Address from the 40th Anniversary Celebration for Students and Faculty
by Hon. J. Leon Holmes
United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas
Thomas Aquinas College
January 28, 2012
Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas
My family and I came here 22 years ago as new Catholics, having been received into the Church the year before. The two greatest influences on our vision of what Catholic life should be have been the Missionaries of Charity and the Thomas Aquinas College community.
I did not have a liberal education; did not know Aristotle or St. Thomas; did not know Euclid, or any ancient or modern mathematics; did not know the ancient or modern astronomers; did not know Homer, Virgil, or Dante; did not know Latin. I could go on, but if I tried to state comprehensively the things I did not and do not know, the list would begin to look something like the actual infinite, and it would be irresponsible of me to provoke a mathematical dispute at TAC while there are knives within reach.
We were here two years, and I tried to listen to the conversations and learn what I could. Whatever I could pick up, I have carried with me and tried to use as best I can in my work. Now, if the prosecutor says, “Your honor, this defendant is a bellicose bully of unprecedented belligerency,” I can say, “Is that per se or per accidens?”
I will have an opening question for us to address. Before we take up that opening question, however, we should pause and reflect on how remarkable it is that we are here celebrating the 40th anniversary of Thomas Aquinas College. Think back to the late ’60s and early ’70s when the founders set out to found this college and imagine how slim their chances of success must have seemed. They wanted to start a Catholic college that would not be sponsored or operated by a diocese or a religious order. They wanted to found it in Southern California; require the students to take four years of mandatory classes, with no electives, no majors and no minors; they would require four years of reading mainly old books by men long since dead; the students would be required to follow a dress code; there would be no television in the student center or the dormitories; the college would have no fraternities or sororities; and the college would have no formal intercollegiate athletic program. The odds of success would have seemed slim to none. Yet, here we are, in the midst of the beautiful campus, celebrating the 40th anniversary of a college that has been nationally recognized as among the best. It is hard, especially for outsiders, to explain the success of the college. Scientists are divided on whether to attribute the success of the College to global warming or the El Nino effect.
But that is not the question we will take up tonight. Our question will be a simpler one.
Our opening question is taken from the 19th chapter of the Book of I Kings. You all know the story. Elijah defeats and slays the prophets of Baal, and by doing so ends a three-year drought. Jezebel sends word to Elijah, “so may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” It is the ancient mode of trash talk. But Elijah knows that Jezebel not only can talk the trash talk, she also can walk the trash walk, so he flees 40 days and nights to Horeb, the mount of God, where he hides in a cave. The word of the Lord comes to him and says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then the wind, the earthquake, and the fire come, but the Lord is not in any of them. Finally, there is a still small voice, and Elijah wraps his face and stands outside the cave. And behold, there comes a voice to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Let’s take that as our opening question, “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College?”
The immediate answer is obvious: we are reading and discussing great books, with a special emphasis on the works of St. Thomas. And of course, that’s true. It is an impeccable description of what happens here: we read and discuss great books, with a special emphasis on St. Thomas. But you all know what would happen if we made this the opening question in a class and someone proposed that as the initial answer. Someone else would ask, does that really answer the question? In the context from which our question is taken, it seems that the question is asking not so much for a description as an explanation. Elijah did not answer the question by describing what he was doing — hiding in a cave. Instead, he answered by offering an explanation of what he was doing — he stated why he was hiding in a cave. So our first answer — we are reading and discussing great books, with an emphasis on St. Thomas — while true, is inadequate. It does not really answer the question.
So, let’s ask the question again and offer an answer that addresses the question of why. “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College.” Let’s propose this answer: “We are preparing young people to go out and be an influence for good in the Church and in the world.” That is an answer that addresses the question of why. “Why do we read and discuss great books, with a special emphasis on St. Thomas?” “To prepare young people to go out and be an influence for good in the Church and the world.” It is also an answer that can be supported by a great deal of evidence. In class, if we were answering the opening question that I have asked here, and if we were discussing this as the proposed answer — “We are preparing young people to go out and be an influence for good in the Church and the world” — we would need to support that answer with evidence. And I think it is fitting, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the College, that we take note of some of the evidence that the alumni of the College have had and are having an influence for good in the Church and the world.
