Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O.P., to give Plenary Talk at ‘Thomas Aquinas and the Eucharist: Pathways to Revival’ Conference February 2024
Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O.P., an associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas-Houston, is known for her intellectual prowess and love of Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. Both saints are her areas of expertise at St. Thomas, where she teaches Medieval Sacramental Theology.
Fluent in Latin, she recently published a translation of St. Albert the Great’s "On the Body of the Lord" in the Catholic University of America’s Fathers of the Church Medieval Continuation series. Sr. Albert Marie received her undergraduate degree from Ave Maria when the school was in Michigan and her M.A. and Ph.D in Theology from Ave Maria University in Florida.
Recently, she accepted an invitation to return to her alma mater, Ave Maria University, to speak at the Thomas Aquinas and the Eucharist: Pathways to Revival conference hosted by The Aquinas Center and The Thomistic Institute on Feb. 1-3, 2024. The conference will draw upon Saint Thomas for theological, spiritual, pastoral, and evangelistic pathways in the Eucharistic Revival. The title of Sr. Albert Marie’s talk is “Albert (and Aquinas) on the Sacramental Signification of the Eucharist.”
“For Albert the Great, the Eucharist is a true sacrament in which sign is not opposed to presence or causality; rather, presence and causality properly are mediated by sign,” Sr. Albert Marie said. “In this paper, I will take up this theme through the lens of three questions on which Albert and Aquinas agree to an extent and differ to an extent. This approach shows how Thomas Aquinas builds on and refines certain theological ideas already found in St. Albert.”
Sr Albert Marie notes that returning to Ave Maria University to present as a plenary speaker with her former professors and thesis director is an honor.
“I earned my graduate degrees from Ave Maria University in Florida and also taught on faculty there for three years before coming to the University of St. Thomas in Houston,” she said. “I wrote my dissertation under Dr. Roger Nutt, a plenary speaker at this conference. I presented my first conference paper as a graduate student at this conference many years ago and have returned to present in the open sessions every few years since. It is always an uplifting and stimulating conference. This will be my first time as a plenary speaker at this conference. It is a conference where I feel very comfortable.”
Sr. Albert Marie Answers the Call to Religious Life
Sr. Albert Marie hails from Southern Ontario in Canada and recalled, “My father was a chicken farmer who raised chickens for Kentucky Fried Chicken, so I grew up working in the barn and doing some fieldwork.”
She was called to religious life when she was a teenager. “It was a very simple moment—praying after receiving the Eucharist,” she said. “I realized very deeply that whatever I did or wherever I went in life, the source of greatest joy for me would always be the presence of Christ in my life. Along with that came a realization that God was inviting me to choose a particular path in life and take vows as a religious sister. It took me several more years to discover which community I should enter.
“In searching for the answer to this question,” she said, “I came to the United States to study at Ave Maria College when it was in Michigan. I came to appreciate the spiritual power of meeting Christ through studying theology there. I also met our Dominican community, which has its Motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. These two things came together since study and teaching are part of the Dominican charism. I entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, right after my undergraduate graduation.”
For Sr. Albert Marie, the decision to pursue graduate studies at Ave Maria University came after she had taken vows as a Dominican Sister. “Our community had a mission house in Ave Maria,” she said. “Several of our Sisters taught at the elementary and high school in the town. My community recognized I had gifts for studying theology and sent me there. As I neared the close of my M.A. degree, the professors at Ave Maria University encouraged me to apply to the Ph.D program, which awarded me a scholarship.”
Sr. Albert Marie Joins the Faculty at UST
Teasing, she mentions that her time in Florida prepared her for the hot weather in Houston. Sr. Albert Marie joined the UST Theology faculty in 2017.
“It was wonderful to teach at Ave Maria, but leaving there to go to a different environment allowed me to spread my wings in a new way. My religious community opened a house in Houston, which meant there was a possibility of teaching at UST and still living the monastic life, which is so important to us as Dominicans,” she said. “UST is a Newman Guide school where authentic Catholic theology and philosophy flourish. Teaching at UST is exciting because I can contribute to medieval and sacramental theology through many programs: the graduate theology program at the seminary, the main-campus M.A. in theology and the undergraduate major. I also enjoy the challenge of making basic theological ideas accessible to our newest students by teaching the core. As a young sister, I took a few years of educational methods classes at a local university, which helps with core teaching.”
Enriching her scholarship on St. Thomas Aquinas is her access to the University of St. Thomas Center for Thomistic Studies, founded in 1975, the only graduate philosophy program in the United States uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. She muses, “I greatly respect our Center for Thomistic Studies and appreciate their lectures throughout the year, which are enriching for my own scholarship.”