Thomas Aquinas College Continues Catholic ‘Renaissance’ with New Massachusetts Campus

The president of Thomas Aquinas College, a Newman Guiderecommended liberal arts college in Santa Paula, Calif., told The Cardinal Newman Society that the College’s new Massachusetts campus is evidence of “a renaissance for genuinely Catholic higher education.”

The College, which has earned top rankings for its rigorous Great Books program, announced yesterday that it will open a new campus in Northfield, Mass., in the fall of 2018.

It will be the first new Catholic campus offering a bachelor’s degree in 12 years, since the founding of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo. Every new Catholic college in the last 50 years has been firmly committed to faithful Catholic education, a hopeful response to the secularization of many older Catholic colleges in the U.S.

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) has accepted the gift of the former secondary school campus from the National Christian Foundation, a philanthropic organization tasked with finding an institution that would maintain and continue the school’s legacy of Christian education after it was purchased by Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  Hobby Lobby is the company that obtained an exemption to the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate in the 2014 Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

“To have this new campus to accommodate these young people is truly a gift,” TAC president Dr. Michael McLean told the Newman Society, “and I think it bespeaks a kind of renaissance for genuinely Catholic higher education.”

The new campus is the former site of Northfield Mount Hermon School, which was established in the 19th Century by evangelist and Biblical scholar Dwight Moody. The College will share a portion of the Northfield property with the Moody Center which will restore historic parts of the campus, operate a small museum and establish and maintain an archive of materials related to the evangelist’s life and work.

Located approximately 90 miles northwest of Boston, Northfield campus includes dormitory and classroom space sufficient for an eventual enrollment of 400 students, a library, a science hall, a large auditorium, a music building, a gymnasium with related athletic facilities, and a chapel which will be adapted for Catholic worship.  The new campus will provide a much-needed expansion for the well-respected college.

“Ours is not an easy program of studies, nor do we offer the typical ‘college experience,’” Dr. McLean said. “Yet, more and more students apply for admission each year, and our waiting lists have been growing.”

In fact, Dr. McLean noted in the statement that the California campus of the college has been at peak enrollment for several years and that the administration had been looking into possible opportunities to develop a second campus. The “extraordinary opportunity” offered by the National Christian Foundation (NCF) was unexpected, however.

“Never did we imagine we could acquire a campus so fully developed and so beautiful,” Dr. McLean said.

TAC’s sterling academic reputation caught the eye of the NCF. The Founder of the NCF Heartland’s Board of Directors, Emmitt Mitchell, said that TAC was selected because of its “commitment to academic excellence,” “strong leadership” and “financial strength.”

The new campus will be governed in the same manner as the original campus under the guidance of TAC’s founding document, the Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education. Enrollment will be kept low to foster “an intimate community of learners”; just 36 freshmen will be accepted in each of the first four years. Eventually the student body will increase to a maximum of 350-400 students. Experienced tutors will help connect the two campuses, implementing the same curriculum and pedagogy used at the California campus and bringing their expertise to the academic program, the residential life, and the spiritual life of the new community.

Dr. McLean told the Newman Society he is confident that with these elements in place, “we will attract students to our Northfield campus of the same high caliber as we have here in California, young people willing to give themselves wholly to our program of Catholic liberal education.”

Despite not opening its doors to students until the fall semester of 2018, the Northfield branch campus has already received the support of local Springfield, Mass., Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, who expressed his “full support for this endeavor” and assured Dr. McLean that he will do “whatever I can to help you in establishing the school here to form faithful witnesses to Christ in our Catholic faith.”

“We are deeply grateful to God and to the National Christian Foundation for making it possible for us to make this education more widely available, and to provide even more young people with the academic, moral, and spiritual formation they need to serve the Church and our country,” Dr. McLean told the Newman Society.

Founded in 1971, TAC was the first in a wave of new Catholic colleges born from the crisis of Catholic identity in American Catholic higher education. TAC’s success has encouraged the emergence of other faithful Catholic colleges and serves as a prime example of faithful Catholic education done right.

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