Past biennials

2017: Catholic University of Avila, Spain

“The Spirit of Saint Thomas today”





Since 21st to 23rd, last June, the 13th ICUSTA Conference was carried out in Universidad Católica de Avila, Spain. In this last version of our network biennial meeting, seventy five people participated as representing twenty three member institutions and five observer institutions, from fourteen countries of the five continents. The Rector of the host institution and President of ICUSTA for the last two years, Dr. María del Rosario Sáez Yuguero, claimed that they felt very proud to have hosted this event this year, and added:

“I think we are going through a very important moment in this Thomistic network, that has met here in order to see how we can make that the search for truth becomes the essential core of our universities”.

Indeed, with the magnificent cultural and spiritual frame of the walled city of Avila, this extremely fruitful three-day event took place. Its general theme, “The Spirit of St. Thomas Today”, was masterfully presented by Msgr Jean-Louis Bruguès in the opening lecture. The current Librarian and Archivist of the Vatican stated during his presentation:

“To me, it seems that Thomas could act as our advocate, trying to convince us on the truth of things and on the dignity of the human person”.

The main goal of this meeting was to reinforce the commitment toward ICUSTA’s identity and mission, plus the search for new cooperative ways, in the context of the upcoming celebration of this organization’s 25th anniversary. Thus, during the meeting, participants analyzed the solidary activities carried out by the institutions in low-income countries and communities, double-degree agreements and other shared academic projects, as well as diverse integration initiatives between faith and reason. In this opportunity, two important announcements were made: the newly launched contest for Solidarity Projects and the upcoming development of a Thomistic Studies Program for all ICUSTA Faculty.

In this thirteenth Biennial, the recently created Council of Honor made its debut and played a remarkable role. Such entity is composed of ten key people for history and spirit of the network. All of them uttered meaningful words regarding the origins, trajectory and the deepest meaning of ICUSTA, thus motivating those present and especially the newest association members. The first Executive Director of the network, Joseph McFadden, remarked in his message:

“I thank my many ICUSTA friends for their support, inspiration and most of all their faith in ICUSTA. He added: “There is a world out there in need and we have a responsibility as Catholic Institutions of Higher Learning to go out into that world with our faculty, our staff and most importantly our students to discover those needs”.


Besides, the five members of this Council who were able to participate in this activity, proposed a series of concrete initiatives in order to strengthen our foundational identity.

In turn, the Rectors and Delegates Assembly welcomed the representatives of the recently added Institut Catholique de Rennes and took on some important resolutions for the organization, such as: the inclusion of the expression “In the spirit” within the official ICUSTA name and the approval of other structural and economic changes in its By-laws; the host Institutions for the next two Biennials and the members of the new Executive Committee.

The heads of International relations, for their part, suggested a series of concrete projects in order to increase the exchange of students, Faculty, programs and resources. The Director of International Projects of UST Chile and member of the ICUSTA Steering Committee, Roberto Lafontaine, claimed:

“The contribution to academic and exchange development, sharing common Thomistic values, is extremely relevant for this university network.”

All of the above was carried out in an extraordinary friendship environment and complemented with solemn Eucharistic celebrations in the Cathedral of Avila and in the Monastery of Saint Thomas, with the active participation of the Bishop and the Prior of the Dominican convent, as well as with a visit to the Monastery of the Incarnation and to the medieval wall. Also, there were pleasant evening events, enlivened by the University choir and enhanced with the presence of the Mayor of the city.

For more information about this meeting, you can visit the official website of the Universidad Católica de Avila.



As I look back over the first twenty-four years in the history of ICUSTA, I have been fortunate to have attended 9 of the 12 past Biennial meetings. I missed only the inauguration meeting at UST Chile in 1993, the meeting at STU Canada in 1999, and at UST Chile once again in 2015, and of course now the 13th at Avila in 2017. It was at the 1999 session where the then President of UST Houston, Rev Michael Miller, proposed to the delegates that I serve as the Executive Director of ICUSTA and that ICUSTA be housed at UST Houston, USA—and so the years have unfolded. My experience as your Executive Director has been personally rewarding in that I have visited Catholic institutions and made friends in every continent. I have grown in international perspective and in my commitment to Catholic education because of the friendships and inspiration that resulted in my service to ICUSTA. None of us have a monopoly on new or good ideas, I have learned much, brought home new ideas, and shared experiences with all of you. And I hold these experiences dear to my heart and thank my many ICUSTA friends for their support, inspiration and most of all their faith in ICUSTA.