The starting point, certainly, is the number of alumni who have answered a call to the priesthood or to religious life. I think you all know that at least 52 young men who are alumni of the College have been ordained to the priesthood. That is an astonishing number when you consider the size of this college and the fact that the Church during these past 40 years has experienced a crisis due to the dearth of vocations to the priesthood. I know of no statistics by which we could compare the College’s record of producing vocations to the priesthood to that of other Catholic colleges and universities, but I would be surprised if during that time any college or university in the world has produced a comparable number of priests for the Church.
In the next few months, that number will arise at least to 53. Next June, Joseph Bolin, who graduated from the College in 2001, will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Vienna, Austria.
These numbers, 52 going on 53, do not include the alumni of the College who have become religious brothers or sisters. I have not seen that number in the literature about the College, but counting from the alumni directory, it appears to be around 40. If my count is correct, this tiny College has produced more than 90 vocations to the priesthood or religious life in the first 40 years of its existence. It is a remarkable number.
But numbers do not tell the whole story. I know a number of these priests, monks, and nuns, and they really are terrific. They are holy men and women who are strong in the Faith and filled with love. I am going to mention two and I pick these two because they have ministered in Little Rock where Susan and I have had the chance to see them work and to get to know them as persons.
One of them is Fr. Robert Novokowsky, who served as pastor of the Latin Mass community in Little Rock for two years. Fr. Novokowsky was a student here when I was a tutor, but the Lord smiled upon him and I never had him in class. His preaching is substantive, meaningful, thoughtful, no doubt due in part to the education he received here. But Fr. Novokowsky is more than a good preacher; he is an excellent pastor. He brought healing, where there had been division, between the Latin Mass community and the larger Church. His ministry extended beyond the Latin Mass community. He became the spiritual director for the Lay Missionaries of Charity, none of whom were members of his congregation; and he worked actively with 40 Days for Life, praying and working with persons not of his flock. We know and are friends with many priests. Fr. Novokowsky is among the best.
The other person I want to mention is Sr. Marcella of the Missionaries of Charity, Class of 1986. I think she was known here as Maggie Isaacson. For several years, until recently, Sr. Marcella was a regional superior for the Missionaries of Charity, with responsibility for all of the M.C.s in the central part of the United States, from the upper Midwest to the deep South, including a house in Little Rock. Sr. Marcella exemplifies what a nun should be — holy, devout, self-sacrificing, ever faithful to her vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and dedicated service to the poorest of the poor. And she is a very wise person, filled with the kind of practical wisdom needed to shepherd a scattered flock of nuns, most of whom are from India, serving in the slums of major cities in the United States, facing problems that we cannot begin to describe tonight. Sr. Marcella is an immeasurable asset to the Missionaries of Charity. I will not be surprised if, some day, she is elected to be Superior General of the order.
Fr. Novokowsky and Sr. Marcella will be embarrassed when they learn that I have praised them as I have in this public place. They are both humble. But I have not spoken of them for the purpose of singling them out and certainly not to embarrass them. They happen to be the two whose orders have sent them to Little Rock, and I present them to you not as extraordinary but as representative of the alumni of the College who have answered a call to the priesthood or religious life. Thomas Aquinas College is justifiably proud of its alumni who have answered that call.
In making the case that alumni of the College have had and are having an influence for good in the Church and the world, we have begun with the alumni who have become priests, religious brothers, and religious sisters. But that is only part of the story. This is a place of learning, of learning for its own sake, dedicated to a great teacher, the Angelic Doctor. It is no surprise that a good number of alumni have become scholars and teachers in philosophy, in theology, in universities, in colleges, in secondary schools, and elsewhere, throughout the world. I do not have a count. I know that it is a significant number. I can only mention a few.
Two Americans have received the Pontifical Award given every four years by the Pontifical Academies of Theology and St. Thomas Aquinas for excellence in a doctoral dissertation. Both of them were graduates of Thomas Aquinas College — Pia de Solenni, Class of ’93 and John Mortensen, Class of ’97.
I should mention here Michael Waldstein, Class of ’77, who is one of the preeminent Catholic theologians in the world. He is now a professor at Ave Maria University. He was for several years President of the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria. I came to know Dr. Waldstein when my son, Jeremy, studied at ITI after graduating from TAC. Dr. Waldstein is an outstanding theologian and teacher, and he is a tremendous influence for good in the Church.
