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Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas College. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas College. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thomas Aquinas College to Open East Coast Campus

California-based Great Books program enters deal involving Hobby Lobby property

Like bookends on the shelf of its celebrated Great Books program, Thomas Aquinas College will soon have campuses on both the West Coast and the East.

The pioneering Catholic college, based in Santa Paula, California, is announcing today that it plans to open a new campus in Massachusetts. It has entered into a preliminary grant agreement with the National Christian Foundation (NCF) to accept its gift of a former secondary school campus in Northfield, Massachusetts. TAC will assume ownership of the 217-acre property on May 2 and open its doors to students on this branch campus in the fall of 2018.

Prior to May 2, the college will complete its assessment of the physical plant at the new site and continue its efforts to obtain necessary permitting.

Read more at  Aleteia >>

Friday, January 29, 2016

USA TODAY Ranks Thomas Aquinas College Among “Best 10 Colleges for the Money” in the Country

SANTA PAULA, CA—January 29—Drawing upon research from the educational data-analytics firm College Factual, USA Today recently proclaimed Thomas Aquinas College one of the country’s Best 10 Colleges for the Money.

The “Best Colleges” ranking identifies schools that have “good outcomes for students,” such as high graduation rates and low student-loan default rates, as well as a “reasonable price tag” for the education they offer. In evaluating the total cost of attending a school, College Factual calculates an “average net price” — tuition minus scholarships and financial aid — and multiplies that amount by the average number of semesters it takes students to graduate. Most Thomas Aquinas students, College Factual reports, graduate in 4.1 years; nationally, the average is closer to five or six years.

“Thomas Aquinas is a small private school firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition,” reads the College’s profile on the College Factual website. “The school has high freshmen retention and graduation rates, as well as a low student to faculty ratio and high amount of full time teachers.… Compared to schools of a similar caliber, Thomas Aquinas is underpriced.”

The College’s being named to USA Today’s “Best 10 Colleges for the Money” list, says Director of Admissions Jon Daly, is a reflection of its longstanding commitment to value and affordability. Thomas Aquinas College turns no student away on the basis of financial need, and it caps the amount that students are asked to borrow at $18,000 over four years. Average total debt after four years is less than half the national average of nearly $35,000.

“By God’s grace, and thanks to the tremendous generosity of our benefactors, Thomas Aquinas College is able to offer a one-of-a-kind Catholic liberal education that is within the financial reach of all families,” says Mr. Daly. “We have long considered our school to be a ‘best value,’ and it is heartening to see that USA Today and College Factual, as well as many secular and Catholic college guides, agree.”

About Thomas Aquinas College
Thomas Aquinas College is a four-year, Catholic liberal arts college with a fully-integrated curriculum composed of the Great Books, the seminal works in the major disciplines by the great thinkers who have helped shape Western civilization. There are no textbooks, no lectures and no electives. Instead, under the guidance of faculty members and using only the Socratic method of dialogue in classes of no more than 20, students read and discuss the original works of authors such as Euclid, Dante, Galileo, Descartes, the American Founding Fathers, Adam Smith, Shakespeare, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine, and of course, St. Thomas Aquinas. Graduates consistently excel in the many world-class institutions at which they pursue graduate degrees in fields such as law, medicine, business, theology and education. They have distinguished themselves serving as lawyers, doctors, business owners, priests, military service men and women, educators, journalists and college presidents.  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thomas Aquinas College Christmas Choral Flash Mob 2015

Bringing the joy of Advent and the promise of Christmas into the marketplace, some 150 Thomas Aquinas College students descended earlier this month upon The Oaks shopping mall in Thousand Oaks, California, to stage a choral “flash mob.”

