As a champion of authentic Catholic education, Bl. John Paul II was both a guiding light and a friend to Thomas Aquinas College. “At a time of great confusion within Catholic higher education, Bl. John Paul II provided much-needed clarity and affirmed the mission of this college with the publication of his encyclicals Ex Corde Ecclesiae and Fides et Ratio,” says President Michael F. McLean. “On a more personal level, he honored us greatly by blessing the plans for our chapel in 2003.”
In gratitude for the late Holy Father’s life and leadership, Dr. McLean, Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors R. Scott Turicchi, and their wives traveled to Rome for John Paul’s May 1 beatification. While there, they also met with some 15 cardinals and other Church leaders.
“It was heartening to see how well regarded the College is within the Curia, both among those who have visited our campus and those who only know us from afar,” says Dr. McLean. “The prelates with whom we met all have a deep affection for Thomas Aquinas College, and they see our mission as being one with the Universal Church.”
In many respects, the beatification provided an ideal opportunity to fulfill a visit originally planned by Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, the College’s late president. Dr. Dillon had intended to travel to Rome in 2009, but after a stop en route for a conference in Ireland, where he died tragically in an automobile accident. “Tom had scheduled meetings with many of the same dignitaries we met on this visit,” says Dr. McLean. “It was a privilege to build on the relationships that he had worked so tirelessly to establish.”
Among those the McLeans and Turrichis visited was Rev. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., theologian of the papal household. “Fr. Giertych was very encouraging about our academic program, and we had a great talk about the proper relation between faith and philosophy,” recalls Dr. McLean. “He has graciously agreed to visit the campus in September and to be the keynote speaker at the College’s 40th Anniversary gala in Beverly Hills. We look forward to welcoming him then.” (For more information about the gala, see page 3.)
Other notable meetings included those with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Ennio Cardinal Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family; Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera and Francis Cardinal Arinze, current and emeritus Prefects of the Congregation for Divine Worship; and Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo and Edmund Casimir Cardinal Szoka, current and former presidents of the Governatorate of Vatican City State. “It was impressive that during Easter week and preparing for the beatification, these Vatican officials were so generous with their time,” says Mr. Turicchi. “We found their knowledge and love for the College, and their appreciation for the good that it is accomplishing in the world, to be a cause for renewal of our own energy and love for Thomas Aquinas College.”
“From meeting with these princes of the Church, to seeing the relics of St. Peter and the tomb of the beatified John Paul II, the trip was remarkable and blessed in so many ways,” says Dr. McLean. “Yet most memorable of all was the Beatification Mass itself.” The McLeans and the Turicchis were blessed to witness the event from a balcony directly above St. Peter’s Square. “We had a wonderful visit with Archbishop Harvey, Prefect of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, earlier in the week, at which he presented us with invitations to the Beatification Mass,” explains Dr. McLean. On the balcony they had the pleasure of seeing another friend of the College, the Hon. Frank Shakespeare, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and a member of the Honorary Dinner Committee for the College’s 40th Anniversary Gala.
“None of us will ever forget the Holy Father’s proclamation, ‘Beatus Iohannes Paulus Secundus!’, or the cheers that seemed to echo around the Eternal City,” recalls Dr. McLean. “We are delighted to see John Paul counted among the Church’s most honored holy men and women, and we ask for his continued intercession on behalf of Catholic higher education. Bl. John Paul II, pray for us!”