I will mention two more college professors:
First, Dr. Jean Rioux, Class of ’82, chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Benedictine College in Kansas. I met Dr. Rioux when I took my daughter, Hannah, to visit Benedictine. She later attended there and Dr. Rioux was her academic advisor. She says that the students at Benedictine universally regard him as “amazing.”
The other professor I want to mention is Dr. Joseph Almeida, Class of 1981, professor of classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Two of my children attended Steubenville, and I have visited there many times. I know from my own personal experience and observation that Dr. Almeida is a great teacher.
I could mention many more alumni who have become excellent scholars and teachers, including several in this room, but I need to move on. If I have not mentioned someone whom you think I should mention, blame it on Dr. McLean, who gave me a strict time limit.
But before I leave the world of education I need to mention one person who is not a college professor and does not have a Ph.D. When the Lord himself descends from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God; when the course of this old world is ended and time is no more, it may be that the graduate of this college who will have touched the most lives and had the greatest influence for good is Laura Berquist. You all know Laura and know what she has done, so I do not need to tell you. You know that she has written the best book ever on providing a classical education in a home school; and you know that her school, Mother of Divine Grace, has brought a Catholic, classical education into thousands of homes, improving the lives of thousands of children.
We could talk about the alumni of the College who have gone into medicine, law, business, journalism, and other professions, but I don’t think we need to do that to make the case that alumni of the College have had and are having an influence for good in the Church and the world. I do want to say a word, however, about what I think may be the greatest influence for good wrought by alumni of Thomas Aquinas College. And that is in the family. Commenting on the number of young men and women who come to the College and find someone to marry, Peter DeLuca once said to me, “we intended to start a school, and we have founded a people.”
I have many friends who are alumni of this College. I have been in a good many their homes, including several who are in this room. What a great group of families they are! We live in a time when so many families are broken, so many are dysfunctional, and when so many children do not even have a real family. I am not naive — I know that there is some level of dysfunction in every family — mine, yours, everyone’s — and I know that having a degree from Thomas Aquinas College guarantees no immunity from sin and affliction. That being said, I have not seen a finer group of families than the families of the alumni of this College. By and large they are an outstanding group, loving husbands and wives and excellent fathers and mothers, with children sparkling with intelligence and a zest for life.
If you will bear with me, I will make mention of one of those families by name. In the 1991-92 school year here at the College, I had Andrew Emrich in junior seminar and Shandra Jaloway in freshman lab. Both of them, I am pleased to say, have overcome the disability of having had me for a tutor. They went their separate ways after leaving the College but later reconnected. They have been married now for 15 years, and I have been to their home many times. Andrew worked in Washington, D.C., for a United States senator and in the Bush Administration Justice Department. He is now a prominent lawyer in his home state of Wyoming, a partner in a major law firm. He serves on the Republican Central Committee in Laramie County. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus. He serves on the Board of Directors of Wyoming Catholic College. Andrew and Shandra have five boys, all home-schooled. When they moved to Cheyenne, there was no Catholic home-school group, so Shandra founded one. Their boys are wholesome, strong, bright, devout, and good. Andrew and Shandra are giving them a wonderful education; and they are bringing them up in the faith. I do not know whether any of those boys will attend Thomas Aquinas College, but I can tell you that their lives are being influenced for good by the fact that their parents studied here. The Church in Wyoming is being influenced for good by the fact that Andrew and Shandra studied here. And the community in Wyoming is being influenced for good by the fact that Andrew and Shandra studied here.
My purpose is not to single out the Emrichs, even though I count them among my dearest and most beloved friends. My purpose is to paint a picture of one family of alumni, and the influence they are having, so that we can with our imaginations begin to see the influence of Thomas Aquinas College spread through the world quietly, unobtrusively, one family at a time. In the shortest of his parables, the Lord compared the kingdom of God to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal until all was leavened. I am trying to say that the most important, most enduring influence for good emerging from this College is not the something that will make the headlines or be recorded in history books; instead, it is in the families of alumni as they make their homes, raise their children, serve in the Church and work in the community, almost hidden, having an influence like leaven in a loaf.
I looked in the 2010-2011 alumni directory and counted the places where alumni live. I often say that if I were good at math I would not have become a lawyer, so take my math with a grain of salt. I counted 50 States, 5 provinces of Canada, and somewhere around 20 foreign countries, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, as places where alumni of this College live.
