A senior tutor at Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Thomas Kaiser (’75) delivered the following address at the reception after the funeral for the College’s founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, on October 25, 2013. (See video)
It is my honor and privilege to speak on behalf of the alumni of Thomas Aquinas College. I know my words will not do justice to the all the things we as alumni have received from our founding President, Dr. Ronald McArthur.
I still have a vivid recollection of my first meeting with Dr. McArthur. I had heard a talk by Dr. Neumayr in Bakersfield the spring before the College opened its doors. I was very impressed by Dr. Neumayr and by what he had to say about true Catholic liberal education. I decided to visit the campus and learn more about the program. Dr. Neumayr met me in the parking lot in front of the Novitiate, where the smaller chapel and cafeteria were located. He showed me around and then took me over to the men’s dormitory on the other side of the campus. This building had dorm rooms on the top two floors, the main chapel, offices, and classrooms on the first floor.
As we walked across the lawn in front of the building, I heard a voice booming from inside the building. Dr. Neumayr told me that it was the voice of Dr. McArthur. He said, “He must be on the phone talking long distance. The further away the call, the louder he talks.” Moments later Dr. McArthur came out to greet me. His stature and personality matched the voice I heard.
Dr. McArthur said that he indeed was talking long distance to a man from New York who had called to tell him he was crazy for starting a college with such a program. Dr. McArthur just laughed and said that he gets those kinds of calls all the time. The confidence that Dr. McArthur displayed about the value of the program he was starting gave me the confidence I needed to commit myself to this new college. He made it clear to me that his confidence did not come from the fact that it was his idea; what he was proposing was a tried and true form of education that had been the tradition in the Catholic Church since the Middle Ages. His confidence came from the teaching Church.
I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for Dr. McArthur I may not have stayed in the program. As students, most of us go through periods of doubt about whether all the hard work is really worth it. The fledgling program and student life on campus had their hitches and glitches. But through all of this Dr. McArthur was like a father to us. He took a personal interest in each one of us. He made it clear how much he appreciated the fact that we came to the College.
Dr. McArthur told us that the founders had their doubts about whether anyone would want to come to the College. I remember how he loved to watch us play sports and he would jokingly ask why we came to the College when we could have played intercollegiate sports somewhere else. He took his meals with us and talked to us about the importance of what we were learning in class. He kept his eye on the morale of the students and gave pep talks to the student body when they were needed. His love and concern for us kept us going.
I was fortunate to have Dr. McArthur as a tutor all four years. He was truly inspirational. His enthusiasm and love for what we were learning were contagious, although we may not have demonstrated it as outwardly as he did by pounding the table, whacking people on the back, etc.
It was clear that his pleasure in teaching came from seeing his students learn. My freshman year I had him for mathematics and philosophy. I recall how excited Ron would get when we did well on a difficult Euclid demonstration. It gave him confidence that we would be able to do the more difficult mathematical parts of the program, particularly Newton. Several times after class he would tell us what a great mathematician Newton was, how monumental his Principia was, and how we should look forward to studying him junior year. The same was true in philosophy. The study of logic can be rather dry, but Ron kept us motivated by telling us how important the particular things we learned were for studying the higher things in philosophy and theology.
As my classmate Rick Cross put it, “Ron was not just a tutor, he was a coach.” He enthusiastically affirmed us when we got things right, he gave us the motivation to work hard, and he kept us aimed in the right direction.
Ron had a sense of humor to match his stature. I remember sitting with him on the steps of the men’s dorm while he told me some of his favorite jokes. They were mostly jokes about husbands and wives. I must admit that I didn’t think they were quite as funny as he did. He would laugh long and hard after each joke and rub his hands together in that characteristic manner. To give you an idea of what kind of humor he appreciated, during my sophomore year we were discussing the Poetics of Aristotle in seminar, and a question about the definition of comedy came up. Aristotle says that it is a species of the ridiculous. I said that it can’t be too ridiculous, though, Lucille Ball in I love Lucy is too ridiculous to be funny. There was a pause with no comment from my classmates, so I looked at Ron and he said with a straight face, “I laugh all the time.”
