Aquinas Center is located on the campus of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in a vibrant South Philadelphia neighborhood. The parish convent was repurposed in 2013 to respond to a growing desire for a welcoming space to offer mutual support and foster shared understanding across boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, language and geographic distance. A diverse community of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and long-term neighbors comprise the Aquinas Center’s leadership team as well as those who take part in activities.
Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. was the founding director for Aquinas Center and served in this role from 2012 to 2019. 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. Together with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, Welch 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 and was recognized with two national book awards. To see a list of Welch’s recent publications and past talks, click here.