Marketing & Communications  

Mother and Son Share in Education and Service

Cathy and James Pearce share more than simple genetics. They share in faith, in service to the Grand Rapids community, and in their respective Aquinas experiences. Cathy, a teacher at West Catholic High School, received her Bachelor of Arts from Aquinas in 1983 and returned to earn her Master in Education which she completed in 1998.

“For me, [Aquinas] is more of a personality, a community, an experience. It’s more than an education,” Cathy said. “The staff treats you as a whole person instead of just trying to get you to learn something. They treat you as a human. That, I found, was very beneficial to the whole experience at Aquinas.”

Cathy finished her first stint at Aquinas with a B.A. in sociology and religion with a minor in music. Then, in the midst of raising two sons and a daughter, returned to earn her M.E. and worked in several different churches, as well as West Catholic High School.

“It was just the familiarity that I had with the program,” Cathy said of her decision to return to Aquinas for her master’s degree. “I had taken some classes at Grand Valley and down in Indiana when we lived down there, and never got the connection that I got with the whole Aquinas experience.”

Cathy’s son James spoke of a similar connection when asked about his decision to attend Aquinas after taking three years off after high school to work and travel.

“I was kind of expecting to dread it a little bit, and I was right before I started. But as soon as I got into my first couple of classes I was really astounded,” James said. “Not only is the campus gorgeous, which I already knew, but all the students were very nice, and professors even more so. It’s astounding to me that they can take the time, and the classes are small enough, where they can afford their time to each individual student.”

James, who graduated high school in 2007 and started at Aquinas in 2010 (with only a little encouragement from his mother), will graduate in 2013 with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a focus in marketing. “It’s been pretty cool,” James said about being able to share the Aquinas experience with his mother. “I’ve been able to meet some of the people that my mom knows [at Aquinas] and it’s really nice to be able to connect with people on that level.”

Since 2010 Cathy and James have been sharing in another experience: as volunteers for jail ministry at the Kent County Jail. Inspired by other jail ministry volunteers who spoke after West Catholic’s performance of “Dead Man Walking” at the Circle Theater, Cathy spoke to James about the opportunity, and they have been volunteering ever since.

“It’s kind of hard to put into words,” Cathy said of being able to share these experiences with James. “It’s just such a blessing.”

The pair help run Communion Services for the inmates where, instead of the priest’s homily, they hold discussions about the readings. But, as James pointed out, it usually turns into the inmates talking about their experiences and how they’re feeling that week. Although intimidating at first, James said that once he got over the guards and steel-plated doors, “you get started and talk to the inmates, and they’re really open and really friendly.”

“They really get me thinking a lot in trying to explain to them these huge, huge truths, or rather mysteries, with our faith. It’s a big learning experience,” James said. “Being able to share in faith with anyone is great, but especially with someone as close to me as my mother, it’s just a further blessing.”