This is great news from Catholic World Report, as one of the outstanding traditional Catholic colleges expands to the East Coast.
Since its founding in Southern California in 1971, Thomas Aquinas College has been offering a unique experience to students interested in an education in the great works of Western Civilization with a firm grounding in the Catholic faith. In many ways the school and its mission stand in direct opposition to prevailing trends in Catholic higher education that have pushed schools closer to a purely secular model of university life and further from the Catholic intellectual tradition.
It was recently announced that Thomas Aquinas College will be expanding its operations to a second campus, located in Northfield, Massachusetts. The school’s president, Dr. Michael McLean, spoke to CWR about Thomas Aquinas College’s distinctive approach to Catholic education, the acquisition of the new campus, and his vision for the future of the school in both California and New England.
CWR: Could you give me a brief overview of Thomas Aquinas College, and in particular what is unique about your approach to education?
Dr. Michael McLean: Thomas Aquinas College was founded in 1971 to undertake a mission of what we consider to be genuine Catholic liberal education, which involves requiring students to undertake a broad, comprehensive, and coherent program of liberal arts, including the study of mathematics, natural science, literature, philosophy, and theology, using exclusively the Great Books of Western Civilization. We conduct our classes as small seminar-style discussions, with 15-18 students, which requires the students to be actively engaged in their education and to participate in conversations which are designed to help them see what the fundamental issues and themes are of the works they’re reading.
The college is named for Thomas Aquinas because Aquinas is the Angelic Doctor of the Church, and our curriculum is set up so that the studies point toward and culminate in the study of theology, which is principally done through a careful study of parts of the Summa Theologiae in the junior and senior years.
We study philosophy for four years with our students, following the order of learning. The first year is devoted to the study of logic, the second year to the study of the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of the human person (or, the study of the soul), the third year to ethics and political philosophy, and the fourth year to metaphysics. And those studies are considered to be preparatory to the study of theology proper.
CWR: Thomas Aquinas College was selected from a pool of applicants interested in the new Massachusetts campus—tell me about that process. Were you looking into expanding and found this campus, or did the discovery of the campus lead into a discussion about expansion?
McLean: We’ve actually considered, off and on for a number of years, the possibility of an expansion of some sort. We deliberately limit our enrollment here in California to 102 freshmen each year, which results in a total enrollment of between 350 and 390 students, depending on attrition and how things go in any given year. That’s considered by our faculty to be the optimal and maximal enrollment for our program, because of the kind of community we’re trying to foster here. We want the students to know one another, we want the faculty to have a good and close relationship with the students, and we want a community where conversations go on not only inside the classroom, but outside as well, and where the students are able to develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships with one another.