Helping to Restore Catholic Liberal Education
Mary and Bill McInerney of Oakland, Calif., first started dating when the two were attending separate Bay Area Catholic colleges in the late 1940s. Introduced to him by her cousin, Mary enjoyed Bill’s great sense of humor. She was delighted when he was elected as his college’s student body president, in no small part because as a perk of office, he was invited to social events at neighboring Catholic campuses — and so was she, as his date. The couple remembers Saturday-night dances followed by late-night hamburgers and milkshakes, then meeting up again the next morning for Sunday Mass.
“They were Catholic colleges, we were Catholic kids, and our family and friends were Catholic. It was wonderful,” recalls Mrs. McInerney. “The faith that our parents had handed on to us was also given to us in the colleges. It was still there.”
Hoping to re-create the joyful, faith-filled experience of their own undergraduate days, for nearly 40 years the McInerneys have been members of the President’s Council — Thomas Aquinas College’s financial backbone, consisting of hundreds of loyal benefactors who contribute $1,000 or more annually to the College’s financial aid fund. In the College, Mr. and Mrs. McInerney see truly Catholic, authentically liberal education at its best. “This is the way a Catholic college should really be conducted,” Mr. McInerney says.
The McInerneys first learned of Thomas Aquinas College in the late 1960s through their friend John Schaeffer, a founding member of the Board of Governors. “When we were at John and Jane’s house, they would almost invariably have someone over from the College,” Mr. McInerney remembers. “John’s enthusiasm about the College was appealing to us, and as a consequence we became more involved.”
Nonetheless, Mr. McInerney found himself “in a very difficult position.” As former president of his own college’s alumni association, his loyalties were increasingly split between the school he had attended and the nascent one he was coming to admire. Yet this tension dissipated as his alma mater sadly went the way of so many Catholic institutions in the 1960s and 1970s, gradually shirking its fidelity to the Magisterium and teaching of the Catholic faith.
“It wasn’t all in one fell swoop, but it was one thing after another,” Mr. McInerney recalls. “I became slowly disenchanted.” Seeing the schools they had loved fade “was very painful,” says Mrs. McInerney, but the pain was eased by the establishment of a new college that they could support without reservation, not out of blind loyalty, but out of a sincere belief in its mission. As time went on, “We became more attached to Thomas Aquinas College,” says Mr. McInerney, and a decades-long friendship took root.
Over the years, the McInerneys have paid close attention as the College has grown, both in size and in reputation, while remaining true to its founding ideals. “It’s a completely different atmosphere at Thomas Aquinas College,” says Mr. McInerney, “in the way students conduct themselves, in the way they study, in the fact that it’s truly a Catholic school.” The entirety of the College is ordered to the Faith, his wife adds. “The symmetry and the serenity of the campus is beautiful. You feel like everything there is headed toward the Catholicity of the College.”
Above all, though, the McInerneys have admired the students and graduates they have met on their regular trips to campus. In 2009, they came for the dedication of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel and enjoyed seeing “all the alumni — fathers and mothers of four, and five, and six children, little babies — don’t tell me that doesn’t absolutely impress a grandmother!” says Mrs. McInerney. “To see all these wonderful families, you know there’s hope for our church; there’s hope for our country.”
Themselves the parents of 4 and the grandparents of 15 (who, the McInerneys gratefully note, all live within 10 miles of their home), they still find time for extensive charitable endeavors. An attorney, Bill has been president of the Hanna Boys Center and St. Anne’s Little Sisters of the Poor, and currently he is president of the Malta Free Clinic on the campus of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Mary has been active in St. Teresa’s Parish and School, president of the St. Ignatius Mothers Club, board member of Bellarmine High School, and vice president and chairman of the Defense of the Faith Committee for the Western Association of the Order of Malta.
In addition to their membership in the President’s Council, they are members of Legatus, and with the Order of Malta, have brought malades on 21 pilgrimages to Lourdes. Most summers, they also participate in one of the College’s annual Great Books Seminar Weekends, during which President’s Council members study and discuss foundational works of Western civilization alongside members of the teaching faculty.
“Mary and Bill McInerney are amazing in their generosity to the students of Thomas Aquinas College,” says Robert Bagdazian, the College’s director of development. “For 40 years, they have been devoted President’s Council members. We could not ask for better friends.”
“If you come to the College with any spark of faith at all, it’s fanned into flames. That’s certainly what happened to me.”
– Dr. Jean Rioux (’82)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Benedictine College