After stealthily gathering around the mall’s central Christmas display — by the Santa Claus photo center — the students simultaneously burst into song. They began with “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel,” and then concluded with a rousing rendition of “O Holy Night.” The mall’s surprised customers and employees seemed to delight in the performance, stopping whatever they were doing to take in the music, to sing along, and to cheer afterward.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thomas Aquinas College: A Catholic Miracle in Shangri-La

From Regina Magazine

Today, it’s the Shangri-la of college campuses. But it was not always so. The Catholics who founded Thomas Aquinas College in 1969 were laymen taking on an enormous challenge, unheard of at a time when Catholic schools were universally administered by the clergy. And the story of how they established this inspiring Catholic college nestled in the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains, at the entrance to the Los Padres National in the teeth of the enormous upheavals of the late 1960s is the stuff of movie plots. 

Anne Forsyth’s entire life has deeply involved with this amazing story. The daughter of John Schaeffer, one of TAC’s redoubtable founding board members, today Anne is the Director of College Relations there. In this interview, Anne graciously conducts REGINA readers on a guided tour of this modern day Catholic miracle.

REGINA: From the perspective of 50 years later, what inspired the founders to take on this mammoth project? 

ANNE FORSYTH: The period of the 1960s was a time of great tumult in the United States, one that had devastating effects on the country’s institutions and mores. Its ravages could be seen perhaps nowhere more clearly than on college campuses. Truth gave way to skepticism and relativism, and expressions such as “free love” and “question authority” became the catchphrases of student life.

REGINA: In Catholic colleges, as well? 

ANNE FORSYTH: Catholic colleges were not immune to these influences. Venerable institutions that for many scores of years had faithfully passed on the intellectual patrimony of the Church began to adopt the diluted curricula, methods, and aims of their secular counterparts. Not only was campus life at many of these institutions succumbing to the permissiveness of the time, a long-standing commitment to Catholic liberal education was quickly disappearing.

REGINA: How did Catholic colleges react? 

ANNE FORSYTH: In 1967, against this backdrop, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, convened a group of prominent Catholic educators in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. Their aim was to chart a new course for Catholic higher education in America, one that would resemble all too well that of their secular counterparts. The meeting resulted in a document entitled a “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University.”  

Hoping to garner the kind of reputation for academic excellence enjoyed by secular institutions of higher learning, the statement declared, “The Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” (emph. added) Going even further, it stated that the Catholic university “should carry on a continual examination of all aspects and all activities of the Church and should objectively evaluate them.”

In other words, where once the measure of the Catholic university was the Magisterium of the Church, now the Catholic university would not only be its own judge, but in an audacious upending of the tradition, it would also be the measure of the Church. Truly, this was a watershed moment for Catholic higher education in the United States.

Read more at Regina >>


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Renewing Faith and Culture: An Introduction to Thomas Aquinas College

In the past forty years, some truly excellent Catholic colleges have been founded and are renewing the Church, sparking a boom in priestly and religious vocations,  providing a solid foundation for healthy, faith-filled Catholic families, and equipping disciples with the tools needed to plant anew a Christian culture.  The following video provides a look at one of the very best of these new colleges.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother Assumpta Long Addresses the Graduates of Thomas Aquinas College

The Joy Filled Heart of a Thomist: Proclaiming the Gospel with Love, Life, and Learning

By Mother M. Assumpta Long, O.P.
Prioress General
Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
Thomas Aquinas College
May 12, 2012
President Michael McLean, Dr. Brian Kelly and members of the faculty; Mr. Jim Wensley and members of the Board of Governors; Fr. Cornelius Buckley and priests; President Emeritus, Dr. Ronald McArthur; Founders, Dr. Jack Neumayr and Mr. Peter DeLuca; distinguished graduates, family and friends:

It is an extreme honor for me to have been invited to give the Commencement Address in such an important year for Thomas Aquinas College because, in some sense, the history of the College has been my history. I have visited and kept up with its wonderful growth from a few small trailers to your beautiful sprawling campus today. This is all due to the faith, vision, and hard work of those who love the Church and believe her mission would best be carried out by those equipped with the finest education a young Catholic could receive today.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thomas Aquinas College Joins Growing Number Denouncing Obama's Assault on Religious Liberty

Thomas Aquinas College
On January 30, 2012, Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean mailed the following letter to California’s two U.S. senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, and the College’s local congressman, Rep. Elton Gallegly:

I am writing on behalf of Thomas Aquinas College to express the College’s strong disapproval of the Obama Administration’s decision to require that coverage for sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception be included in virtually all health plans.