Each of our biennial meetings has been encouraging to all of us who attended—the promise of international engagement with like-minded people has whetted our institutional appetites. Sharing our mission, aspirations and friendships with other Catholic universities from all parts of our world has had a positive effect in strengthening our own individual commitment to our Catholic identity. I trust that you have had a similar experience. I thank all of you for your support of the mission and vision of ICUSTA over the years, and applaud each of you for maintaining your identity as a Catholic university.

I believe a bit of history is in order. It all began in 1993 when a young man from Santiago, Chile, inspired by the wonderful experience he had as an exchange student to North Carolina in the USA, decided to take his relatively new Institution, the University of Santo Tomas, international. ICUSTA was thus founded at UST Santiago, Chile, when a small group of Catholic universities gathered on the UST campus in Santiago to organize an International organization to encourage international exchange. I believe if my memory is correct that some five other universities from around the world attended ICUSTA’s creation. The young man was of course the Founder of ICUSTA and UST Santo Tomas, Dr Gerardo Rocha Vera.

Gerardo soon after paid an unannounced visit to my office in the summer of 1994, where I was then the President of UST Houston, 1988-1997. He proceeded to tell (not ask) me that since Houston was the center of the world—for other St Thomas Aquinas universities, UST Houston must host the second biennial meeting of this new international organization called “ICUSTA”—in 1995. I spoke no Spanish and Gerardo struggled then with his English, but somehow we communicated. I called to my office, Dr Gustavo Wensjoe, then an assistant professor in International Studies, and asked Gustavo to act as translator. (Many of you will recall Dr. Wensjoe fondly as he became a staunch supporter of all things international at UST Houston, who unfortunately died in an accident in his native Peru some years ago.) Dr Wensjoe soon became as partisan in behalf of hosting the second biennial as was Gerardo— overwhelmed as I was, I agreed. The 2nd ICUSTA Biennial was held at UST in 1995, I recall we had some nineteen delegates from Catholic universities from around the world, who all said they wanted more, and thus ICUSTA was well on its way. (I only found out years later that while Dr Rocha was in my office on a hot August 1995 day, his family was outside in his car—Carla his wife, and her three kids soaking up the summer heat in Houston, while their dad worked hard for ICUSTA’s future.)

We have been blessed that the Rocha Family has seen fit to continue to support the dream of their dear husband and father—our founder Gerardo Rocha. The family has organized a Foundation, The AngelicvM Foundation. Gerardo Gabriel Rocha Vera, the son of our founder is the President and his wife Carla is on their Board. Grants from the Rocha family foundation have made it possible for ICUSTA to organize grant programs to stimulate international exchange among our members, and to support our biennial meetings, to encourage growth and attendance.

So delegates this is the story of our heritage, welcome to our 13th ICUSTA Biennial meeting. There is a world out there in need and we have a responsibility as Catholic Institutions of Higher Learning to go out into that world with our faculty, our staff and most importantly our students to discover those needs. We must then work together in accordance with Pope Francis’s dictum spelled out in his recent Encyclical on The Environment, to strengthen together our commitment to a trio of life’s responsibilities the Pope listed in that important Encyclical: our God; our neighbors; and with everything in our home—planet earth. As Pope Francis said: “we humans are made for Love!” I would only add that “ICUSTA too is made for love.” I love my experience, my love and prayers to you all, May God bless you all and your work.

So, my friends as you can see we share a common purpose in our ICUSTA and a shared vision as well. I know you all will be working on initiatives and ideas at this important meeting. Thank you all for your interest in the future of ICUSTA. Your work is in my thoughts and prayers.

Dr Joe “Tip” Mc Fadden