On January 28, 2012 — the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas — Thomas Aquinas College held a celebration on its campus to mark its 40th anniversary. The event began with a Mass in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, with Rev. Paul Raftery, O.P., serving as the principal celebrant and homilist, joined at the altar by fellow chaplains Rev. Cornelius Buckley, S.J., and Rev. Hildebrand Garceau, O.Praem ('79). Following the Mass, members of the faculty, the Board of Governors, and the Board of Regents gathered for a reception in St. Bernardine of Siena Library. The celebration then continued with an all-school dinner in St. Joseph Commons featuring a distinguished guest speaker with deep ties to the College, the Hon. J. Leon Holmes .
Judge Holmes has served as a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas since July 19, 2004, and Chief Judge since 2005. He received his bachelor of arts from Arkansas State University in 1973, his master’s from Northern Illinois University in 1976, and his doctorate from Duke University in 1980. In 1982, he earned a juris doctor from the University of Arkansas, graduating first in his class.
From 1983 until July 2004 Judge Holmes practiced law privately, except for a two-year break from 1990 to 1992 — during which time he served as a member of the teaching faculty at Thomas Aquinas College. Although he soon returned to the practice of law, Judge Holmes’ relationship with the College continued. He and his wife, Susan, have five children, two of whom — Jeremy (’99) and Joseph (’09) — are graduates.
When President George W. Bush first nominated Judge Holmes to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 2003, the appointment aroused some controversy. There was no objection to Judge Holmes’ excellent credentials or legal record, but critics protested because he was a practicing Catholic and the former president of Arkansas Right to Life. Nonetheless Judge Holmes eventually won confirmation in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate — nearly 18 months after his nomination — after receiving the endorsement of his state’s two Democratic senators, who testified to his legal acumen and integrity.
“I remember Leon well as a colleague and as a parent, and he remains a good friend,” said President Michael F. McLean. “I and many of us at the College were sorry to see him leave teaching, but we all had the utmost confidence that he would go on to do good work in the legal profession and, indeed, he has. We are delighted and honored that now, as a federal judge, he and his wife, Susan, have returned to campus to help us mark our 40th anniversary.”
The dinner concluded with remarks from Dr. McLean , after which students danced into the late hours of evening to the music of the Tim Buley Swing Band. “It was a great way for those of us on campus to celebrate 40 years,” said Dr. McLean, “but the celebration is not over yet. We now look forward to celebrations with our alumni on both coasts.”