Voluntary sterilization, abortion, and artificial contraception are all directly contrary to Catholic teaching and cannot, in any way, be supported by individual Catholics or Catholic institutions desiring to live in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The administration’s allowance of a one-year delay before religious employers are forced to comply with the HHS mandate does not ameliorate the situation at all; in the words of Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “in effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

Archbishop Dolan continued: “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.” Making a similar point, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said “this mandate gravely compromises religious liberty.”

Americans hold dear our country’s long tradition of honoring freedom of conscience for its citizens. We at Thomas Aquinas College hope, therefore, that you will join with us and with all who believe in the Constitution and religious liberty to oppose this mandate. I urge you to expend every effort to have it withdrawn.


Michael F. McLean
Thomas Aquinas College

Cc: Barack Obama, President of the United States
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York Cardinal
Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
Archbishop José Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New President Appointed at Thomas Aquinas College

There is wonderful news from our first advertiser and one of America's very best Catholic colleges, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

TAC's news release follows:
At its fall meeting today, the Board of Governors of Thomas Aquinas College appointed Dr. Michael F. McLean the fourth president of the 38-year old institution. Dr. McLean will succeed interim president Peter L. DeLuca who took office this past April after the tragic death of the school's 18-year president, Dr. Thomas E. Dillon.

A member of the teaching faculty of the college since 1978, Dr. McLean holds a BA in philosophy from Saint Mary's College of Cal
ifornia and a PhD also in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He has served in a number of capacities at the college including as assistant dean for student affairs, vice president for development, and since 2003, dean of the college and member of its Board of Governors.

On announcing the appointment, Chairman of the Board of Governors Mr. R. James Wensley said, "We on the board look forward with great faith and optimism to the continued ability of the school to produce outstanding graduates under Dr. McLean's leadership. "

Founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, now a tutor at the college, commented on Dr. McLean's appointment saying, "Michael McLean has been a superior teacher, a superior dean, and a successful vice president for development. He is, therefore, not only qualified but competent and capable of the highest kind of leadership for the college today."

Perhaps unique in America, Thomas Aquinas College is required by its bylaws to seek among the existing members of its teaching faculty for presidential candidates. During this past summer, therefore, a faculty nominating committee consulted with senior faculty members to determine candidates whose names were delivered to a corresponding committee of the Board of Governors. After extensive interviews with those candidates, that committee of the board recommended Dr. McLean to its full membership; governors then voted unanimously to appoint him president.

Says founder and outgoing interim president, Peter DeLuca, "At the time of our founding, in the late 1960's, we were keenly aware of the terrible erosion of Catholic identity that was occurring at many, if not mos
t, of our country's Catholic colleges and universities. Intent on doing all we could to ensure the integrity of our new college over time, we put in a place a presidential selection process that would conduce to the preservation of Thomas Aquinas College's strong Catholic character and its unique program of Catholic liberal education. Thus, we determined that the selection of a president would be best made from among those who know the college firsthand and have devoted their lives to implementing its founding principles in the classroom."

In comments following his appointment, incoming president Dr. McLean said, "I am humbled and deeply honored. I appreciate the careful way in which the faculty and board conducted the presidential selection process. I have a deep love for the College, for the faculty, and for the students and will commit myself completely to preserving the College's mission, purpose, and fidelity to the Catholic Church. Together with the board and the faculty, and with God's help, I will work to ensure that the College continues to attract eager and diligent students and remains in its present strong financial condition."

At the request of the Board of Governors, Mr. DeLuca will continue to serve as interim president until the end of the first semester later this year. Dr. McLean will take up his new office as president in January, at the start of the second semester; his inauguration will take place on the campus on Saturday, February 13, 2010.

Dr. Michael F. McLean

Michael F. McLean was born on January 31, 1947. He holds a BA in philosophy from Saint Mary's College of California and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. Dr. McLean was appointed to the faculty of Thomas Aquinas College in 1978 and has served as a tutor since that time. In addition, he has served as Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Vice President for Development, and from 2003 to the present, as Dean of the College and as a member its board of governors.

