SANTA PAULA, Calif.—For two weeks in late July and early August, a record 120 high school students from around the country and abroad participated in Thomas Aquinas College's 9th annual Great Books program on the college's 132-acre campus at the entrance to the Los Padres National Forest. Under the direction of 14 regular faculty members (tutors), these rising high school seniors had a taste of the unique curriculum and pedagogy that the 4-year liberal arts school offers to its students.
Said Director of Admission, Jon Daly, "This year, we had a record number of applications for our summer program, so we thought we would experiment with taking on an extra 18 participants. That was easy enough. The hard part was saying "no" to the many others left on the waiting list."
In small groups of no more than 18 and with the guidance of their tutors, participants read and discussed works by Plato, Sophocles, Euclid, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Shakespeare and St. Thomas Aquinas, considering questions such as: What is the nature of instinct in animals? What does Euclid's definition of a line mean? What was Oedipus' tragic flaw? Can we prove by reason that God exists? How is it that faith is compatible with reason?
In between study and classes, they also experienced some of the sights and sounds of Southern California, visiting the Getty Museum and scenic Santa Barbara, and attending an evening musical under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. A trip to a Pacific Ocean beach, hiking in the nearby national forest, and frequent ultimate Frisbee matches rounded out the program's recreational offerings.
Mass was offered daily in the College chapel by the program's chaplain, Rev. Andrew Koch, O.S.B., who was also available for confessions and spiritual direction throughout the two-week session. A graduate of the Class of 1985, Fr. Andrew is a member of the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, Italy, the home of St. Benedict himself.
Commenting on the program's success, Daly said, "It's wonderful to observe these young people from widely varied backgrounds come together for two weeks, read and discuss some of the greatest works in a variety of disciplines, and build solid friendships. If the past is any indication, we can expect about 40% of them to return to the campus as freshmen in the fall of 2007."