Our Team


members_sister-bolarteSr. Ruth Bolarte, IHM serves as Board President. She is a member of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Immaculata, PA.  A native of Peru, she holds degrees in theology from Immaculata University and St. Charles Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2006 she submitted a project, “An Integrative Spiritual Formation Program for Hispanic/Latino Laypeople in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States,” for a doctorate in ministry from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  She is now the Director of the Office of Multi-Cultural Ministry at the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ.

ColbertDaniel Colbert, Esq.
was introduced to Aquinas Center through a law fellowship with Drexel University. He helped to facilitate the center’s partnership with Liberti Church, which includes the annual Easter Outreach, an ecumenical retreat program for college students, and volunteer opportunities for adults and families. Daniel provides important support to the community through immigration related advocacy. He enjoys backyard gardening and home brewing. Daniel and his wife recently bought a home near the center.

Matt Davis photoMatthew Davis
serves as Treasurer for the board. He is the Director for the Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Matthew is from Millville, New Jersey and studied Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He did an additional 2 years study of Philosophy at Kenrick Glennon Seminary and St. Louis University. He has taught ESOL in St. Louis, Boston, and in the Dominican Republic. For six years, he helped refugees in Boston secure employment and job training. He spent 1.5 years living and working in the Dominican Republic before taking his current position.

Ghiso_PhotoMaría Paula Ghiso, Ed.D
serves as board Secretary. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University whose scholarly interests include early childhood literacy, multilingualism, teacher education, and children’s literature. Her current research investigates the transcultural and multilingual literacy practices of Latina/o emergent bilinguals as they document their neighborhood experiences through multimodal forms of inquiry. María Paula is a former New York City dual language teacher and has facilitated professional development in a range of national and international contexts.

laskey_photoMichael Jordan Laskey
serves as Vice President of the board. He is the director of Life & Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. Before moving to the diocese, Mike was a program coordinator for the Center for FaithJustice, a Catholic nonprofit that runs service immersion trips near Trenton, NJ.  Mike completed an MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame through the university’s Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program, and he has a BA in English, also from Notre Dame. Mike lives with his wife in Haddon Township, NJ. He blogs for the Camden diocese at http://camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com.

OkemaDenis Fred Okema is a social justice advocate, speaker and content expert for social change and conflict resolution. He is experienced in coordinating and leading initiatives within organizations working for the health, safety and well-being of a target population. Denis has given educational lectures and presentations on topics including and not limited to: The Role of Social Media in Affecting Social Change, Understanding Conflict Resolution and Peace Building, The Effect of Violent Conflicts on Children and Adolescents, and Understanding Alternative Justice Systems in dispute resolution. Denis has an M.S. Administration of Human Services from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia and an B.S. in Development Studies, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. He resides in Chestnut Hill with his wife and son.


Welch GardenBethany J. Welch, Ph.D.  is the founding director of Aquinas Center. Her research on the Catholic Church and urban revitalization prompted Philadelphia’s St. Thomas Aquinas parish to invite her to help them repurpose a former convent to create a space that builds unity in diversity, supports learning, and inspires thoughtful action. In 2014, Dr. Welch was recognized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award for how her work addresses poverty and injustice. Welch, a VISTA volunteer from 2003-2004, also received a Spirit of Service Award in 2006 from the Corporation for National and Community Service for advancing transformational change in urban communities through research, planning, and capacity building. She has a PhD from the University of Delaware, MS from the University of Rochester, and BS from Roberts Wesleyan College. Dr. Welch recently co-authored a book on the unique collaborative research undertaken by the Aquinas community and students at the University of Pennsylvania. Partnering with Immigrant Communities was published in 2016 by Teachers College Press. To see a list of recent publications and upcoming talks, click here.

Shirley Dessein 
is serving as a part time youth organizer Aquinas Center. She is currently attending West Chester University pursuing a Master of Social Work. She loves working with people and enjoys cooking and dancing. Shirley is from Maplewood, New Jersey now living in Northeast Philadelphia.


martinaMartina Hyacinth is a part time operations coordinator who provides a welcoming presence and facility support at the center. She is a native of the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is located in the West Indies. She came to Philadelphia in 1999 by way of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Martina loves to garden, practice yoga at Studio Mandala, and help the parish with decorations and flowers in the church. She attends Mass daily and likes to bring people together across cultures.

LibbyBritt Libby serves as our full time Advocacy Coordinator through a partnership with Catholic Charities USA and AmeriCorps*VISTA facilitated locally by Catholic Social Services. After spending all of 2015 working and traveling in Rwanda and Thailand, she is excited to be settling into Philadelphia! Britt is passionate about social justice as well as the celebration of cultural diversity – especially through food and art. Her free time is typically spent visiting art museums, venturing outdoors or drinking coffee.