After graduating from St. Mary's College, Dr. McLean served one year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in St. Vincent, British West Indies. He then served another three years as an officer in the United States Coast Guard, with responsibilities for shipboard operations and rescue coordination.

A long-time resident of Santa Paula, California, Dr. McLean has been active in the local community and at his parish church, St. Sebastian. He is a co-founder of the Great Books Seminars in nearby Ojai, California, and has been a member and president of the board of directors of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, California.

Dr. McLean enjoys hiking, backpacking, classical music, opera, and gardening. He and his wife of 42 years, Lynda, are the parents of three children, and grandparents of four.


Thomas Aquinas College is a four-year, Catholic liberal arts college with a fully-integrated curriculum composed exclusively of the Great Books, the seminal works in the major disciplines by the great thinkers who have helped shape Western civilization. There are no textbooks, no lectures and no electives. Instead, under the guidance of faculty members and using only the Socratic method of dialogue in classes of no more than 20, students read and discuss the original works of authors such as Euclid, Dante, Galileo, Descartes, the American Founding Fathers, Adam Smith, Shakespeare, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine, and of course, St. Thomas Aquinas. Graduates consistently excel in the many world-class institutions at which they pursue graduate degrees in fields such as law, medicine, business, theology and education. They have distinguished themselves serving as lawyers, doctors, business owners, priests, military service men and women, educators, journalists and college presidents.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thomas Aquinas Relies on Classics, Catholic Identity to Educate Students

Staying faithful to its teachings

Archbishop John Michael Miller approaches the altar during the convocation at Thomas Aquinas College welcoming students to the first day of classes on Monday. The college will soon select a new president, only the third since Thomas Aquinas was founded in 1971.

From Venutura County Star

By Jean Cowden Moore

Enrollment: 348.

Tuition: $22,400 a year.

Faculty-student ratio: 1:11.

Founded: 1971.

Religious affiliation: Roman Catholic.

Thomas Aquinas College is not your typical modern university. Students read the classics, not textbooks. Girls must wear skirts or dresses to class. There’s a curfew of 11 on school nights.

Yet the conservative Catholic college, nestled in the hills of Santa Paula, is attracting national attention for its small classes, generous financial aid and strong academics. U.S. News & World Report this month ranked it among the nation’s top 100 liberal arts colleges.

Now, as students return to class this week, Thomas Aquinas is at a turning point, choosing only its third president since it was founded in 1971.

Thomas Aquinas stands out among Catholic colleges because Catholicism plays such a major role in its identity and curriculum, said Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

“They see themselves as building on a very evangelical notion of Catholicism, much more like the smaller Protestant evangelical colleges,” Yanikoski said. “From the faith perspective, they are perfectly forthright about their Catholic identity. They have built an insular culture, saying, ‘We are an island in a world that is going another direction, and our curriculum is a match to that.’ ”

Above all, Thomas Aquinas is known for its Great Books program. Instead of using textbooks, students learn every subject — from literature to science — by reading the classics. The freshmen reading list, for example, includes Homer’s “Odyssey,” the Bible, Euclid’s “Elements” and Mendel’s “Experiments in Plant Hybridization.”

Every student studies the exact same curriculum, moving through the same set of books each year. There are no majors or electives.

Students don’t get lectures, either. Instead, they discuss the works in seminars that average about 15 people, guided by a tutor, which is what the college calls its professors. Together, by questioning and challenging one another, they are expected to arrive at the truth through a combination of reason and faith.

It’s a demanding way to learn, and certainly not for everyone. Beyond learning the subject at hand, students also must learn how to articulate and defend their ideas, a valuable life lesson, they say. Inevitably, especially as freshmen, some students talk too much, dominating the discussion. Others listen too much, because they’re too shy or too disengaged to speak up, students say.

That’s why a tutor is essential, said Josh Noble, 30, who confesses he was one of those who “needed to learn to be quiet.”

