask because they felt that they were above the law was already starting the assembly off to a bad start. Then him calling out the students that left so that other student would not feel comfortable to leave. The people justifying his hurtful comments towards black lives matter and the LGBTQ+ community and expect us to follow the “traditional” ways need to get with times. We all do not need to agree on everything but we do need to respect EVERYONE and not spew hate about the other side.

    • You hit the nail on the head. Mr. Agostinelli, with a touch of apparent hubris, believed that he was entitled to opine on his political beliefs. . .which is fine. . .provided your audience knew that before going into the auditorium.

      • You are 100% correct as when I watch Hannity, Carlson and Ingram I know what I’m going to get. In this case he ambushed both the students and the school when he went off the rails. As one former public school administrator told me, “I would have simply pulled the plug on him and sent the kids back to class.

  15. Aq alumnus here. I’m proud of the courage the students had to get up in front of their peers and staff and walk out. It’s time for all those who care about truth and justice to do the same

    • It’s time for those who care about their children, their nation and their souls to WALK OUT ON AQUINAS. It is not the same Aquinas it once was.

      • As someone who remains involved with my alma mater fifty years after receiving my diploma I can only say that Aquinas is an even better place than it was back then. The addition of females and the fact that the school has become more diverse have only served to make it a better than it once was. The Aquinas of today is a welcoming place for everyone no matter their race, sexual orientation or political beliefs.

      • With all due respect Mr. Ebert, but as a student that attends Aquinas, there is nothing “welcoming” about it. You do not attend the school still, which means you do not understand what happens on a day to day basis within the four walls. You are only going off of hear say, therefore you are not able to make the conclusion that Aquinas is “an even better place.”

      • The last time I checked, Mr. Agostinelli also no longer attends Aquinas yet his words seem to be taken as gospel by the critics of the school. While I may not be there on a daily basis I am there quite frequently and base my opinions on the observations that I make during those times.

  16. Watch this 5 minute video and see how and why Every Black Life Matters is countering the Marxist BLM organization’s agenda. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IRbnqKzBDI

    AQUINAS showed their true “liberal” Christian heresy when they rebuked Mr. Agostinelli’s soul-saving message to students. AQ denounced more than half the current Jesus-loving, bible-following parents and students and generations of alumni donors.

    The cancerous idea that God’s law is subject to the prevailing culture has spread from politics, academia, and the corporate media, and is permeating our Christian institutions. Aquinas is not evermore… the Aquinas I knew and loved is DEAD.

    Too many Christian’s have fallen for they “myth of progress” , central to Marxist ideology, maintains mankind is marching ever forward toward perfect liberty, equality, and solidarity, holding that those who get in the way are ignorant, backward, and bigoted.

    • Eric
      Thank you for posting the link to “Every Black Life Matters”. I believe in their undertaking and support them financially.
      It is my hope that the students who walked out while the Agostinellis were speaking , as well as their parents, would take the time to learn about EBLM as well as its founder Mr. Kevin McGary.
      I have many objections to BLM but my primary complaint is that the movement is not inclusive. Where is their concern for the victims of Black on Black crime and murder? And this should be major concern of all students at AQ as well as teachers and administrators…..where is BLM concern for the hundreds of thousands of Black babies who have been killed with their mother’s approval?
      I hope my remarks foster some “critical thinking”.

  17. We are NOT God, Principal M.! My child told me what you said in ETHICS class (Religion Class no longer), pointing to each student, saying , “you are God, you are God, you are God…)
    Hate to break it to you buddy, but we are not God.

    Your sectarian form of “liberal” Christianity promotes compromise, self-indulgence, and subjective “truth.” Vesting both the individual and man-made institutions like Aquinas with exclusive authority to approve moral codes and adjudicate conduct strips Christ of his role as Judge and Redeemer.

    The Venerable Fulton Sheen once prophesied the conflict of the future would be between “the God who became man” and “the man who makes himself God.” While the former is grounded in the theology of the cross, the latter is based on the tyranny of individual will. Those battle lines have now been drawn and there’s no doubt which camp “liberal” Christianity is in. You started this war within your walls.

