“There have been so many times in the last 25 years that I have wished I could take some of my friends, or people I know who would have a kinship for this education, and bring them down to campus,” says Member of the Board of Governors Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly. But living more than 1,000 miles away in Tacoma, Wash., “that has been impossible.”
So Mrs. Connelly decided to do the next best thing: If she could not bring her friends and acquaintances to the College, she would bring the College to them. On March 31, 2011, she and her husband, Jack, hosted a reception for Thomas Aquinas College — complete with three simultaneous seminars led by members of the faculty — at their lovely Puget Sound home. Some 70 educators, priests, doctors, business leaders, and others from throughout the Pacific Northwest attended.
“It was just this incredible experience of bringing what’s happening at the College to this community, and there was such a wonderfully positive response,” says Mrs. Connelly. Adds President Michael F. McLean, “We could not be more pleased with how the event turned out. We intend to offer more like it throughout the country in the future.”
Sampling the Discussion Method
On a cool Thursday evening, the event began with an hour for introductions and hors d’oeuvres, followed by the seminars, at which attendees got a small taste of Thomas Aquinas College’s unique curriculum and pedagogy. Dr. McLean and fellow faculty members Dr. Paul O’Reilly and Mr. Tom Susanka led the discussions, modeled after the Socratic dialogues of the College’s classrooms.
For the reading Dr. McLean and Mrs. Connelly selected “The Enduring Chill,” a short story by Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor that all Thomas Aquinas College students read as part of their Senior Seminar. “It is a great introduction to Flannery O’Connor’s fiction for Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” says Dr. McLean. “It points to her preoccupation with Catholic themes and to the activities of the Holy Spirit in the world,” he explains, noting that Miss O’Connor once wrote that “All of reality is the potential kingdom of Christ, and the face of the earth is waiting to be renewed by His Spirit.”
After the seminars, Dr. McLean, Matthew Zepeda (’85), and Mrs. Connelly’s mother, Yvonne Andersen, spoke to the group about the College, its Catholic identity, and its unique academic program. “It was a very effective way to spread the word about what we do here,” says Dr. McLean, who over the course of his visit to the area also met with families of prospective students and arranged to record an interview with a Washington-based national radio broadcast, Sound Insight Radio.
Several attendees who had previously been unfamiliar with the College expressed interest in encouraging their high school age children to apply, and others inquired about contributing to the College financially.
Beyond its benefits to the College, Mrs. Connelly sees the prospect of holding more such seminars off campus as having a profound “ripple effect” on the communities that host them. “The educational experience offered at Thomas Aquinas College is a great gift even on a small scale,” she says, noting that some of the Tacoma attendees are considering forming a Flannery O’Connor book club. “It was a real gift to our community.”
At present, the College hosts two seminar weekends each summer which are open exclusively to members of the President’s Council. In addition, Founding President Ronald P. McArthur puts on an annual seminar conference about the social teachings of the Church. But given the success of the Tacoma seminars, College officials seek to arrange more such events “on the road” for faraway friends, both old and new.
“There is no better way to show people what we do here than to let them experience it for themselves,” says President McLean. “We are grateful to the Connellys for their great generosity in putting on this event, as well as for their ingenuity in coming up with the idea. We look forward to doing it again — soon!”
“In our classroom discussions, we are not only given free rein to speak, but free rein to think. No question is off the table. Anything that can bring a more full understanding of the truth is welcomed and encouraged.”
– Christopher Sebastian (’13)