“Without someone to guide the discussion, it would be a mess,” said Noble, who already has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from LeTourneau University in Texas and is seeking a second bachelor’s at Thomas Aquinas. “When you look back, you realize the tutor was guiding you on a path.”

Sense of responsibility

Tutor Brian Kelly approaches the discussion as a conversation, the most natural way human beings convey information. The first weeks of freshman year can be a bit chaotic, but gradually students adjust to the give-and-take, Kelly said.

“People find their niche,” he said. “The kids tend to correct themselves.”

They also feel a sense of responsibility to one another, realizing they each have a part to play in arriving at the truth.

“It makes you think twice about skipping class or not doing the reading,” said senior Deneys Williamson, 22.

And if students aren’t carrying their weight, the college has a way of dealing with that, the so-called “Don Rags.” In the middle of each semester, each student walks alone into a room, where his or her tutors sit and discuss the student’s work, as if he or she is not there. Afterward, the student has a chance to respond to the critique.

At first, it can be a bit uncomfortable, Williamson said.

“I remember I was quite nervous for the first one, which is understandable,” Williamson said. “But they’re very helpful, and the criticism is fair. They’re pointing out what you can do to improve your participation in class.”

The Don Rags can be a time-consuming “pain in the neck,” Kelly said. But they do allow tutors to critique students without the criticism being too direct or personal, he said.

“It’s a curious sort of formality, but it kind of helps the medicine go down,” Kelly said.

Students must adapt to other formalities, too. Boys wear collared shirts, dress pants and good shoes to class, while girls wear skirts or dresses. They address each other as “miss” or “mister” during class discussions.

Girls are not allowed in the boys’ dorms and vice versa. Curfew is 11 on school nights, 1 a.m. on weekends. TVs and DVD players are not allowed in students’ rooms.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Thomas Aquinas tops the list of “most religious students” in the Princeton Review.

Students who can’t handle the restrictions and conservative atmosphere generally leave by the end of the first year. For others, that conservative approach is partly why they’re there.

“Everything is so ordered toward the proper nature of men and women, toward God,” said sophomore Kayla Kermode, 19. “It fosters the intellectual life and the spiritual life.”

Students say they also value finding like-minded people. Many meet their future spouses in class, getting to know each other as friends before dating.

“You feel treasured and cherished for your wit, your faith and virtue,” said junior Emily Barry, 24. “Out in the world, you might be considered prudish or opinionated.”

Thomas Aquinas officials see the college’s core conservatism as key to their entire mission.

Finding order in life

When the school was founded, Catholic colleges were disconnecting themselves from the church, said interim president Peter DeLuca, one of the school’s founders. Like secular colleges, they started offering electives, courses in women’s studies and co-ed dorms, straying from traditional Catholic education.

The founders of Thomas Aquinas believed students could arrive at the truth through reason and faith and a fixed curriculum based on books written centuries ago in many cases.

“The notion of Catholic liberal education here is radically different, because it’s based on the notion that the object of education is to understand the order and meaning of the universe,” DeLuca said. “If there is an order, there has to be an orderer. If you understand the order, you can understand something of the orderer.”

That approach led to a controversy that drew national attention in the early 1990s. The group that accredits western colleges said Thomas Aquinas needed to be more diverse in its curriculum, faculty and student body.

College officials fought back, saying they didn’t believe any one book, student or faculty member should be presumed to represent an entire cultural viewpoint. Instead, books should be chosen for their merit. And students and faculty should be free to voice their opinions as individual human beings, they said.

“Learning takes place in the soul of students,” said tutor Kevin Kolbeck, who was dean during the controversy. “They’re not there to represent some black, Asian or Hispanic perspective. That would have destroyed what we’re trying to do.”

Still, Yanikoski, while not criticizing the curriculum, sees some limitations to it.

“They are teaching a Euro-centric Catholic church in the context of a Euro-centric Great Books curriculum, at the same time that the church is moving inexorably away from the Euro-centric model,” he said. “A person could make the argument that Thomas Aquinas is preparing students for the past.”

This year, Thomas Aquinas will select the third president in its history. Thomas Dillon, president for 18 years, died in April in a car accident in Ireland.

