Born in 1959 in King of Prussia, a suburb of Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, Dr. Joseph Almeida (’81) considers his a typical All-American, middle-class childhood. His parents were first-generation Americans from Portugal; he was the oldest of three children. By his account, it was a relatively ordinary Catholic family.
For many people, there comes a time in life when they find themselves at a crossroads. For Dr. Almeida, that time came while he was a high school student back in Pennsylvania. It was there, as a sophomore, this “ordinary” Catholic was introduced to the not-so-ordinary St. Augustine of Hippo.
When Joseph read St. Augustine’s Confessions, he was deeply moved and began to evaluate his Catholic faith in a way that he had before. At the same time, as he began to immerse himself in the wisdom of St. Augustine, his local high school began a condensed version of a great books program. Though it could not have the breadth and scope of the curriculum offered at Thomas Aquinas College, it nonetheless inspired Joseph to consider a place where the great books were not just an addendum to a curriculum, but the heart and soul of the curriculum. After carefully investigating some of the most prestigious Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, he was convinced that the only place he could obtain a genuine liberal education by way of studying the great books was Thomas Aquinas College.
Finding More than the Great Books
There was no question the main impetus for attending Thomas Aquinas College was an attraction to its great books curriculum. Soon after arriving at the College, however, the spark of faith generated by his discovery of St. Augustine began to burn more brightly as Joseph discovered the College’s robust and enthusiastic practice of the Catholic faith. “Though I had come to Thomas Aquinas College because of the Great Books,” he recalls, “I soon found myself in an environment that challenged me as a Catholic and showed me that faith and reason were equal partners in any journey that hoped to end at the truth.”
In addition to exposing Dr. Almeida to the greatest minds of Western civilization, and showing him how his Catholic faith could grow and deepen through study and prayer, the College would be the setting for yet another crossroads event in his life, for it was at the College that Joseph met his wife, Tracy Suzanne Smith. They were married soon after Tracy’s graduation in 1982, and the couple moved back to Pennsylvania where Joseph taught mathematics and Latin in high school.
Remarkable Postgraduate Success
While he made a living teaching, he furthered his education to a remarkable degree, receiving an MA in English literature from Vermont’s Middlebury College in 1984, an MA in classics from Villanova University in Pennsylvania in 1985, and a JD from that same institution in 1988.
Armed with a law degree, Joseph and his now growing family moved back to California where he passed the State Bar Exam and began practicing civil law in the Santa Barbara area. He recalls that in law school his classmates and professors would invariably ask how a liberal arts degree from a great books curriculum could possibly have prepared him for the study and practice of law in the 21st century. “I would tell them the advantage my Thomas Aquinas College education gave me was the habit of knowing how to question and argue a given premise; these skills were developed in me by daily, rigorous discussions in all of my classes.”
Joseph believes that in a profession like law, the ability to argue a point concisely and efficiently is essential. “Second only to that,” he adds, “is the ability to question a premise which, in the context of the law, can be the difference between success and failure.”
Dr. Almeida is quick to point out, however, that “The curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College emphasized a certain kind of excellence with respect to purpose — a devotion to the truth as a thing that is worthy of pursuit in and of itself. It was the visceral sense of that element that drew me to Thomas Aquinas College, and has made us send our children to the College as well. At the same time, the general training and perfection of intellectual skills that one receives there are immensely useful in life.”
To Franciscan University
While working full time as a lawyer, Joseph studied and finished course work for a PhD in classics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1994, after practicing civil law for several years in Santa Barbara, Joseph and his now even larger family moved to Ohio, where he was appointed an assistant professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Though carrying a full load of classes, he was nevertheless able to finish his dissertation and was awarded a PhD in 1999. He is now a full professor of classics at Franciscan, has a joint appointment in the Legal Studies Program, and is the director of Honors Program in Great Books of Western Civilization.
Dr. Almeida finds himself relying on his Thomas Aquinas College education as he incorporates many of the methods and models he learned at the College into the curriculum for which he is responsible at Franciscan. “The Classics program is fairly typical. We teach Latin and Greek, and we take students through a series of studies leading up to the reading of Latin and Greek literature. We do, however, try to emphasize the great contribution of Greek and Latin wisdom to Western culture.” In addition, Joseph spends at least half of his time directing Franciscan University’s Great Books Honors Program.
Passing on the Truth
As he describes it, the honors program he directs is similar to the seminar segment of the Thomas Aquinas College curriculum (as distinct from the College’s more rigorous tutorials), in which works of literature, history, and modern philosophy are studied. Having been made director of the program in part because of his experience of Thomas Aquinas College’s rigorous discussion method, Dr. Almeida explains, “I use the Socratic method as I learned it at my alma mater, and I encourage professors who teach in the program with me to do so as well.” He is pleased to see that his students are reaping many benefits from reading and discussing original texts. “There is much merit to this honors program, especially as it offers Franciscan students an alternative to the lecture method.”
Besides serving as a fulltime professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Joseph maintains a small law practice in the Steubenville area where he works on administrative tax matters and federal criminal appeals. “Right now I do general criminal appeals, federal appeals, and I represent people on the administrative level before the Internal Revenue Service.”
Between two demanding careers and family life, Joseph has somehow found time to be a published author. He has written the book Justice as an Aspect of the Polis Idea in Solon’s Political Poems. He also has written a number of articles, including “Augustine of Hippo” and “Gregory of Nyssa” for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought.
As a professor of classics and the director of the Great Books Program at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Dr. Joseph Almeida continues not only to stretch his own intellectual and spiritual boundaries, but to challenge his students to do likewise. Compelled by an abiding love for the truth, he has spent much of his life coming to understand more deeply the truths he first discovered at Thomas Aquinas College, but he shines even more brightly as he helps illuminate those truths for the students in his care.
“I think about the entire world differently since I have come here. I have learned certain truths, whether in the natural sciences or philosophy, that I never would have imagined I could know.”
– Kathleen Murphy (’16)
“Thomas Aquinas College is a small college, but its reputation has spread far and wide. Because it lives off the masterpieces of thought and literature emanating from the Christian tradition of the Western world, it provides a first-rate education for a select body of talented undergraduates.”
– Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J (†)