So, have we answered my opening question, “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College?” I think we have made the case that alumni go forth from Thomas Aquinas College and become an influence for good in the Church and the world. We have shown that alumni of this College have answered calls to the priesthood and religious life in remarkable numbers and they serve the Church in such a manner that the College can be proud of them. We have shown that alumni of the College have become scholars and teachers and have touched the lives of young people from kindergarten through graduate school. We have noted that a great many families have arisen from this campus and that they are really solid, good, faithful families who are raising and educating beautiful children and serving the Lord in the Church and the community.
Even so, there is an objection. The objection is not that anything we have said is false. Accepting what we have said as true, nevertheless, the objection is that we still have not answered the question, “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College?” The objection to our first answer is that it was merely a description of the activity here, but the question called for an explanation, which requires an account that addresses purpose. The answer that we proposed — Thomas Aquinas College is preparing young people to go out and be an influence for good in the Church and the world — could be a statement of purpose. I think you would find something like that as the statement of purpose in the bulletins and on the websites of a good many colleges and universities.
But if you go to the founding documents of Thomas Aquinas College, that is not what you will find. You will not find a statement that we want to found a college for the purpose of generating vocations to the priesthood and religious life. You will not find a statement that we want to found a college that will produce teachers who will influence students from kindergarten to graduate school. You will not find a statement that we want to found a college that will be a Catholic matchmaking service. You will not find a statement that we want to graduate students who make good parents. When I was here, I participated in a number of faculty meetings. I do not recall one in which we discussed how to generate vocations, teachers or parents. I do not recall one in which we discussed how to make sure that our alumni had an influence for good. I doubt that in 40 years the faculty has ever had a discussion of how to generate vocations, teachers, good parents, or the like.
The influence of the alumni for good — the vocations, the scholars and teachers, the many good parents, and the like — is in some measure an effect of what Thomas Aquinas College is doing; but it is not an explanation of what Thomas Aquinas College is doing.
So, let’s return to our opening question, “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College?” Let’s propose the following answer. “We are helping students attain truth, in some measure, in a community of love.”
Why do we read great books? Because we want to get attain truth and we think these books can help us do that. Why do we have a special emphasis on St. Thomas? Because we believe that he is a reliable guide, and by following him we may come to truth.
In this formulation, we have said that Thomas Aquinas College is helping students attain truth in some measure in recognition of what the presidents of the College and others have said many times, that the education offered here is a beginning, a commencement and not a consummation. The College aims to offer, claims to offer, and I would say does offer students a good beginning in coming to know the truth.
We have said that Thomas Aquinas College is helping students attain truth because, ultimately, attaining truth is something that each person must do for himself; it is not something that a teacher can do for a student.
Though attaining truth is something that each student must do for himself, it is not something that a student does by himself. The design of the program is not only for the tutors to help students but also, and perhaps more importantly, for the students to help each other attain truth. That is the purpose of the discussion method that is one of the hallmarks of the program here — for students to help each other come to the truth. And students helping one another attain truth is expected to continue outside the class, in the dining hall and in the dormitories, as the conversations continue. The aim of the College is for everyone here to seek truth and for everyone here to help others attain it. And that is an act of love: helping someone attain the truth. So it is built into the academic program of Thomas Aquinas College that this be a community of love.
Although this is a college, which means that the life of the community is focused on learning, the intention that this be a community of love is not limited to students and tutors helping one another learn. At the heart of this campus is a beautiful chapel, shaped in a cruciform; and at the heart of the chapel is a crucifix, a symbol of the cross of Christ. Every classroom on this campus has a crucifix, a symbol of the cross of Christ. Every class at Thomas Aquinas College begins with the students and the tutor making the Sign of the Cross. That cross displays for us the love of God. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That cross also challenges us to imitate God’s love. “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
If you have not seen the article about Leslie Hidley in the Fall 2011 College Newsletter, I commend it to you. She was a student here in the 1980s, a mother of four children, several years older than most undergraduates, and, in her word, a pagan. She was sitting in the commons one day when Ron McArthur came and sat nearby. He said to Mrs. Hidley, “I want you to know how much you are loved here.” Mrs. Hidley was bowled over, she said, not only because he said it, but because it was true. Her experience is not unique. I have resisted the temptation to turn this speech into a reminiscence about my time here, but I will say this: my family and I have experienced Christ’s love here.