The college will select its new president from among its 21 eligible tutors, according to its bylaws.

While Dillon focused on building out the campus, the new president must establish an endowment that will make Thomas Aquinas financially secure. But the college’s core mission will remain the same.

“We’re in our teen years,” Kolbeck said. “We’re not fully matured. But as far as what we do in the classroom, the new president has to be committed to that. We’re not going to change that.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

'Most Religious' College Students of 2009 Revealed

(Photo: Thomas Aquinas College)

Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College

From The Christian Post
By Joshua A. Goldberg

The Catholic students of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., are the "most religious" among students from the nation’s top schools, according to The Princeton Review’s latest college ratings.

The students of Bennington College in Bennington, Vt., meanwhile, are the least, revealed the recently published findings.

Based on a survey of 122,000 students at 371 of the “best” colleges in the country, the new lists report the top 20 colleges in 62 categories ranging from those related to academics and demographics to those related to politics and the quality of life. Among the most notable are “Most Conservative Students,” “Most Liberal Students,” “Gay Community Most Accepted,” “Top Stone-Cold Sober Schools,” and “Happiest Students,” among others.

"Each of our 371 'best' colleges offers great academics," says Robert Franek, vice president and publisher of The Princeton Review. "However, we don't rank schools academically because our goal is to help students find and get into the best school for them. Instead, we tally 62 ranking lists based how students at these schools rated their campus experiences, plus ratings based on institutional data we collect on issues important to applicants. It's all about the fit."

This year, the data collected boosted Thomas Aquinas above last year’s “Most Religious” leader, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, which dropped to No. 2 this year. Following the Catholic school and the Mormon school was Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., the alma mater of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, which also came in No. 3 last year.

Last year’s No. 2 rated school, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ill., meanwhile, dropped to No. 8.

All data, compiled for the 2010 edition of The Princeton Review’s annual college guide “The Best 371 Colleges,” was drawn from an 80-question survey that asked students about their school's academics, administration, campus life, student body, and themselves.

Responses from students who completed the survey during the 2008-09 and/or previous two school years were considered.

The following is a list of the top 20 schools with the “Most Religious Students” (the other 61 lists can be found at

1. Thomas Aquinas College
Santa Paula, CA

2. Brigham Young University (UT)

3. Wheaton College (IL)

4. Hillsdale College
Hillsdale, MI

5. University of Dallas
Irving, TX

6. Grove City College
Grove City, PA

7. College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, MO

8. University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN

9. Furman University
Greenville, SC

10. Samford University
Birmingham, AL

11. Baylor University
Waco, TX

12. Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI

13. Texas A&M University--College Station

14. United States Air Force Academy
USAF Academy, CO

15. Pepperdine University
Malibu, CA

16. Catholic University of America
Washington, DC

17. St. Anselm College
Manchester, NH

18. Brandeis University
Waltham, MA

19. Auburn University
Auburn, AL

20. University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Richard Dawkins believes that Christianity is an intellectual vacancy. That's probably because he has never visited the astonishing Thomas Aquinas College, says Marc Sidwell.
"I look up now, past a rounded tree which quivers with bird-life, and I see a few of the students. Once again, it's a kind of shock to gaze upon them."
It is unfashionable to acknowledge that good ideas come from America. Thirty years ago Christopher Derrick discovered Thomas Aquinas College in Southern California, and could not conceal his wonder. Here was a community of learning unlike anything left in Europe. He shared his delight in Escape from Scepticism: Liberal Education as if Truth Mattered. Stumbling on his account last year while researching a new history of liberal education, I, too, was exhilarated. The decades have changed nothing; this college is as important as ever.

Thomas Aquinas College is a Great Books school. Its students engage directly with the profound thinkers that define Western civilisation: St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Euclid, Plato and Shakespeare, to name only a few. Classes employ the Socratic method of dialogue. The curriculum is stretching, yet not impossibly demanding. Most important of all, the college is centered on the faculty's profession of Catholic faith. Beginning in wonder, the course aims at wisdom.