    Christians have been warned against being led astray by unscrupulous players, “even as sheep are by wolves,” and urged them to avoid “an abyss of … blasphemy against Christ.”

    No child of Christ should step foot within your tower of Babel. No person of Christ should donate money to your secular school. Satan mimics God to mislead humanity with lies. The closer the imitation of truth, the more effective the lie.

    Your lies have been revealed for all to see!

  18. It seems Mr. Agostinelli appropriately espouses Catholic values in a Catholic school. And parents are concerned that their children are not being taught how to think. And yet, in a talk about the “secret” of his success, Mr. Agostinelli preaches about the evils of Black Lives Matter, feminism and gender confusion. Are these topics really the “secret” of his success? He is correct in stating that things are not as they used to be. The question to Mr. Agostinelli, which Catholic value did you follow to have FOUR marriages?

  19. Wow. It seems to boil down to the powerful and wealthy needing to control the organic student narrative at AQ. Any speaker anywhere should expect discernment and questioning….that is part of growing to be a wiser human. Education should be a dialog. I went to AQ and taught at McQuaid. The Jesuits always welcomed response and discussion…even through the Viet Nam years! And yes, some of the priests had activist feelings about war.

    Stop with the hovering parents stuff. The 4 kids and entire audience were never offered a chance to question. And let’s remember how our last VP made a scene walking out at a football game and a broadway play! This is life in America now. America is DIVIDED!
    The speaker/donor and some upset parents are probably OK with speakers that only speak their language.
    No non religious college would consider having a speaker, before seeing his/her outline. Management at AQ is responsible for this mess. Hope a new student/faculty group emerges at AQ to openly discuss WWJ do. [Even though that phrase hasn’t been too popular with powerful religious groups.] …should have had a process in place to fit ANY speaker topic. Dissent is a cornerstone of the former America.
    Dissent can be positive and powerful. It should be managed not beaten down. You can be a Catholic educator and still be on the moral side of behavior.
    Let’s see if I get any Catholic hate mail or Catholic support.
    Still an AQ guy.

  20. Got that wrong. Teach history. Teach current events. No politics no woke and no telling students that they can be whatever they want. And your right Bill , management is responsible fir this mess. Move over mr president

  21. The only mistake here seems to be that Mr. Agostonelli was allowed to speak in the first place.
    I’m not interested in anyone’s political beliefs, which is where each of these conversations seems to drift. Aquinas has been and still is an institution that welcomes all viewpoints, until the point where those views can be attributed to hate speech.
    There was no intent to have a conversation with the language Mr. Agostonelli used. It was only to push his personal opinions on an audience that was expecting a completely different presentation. It’s interesting that he wasn’t willing to provide that piece of his speech to the school.
    Further, I’d argue “brazenly dismantling…traditional Catholic teaching” might be the gentleman who’s been married 3 times. Or perhaps we pick and choose which Catholic foundations we actually stand behind.
    It’s fine to have differing points of view. But it’s important to believe in them all the time, not just when you want a platform. Standing at a podium with one view while buying a company with another point of view gives a good sense of how deeply you actually feel. The below is owned by Mr Agostonelli’s Rhone Group.

    https://twitter.com/wahoofitness/status/1267536410866786305?s=20&t=3bx-Mqi-X42NfU0KbzjIeg

    The best people I ever met came from Aquinas. The former students, the current students, the former administration, and the current administration. It’s disappointing it got to this point, but it’s important we treat this like a place of conversation, and turn down the lynch mob attitude. That gets us nowhere.

  22. To love someone is to lead them to christ. This is by living out what the bible teaches us. Alternate lifestyles are abominations according the bible. This is what should be taught. We are not supposed to rely on our own understanding but have faith. Gods way is the right way. Sister Lucia of Fatima was told by our immaculate lady that the final battle is about marriage and family AKA LGBTQ movement. We should be teaching are kids this is wrong. As far as BLM it’s a fine educated statement because their lives do matter just as much as everybody else. The statement doesnt insinuate anything negative about anyone else. Everyone knows that black people are treated unfairly. It is a problem that needs to be address. Yes we also love the LGBTQ community. By loving them we instruct them in the ways of the Lord which is what jesus would have done. God bless!

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