Now I am going to make a claim: I am going to assert as true a proposition that will be the linchpin of my remarks tonight. If I were giving a lecture, this claim likely would be the focus of the Q&A. Here it is: The two great needs of the human soul are truth and love. I believe that. I am not going to try to defend that proposition now, but I do believe it. If that proposition is true, then we can expand our answer to the opening statement: “What are you doing here, Thomas Aquinas College?” “We are helping students attain truth, in some measure, in a community of love and, by doing so, we are providing, or trying to provide, in some measure, the two great needs of the human soul.”
If this is true, then we can return to our earlier argument that the alumni of this College have had and are having an influence for good in the Church and the world, and we can give an account as to why that would occur without the College directly aiming at it as a goal. The account we will give is in two parts.
First, speaking on a natural level, if it is true that the two great needs of the human soul are truth and love, and if it is true that students here acquire truth in some measure and experience Christian love in some measure, then one would expect to see some signs so indicating in the lives of the alumni. Think of it in terms of parents who provide their children with nourishment and other basic needs. The goal of the parents is for their children to be healthy. If their children are healthy, that health will manifest itself in activities at which the parents do not directly aim. A healthy boy may play baseball or catch frogs, as a healthy girl may pursue Irish dancing or roller skating. The parents’ aim is to have a healthy child; the effect of accomplishing that goal will be activities that are not, of themselves, the parents’ goal. Likewise, a physician aims at helping his patients become healthy, and, when he is successful, the health of his patients will be manifest in activities that are not, themselves, his direct aim. And so, to some extent, we can explain the beneficial influence of alumni of this college as a natural effect of what the College does, even though the College does not directly aim at producing alumni who will have such an influence. That is the first part.
The second part concerns the dimension of the College that transcends nature. We can glean from Scripture that the Holy Spirit has a special connection to truth and love. Catholics learn as children to recite the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed by the prophet Isaiah: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” St. Paul gives another list in the Letter to the Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” If we put Isaiah and Galatians together we get this: the Holy Spirit is a spirit of knowledge; and His first fruit is love. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” After the Spirit had come, St. Paul wrote, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
At the beginning of every class at Thomas Aquinas College, we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love” and “O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation.” Do we not pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to know the truth and to be moved by God’s love? We do. Do we believe that God answers that prayer? As Christians, we do. We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work among us, on this campus, enkindling in our hearts the fire of God’s love and leading us to gain, in some measure, the truth.
So this, also, sheds light on the influence that alumni of the College have for good in the Church and the world. The Holy Spirit is not confined to the boundaries of this campus. If He is at work in your life here, He will go with you when you leave. It is not surprising, then, that alumni hear and answer the call to the priesthood and religious life, for that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Nor is it surprising that we see the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of the alumni. I mentioned Fr. Novokowsky and Sr. Marcella earlier, and I acknowledged that I may be embarrassing them by praising their work as I have. Perhaps I can remove some of that embarrassment by confessing what they already know and would be eager for me to say: whatever good they do and whatever merit they have are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The same is true of the other alumni whom I have mentioned. Whatever good they do and whatever merit they have are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We spoke earlier of the various alumni of the College who have had and are having an influence for good in the Church and the world. We spoke specifically of those who have answered God’s call to the priesthood and religious life, those who have continued to seek truth and to help others do so through scholarship and teaching, those who work in other professions, and those who serve the Lord in the sacrament of marriage. Now that we have unfolded the answer to our question to the point of seeing the Holy Spirit at work in all of this, we can and should add another contingent of alumni to this great cloud of witnesses whom we are calling to mind. There are persons, including alumni of this College, who through illness, injury, or affliction, cannot become priests or nuns, fathers or mothers, scholars or teachers, professionals or manual laborers. By the standards of the world, these persons contribute nothing and need not be mentioned with those who are accomplishing good things. Catholicism has a different view. It is part of our tradition that persons who suffer on earth can unite their sufferings with those of Christ on the cross and thereby participate in some way in his redemptive work. We also believe that the prayers of those who suffer and who offer their suffering to God in this way can be particularly efficacious. Pope John Paul has said, “human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good, and open the way to the victory of these salvific powers.” If so, it may be that the alumni of this College who are accomplishing the most good are those who suffer and who unite their sufferings with those of Christ.