"What struck me first was the extreme happiness of the students," wrote Derrick. That still appears to hold true. The discovery of intellectual power in the context of an intellectually rigorous faith looks far more enjoyable than the usual campus free-for-all. For what Thomas Aquinas College rejects is the easy relativism that Pope Benedict XVI has so roundly denounced. Assured of the existence of truth, the mind is freed to engage with the great conversation of the Western mind.

Thomas Aquinas College is a modern exemplar of a great tradition. Liberal education stretches back to the birth of our civlisation-a golden thread of intellectual freedom. It begins in 5th century Athens, as the education due to a free man. Faith and reason intertwined in the Catholic Church, carrying our civilisation forward after the fall of Rome. Now men spoke of universal freedom and therefore a universal education. Preserved in the Benedictine orders, transmitted by schoolmaster-priests, it was the Christian liberal educators who kept the life of the mind alive through centuries of uncertainty and civil strife.

It is extraordinary that the vital educational role of the Church is now so underappreciated. Only last year, suspicion of Catholic schools was common in the Press even as a survey demonstrated their above-average standards and their excellent work towards producing well-rounded future citizens.

Such excellence should come as no surprise. St. Thomas Aquinas, the doctor angelicus, is proof of the high value Catholicism has always placed upon reasoned enquiry into creation. Yet the sceptics like Richard Dawkins continue to sneer at Christianity as an intellectual vacancy. They misquote Tertullian as "I believe because it is absurd" and do not know St. Anselm of Canterbury's Credo ut intelligam. ("I believe in order to understand").

Recently, this teaching has been reaffirmed. Pope John Paul II published Fides et Ratio in 1998, which opens with a ringing endorsement: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

Only last year His Holiness Benedict XVI used his Regensburg address to say that "the encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance."

Even while Rome speaks, the ideal of a liberal education is almost lost from British discourse. Thirty years after Christopher Derrick's epiphany in Santa Paula, it seems little has changed at home. Instead, the exchange runs the other way. Two British students and one Irish citizen are currently enjoying the Californian sun, not the first to accept the 6000-mile journey as the price of an education no longer available at home.

Today, Thomas Aquinas College is more confident than ever. For 30 years, its graduates have gone out into the world and proven their ability to excel in all fields. One American alumnus runs a network of pre-schools in London. When Christopher Derrick visited, only six years after its founding, there were 33 students. Today, there are ten times as many, and a growing waiting list. For the last three years, the college has been in the top 10 conservative colleges in America.

"The human mind is ordered to truth," says college president, Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, who was a member of the teaching faculty at the time of Derrick's original visit. He notes the Vatican's recent emphasis on this teaching and adds: "If anything, the mission and character of Thomas Aquinas College is more relevant now than it was in 1977."

A liberal education is not exclusively a Catholic prerogative. Protestant and secular schools all do fine work in this great tradition-again, now largely in America. Yet it remains true that the Catholic Church has played the greatest role, and is most likely to be in the vanguard of any revival. To me, an Anglican, it seems tragic that Britain, once the last bulwark of liberal education, should choose to neglect its heritage.

Perhaps foolishly, I find myself inspired by the great unbuilt British college, the College of Light. In 1641 Jan Comenius was invited to London by the Long Parliament to establish the Collegium Lucis: the last moment when scientific thought and Christian faith might have united in a modern British institution. Civil war intervened, and the Royal Society was established instead, without Comenius's (admittedly heterodox) faith.

America, they say, is always a few decades ahead. That makes it high time for Britain to catch up with the principles of Thomas Aquinas College. Meanwhile, the Californians join Pope Benedict in his prayer on the recent feast of St. Thomas Aquinas: "Let us pray that Christians, especially those who work in an academic and cultural context, are able to express the reasonableness of their faith and witness to it in a dialogue inspired by love."

Marc Sidwell is a Research Fellow of the New Culture Forum and a freelance author. He writes articles on liberal education for the Social Affairs Unit and is currently editing a liberal education reader from Plato to the present day.

(This article first appeared in the May 2007 issue of The Catholic Herald of London.