Hometown: Garland, TX
Senior Lydia Thenayan’s connection to religion, love for education, and shenanigans with her siblings all seem to contradict her own belief that she’s “not very interesting.” A self-proclaimed “foodie” with a vibrant family life, Thenayan has stayed connected with her Syro-Malabar parish while at the University of Dallas.
Thenayan has been teaching in her church’s Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) program for three years. She participated as a child and throughout high school, and returned in her sophomore year of college to teach.
“It’s kind of like a really intense Sunday school,” she explained. “I teach first grade, which is super fun.”
Her home phone screen in Rome was a picture of the children that she was teaching.
“My church has been my home for so long, I just want to give back,” she said.
Thenayan is part of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the second-largest Eastern rite of the Catholic Church. The rite originated with St. Thomas the Apostle’s evangelization in India, where the rite is still based, and it is fully in communion with the Holy See.
Thenayan’s parish in Garland was the first Syro-Malabar church in the United States.
“It was established around 1981, so a lot of our parents were founders for the church,” she said. “We have a really interesting mix of people who just freshly immigrated from India, and then there’s my generation where we were either born in India and came over really young or we were born here. And now you’re starting to see kids whose parents were born here or have spent most of their life here.”
Her parish blends Indian and American culture. Some first graders are even more fluent than Thenayan in Malayalam, a dialect of India, while other children don’t know basic words.
Along with her parish involvement, she connects with her faith through her biology major. “I chose biology because it was the first class that I really saw God in, besides CCD.”
Thenayan expressed gratitude towards professors who have helped her to learn about career options with her degree.
Most would be impressed with her difficult major, dedication to teaching, and ability to speak Malayalam, but Thenayan insists that she’s a bit scatterbrained. Perhaps nothing illustrates her point as well as how she learned about UD.
Although she grew up in the Dallas area, Thenayan only heard of UD in her senior year of high school. “It’s ridiculous because my sister-in-law has been working here since I was like, a freshman in high school, as long as I’ve known her. I didn’t know where she worked at all.”
Thenayan didn’t even find out about UD through her sister-in-law, UD librarian Sylvia Thenayan. Lydia just received some marketing materials and thought that the Tower was pretty, and was attracted to the university’s Catholicism.
“I grew up hearing about how college is the time to grow into good habits, and I wanted to continue my strong faith life. I heard really good things about the professor student ratio, the community was really great, everyone was friendly… Oh! And my application had a fee waiver!”
Thenayan had planned to go to the University of Texas-Austin until April of her senior year. “My mom told me to pray about it and not make a rash decision,” she said. “Then my best friend sat me down and told me that I had talked more about UD than any other school. Like, ‘You’re not going to Austin, you’re going to UD.’”
“I didn’t find out that Sylvia works here until I got my acceptance letter,” Thenayan said with a laugh. “She was like, ‘No way, that’s where I work!’ I was like, ‘Oh, is it a new job?’ And she was like ‘…no…’”
Thenayan stays close with her siblings and Sylvia with “adventures” every week, since they all live within easy driving distance. “We’ve made it our mission to try every taco place in the DFW area,” she said.
“My sister and I love Pollo Regio down Carl Road, everyone should try it, it’s delicious,” she exclaimed.
“My brother thinks… oh man, it’s the gas station taco place that everyone likes. It’s literally attached to a gas station, car wash place in Dallas… Hold on! Fuel City!”
In my Wisconsinite ignorance, I doubted that a car wash could really be an optimal place for tacos, but a Google search quickly revealed the taco joint’s cult-like status.
“Me and my siblings are huge foodies,” Thenayan said. “If I ever want to try a cuisine, I’ll just ask my siblings for recommendations and they have a thousand.”
“We’re all like each other’s best friends,” she said.
Although Thenayan isn’t sure yet what she will pursue after graduation, her many interests and abilities are certain to help her find the right path.