In keeping with my practice of mentioning one alumnus as a representative example, I will mention one person here. I could name others. The one whom I will name is David Rioux, Class of ’75. David encountered an explosive device while serving our country in the Vietnam war. He suffered severe and permanent injuries, including blindness. He was a member of the first class of this College. I hope he will not take offence at my invoking his name to remind us, as our faith teaches, that those who suffer, who unite their sufferings with those of Christ, and who pray, may be the alumni of this College who are accomplishing the most good. I will add that I believe that God uses the College to strengthen these persons interiorly, to prepare them for their life’s work.
Let us return to our opening question, and I will summarize what we have said: Thomas Aquinas College intends to help students attain truth, in some measure, in a community of love. I believe that it succeeds. To whatever extent it succeeds, the College is dependent on the Holy Spirit — as we acknowledge by our prayer at the beginning of each class. Thomas Aquinas College does not aim at generating vocations to the priesthood and religious life, producing scholars and teachers, or teaching its students how to be good parents, but it accomplishes those effects nevertheless. We may take that fact as representing, in part, the natural result of helping students attain truth in a community of love; and we may take that fact as a sign that the Holy Spirit is, indeed, at work here.
Before we close, let’s go back to the passage of Scripture from which we took our opening question. You will recall that after Elijah slew the prophets of Baal, Jezebel sent him a message, promising to do to him as he had done to them. Elijah fled to Mount Horeb and hid in a cave. The Lord asked him twice, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” When we spoke of this passage earlier, we noted the Lord’s question but not Elijah’s answer nor God’s response. Let’s do that now.
Elijah answered, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with a sword; and I, even I, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Basically, Elijah is saying to the Lord, “Everyone has abandoned you except me. I am the only one left who is faithful to you and who stands up for righteousness, and now they’re going to kill me.” [We see from this passage that Elijah was a conservative.] God’s reply, paraphrased, was, “Don’t worry, Elijah. I’ve got this covered. You are mistaken about being the only one left. I have a faithful remnant of 7,000 (which I take to be a symbolic number meaning more than enough). One of the persons in that faithful remnant is Elisha, who will complete your work.”
I cannot say whether the founders felt like Elijah in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they conceived of this college and gave it birth. They may have. Half of the world was oppressed by a ruthless, atheistic tyranny. [Who would have thought, in 1972, that 40 years later the Soviet Union would be long since dead and Thomas Aquinas College would be alive and well?] While the Soviet empire dominated half the globe, the free world seemed to be sliding into the abyss of relativism. The Church appeared to be in disarray. It seemed that the light of truth had been darkened and the love of God grown cold.
“Again and again,” Pope Benedict has said, “the cause of God has seemed to be in its death throes.” So it seemed to Elijah and so it may have seemed 40 years ago.
But God had not abandoned his Church. He was raising up, in Poland, a bishop who would become a great pope and a great teacher. In 1978 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul would lead the Church for more than a quarter of a century. During that same time, God raised to public prominence an Albanian nun who worked in the slums of Calcutta — Mother Teresa. The keynote of John Paul’s papacy was the splendor of truth. Mother Teresa’s name became synonymous with Christian love. These two great saints led the way in renewing God’s Church. It may have seemed like a dark time in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but it was the darkness before the dawn of renewal. God had a plan for renewing His Church, a plan to restore truth and love to their rightful place in the hearts of His people. The public representatives of this plan would be these two great saints, Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa, but they would not be alone. I could name a number of persons, organizations, and institutions that I believe are part of that plan, but I will mention only one: Thomas Aquinas College.
We give thanks to the many persons whose work and sacrifice created this college and contributed to its success — the founders, the faculty and staff, the Board members, and the donors. But, above all, we give thanks to God, who brought this college into existence and sustained it these 40 years as a part of His plan for renewal of the Church through a rededication to truth and love.
Happy birthday, Thomas Aquinas College. And many more.
“In our classroom discussions, we are responsible for our own education. We have to get our hands dirty, to figure out the material, to let it become part of us and make us better people. That is real learning.”
– Isabella Hsu (’18)
Redondo Beach, California
“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York