There were many times when Ron had the sense of humor and humility to be the subject of his own jokes. On one occasion he told me how smart Mark Berquist was and how Mark understood Aristotle and St. Thomas more deeply than he did. Ron’s own doctoral dissertation was on the distinction between universal in predication and universal in causation. He said that he gave Mark a copy to see what he thought of it. Mark read it and, according to Ron, Mark said, “It’s not too bad; it’s better than I was expecting.” Ron thought that was hilarious.
One of Ron’s favorite stories was about the time he was in a classroom of a temporary building waiting for his students to arrive. There was a window in the door of the classroom, and as he was looking out to see if any more of his students were coming, he saw Peter DeLuca, Jack Neumayr, and Mark Berquist walking together toward the building. He called his student to look through the window and told them, “You see those three guys coming down the path? I know more than all three of them put together!” This was followed by a roar of laughter from Ron.
There was another occasion in which I thought Ron’s humility was manifest. After Ron had stepped down as president of the College, he was asked to be the Commencement Speaker for the Class of 1996. In the course of his remarks, and speaking of himself, he quoted the reference that John the Baptist made to Christ, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I was profoundly moved by that.
Two things about Dr. McArthur were clear to all of his students: his love of country and love of the Church. He had tremendous respect for the wisdom of the founding fathers of this country, for the Declaration of Independence and for the Constitution. Yet he deplored the direction in which this country was headed. I was a student when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. He let us know that the decisions the legislatures and courts had made about marriage and about abortion would eventually lead to the downfall of this country. We watched together as the moral rectitude of our country quickly declined. His only surprise was that it did not happen more swiftly. He was amazed at the resilience of our society. But he knew that it couldn’t keep going in the same direction. I am only glad that he did not have to witness anything worse than what we are seeing today.
Of more concern to Dr. McArthur, however, was what happened to the Church after Vatican II. Catholic schools, colleges, and universities claimed autonomy from the teaching authority of the Church. Seminaries corrupted the faith of the young men who entered them. The number of priestly and religious vocations plummeted. It was to stem this tide that Dr. McArthur and the other founders started Thomas Aquinas College, and it was for this same reason that many of us came to the College as students.
“Ideas have consequences,” he would remind us. There was a great need for young men and women to be educated according to the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, more specifically, as the Church most strongly recommends, the wisdom of St. Thomas and the tradition on which his philosophy and theology are based. What better way to stem the tide of errors of our time than to teach students the truths that can be known by natural reason and those that have been revealed by God through His Church, to teach students about the compatibility of faith and reason? Students need to be aware of errors ancient and modern, to know where the mistakes are made, why they are made, and how to correct them.
Dr. McArthur’s hope was that, armed with the faith, with the beginnings of wisdom in natural and Divine things, and a love for God and His Church, our graduates would be a force for the good in society. I dare say this is why most of us came to the College; we wanted this education so that we could be a leaven to society and defend the Church. And this was so no matter what walk of life we chose: whether it was in the Church as a member of the clergy or a religious order, or in academia, or any other walk of life.
Ron also had a tremendous love for the liturgy. He saw the importance of liturgical practice in the life of faith; lex orandi, lex credendi, as it is said in Latin. Ron resisted the experimentations of the liturgists. We stayed with the old rite as long as the Archdiocese would allow us. Ron and the other founders thought it was doubtful that the old rite had been abrogated, but they willingly submitted to the authority of our auxiliary bishop. (It turns out that they were correct; Pope Benedict affirmed that the old rite had not been abrogated.) Ron made sure that we used the options that kept our liturgy as traditional as possible. There is no doubt in my mind that our liturgical practices have fostered the faith and devotion of our students and is one of the primary reasons we have had so many vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Dr. McArthur, we thank you for founding Thomas Aquinas College, for dedicating most of your life to seeing that it prospered. We thank you for your example as a man who loved Christ and His church above all things, for your example as a lover of wisdom. We thank you for being our teacher and our coach, our father and our friend. May God reward you abundantly for all you have done for us.
Posted: October 29, 2013
“I was moved and edified by your remarkable fidelity to St. Thomas Aquinas. Your academic program proposes an original way of training men and women capable of reading, thinking and interpreting tradition correctly.”
– Marc Cardinal Ouellet
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops