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Thomas Aquinas College Awarded $8.5 Million Grant by Fritz B. Burns Foundation

March 5, 2015
10,000 Ojai Road
Santa Paula CA 93060
Contact: Anne Forsyth, Director of College Relations
(805) 525-4417      
Architectural renderings and online story




SANTA PAULA, CA—March 5—Thomas Aquinas College has received one of the largest gifts in its history, a grant of $8.5 million from the Fritz B. Burns Foundation of Los Angeles for the construction of a lecture and concert hall on its campus in the foothills of the Topatopa mountains in Ventura County. The new building will be the fourteenth constructed by the college since it acquired the undeveloped site in the 1970s, and will complete the academic quadrangle which is anchored by Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.

“We are profoundly grateful to the Fritz B. Burns Foundation, which has generously supported the College since our founding, for making what is, by far, its largest contribution to date,” says President Michael F. McLean.

Commenting on the grant, Burns Foundation president Rex Rawlinson said: “When I first met Thomas Aquinas College’s late President, Dr. Tom Dillon, he gave me a copy of The Last Days of Socrates. Our discussions led to extensive study on my part, until I was assigning myself homework, such as reading Saint Augustine's Confessions to compare and contrast with Rousseau's Confessions. I realized then the value of what Thomas Jefferson had and I had missed — a classical education. Thomas Aquinas fills a void lamentably abandoned by most colleges."

Located on the southwest corner of the academic quadrangle, adjacent to St. Gladys Hall and Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, the new building will host the biweekly events that make up the College’s St. Vincent DePaul Lecture and Concert Series. “Thanks to the Foundation, we will soon have a facility worthy of the excellent speakers and musicians that we regularly bring to campus,” says Dr. McLean. “We look forward to making the new building a place of welcome, where friends and neighbors can come to experience a key part of the life of the College.”


It was the importance of the Series to the College’s mission, says Dr. McLean, that appealed to the Fritz B. Burns Foundation’s Board of Directors, who only two years ago contributed $3.2 million for the construction of a new classroom building, St. Gladys Hall. “They also seem to have been impressed by our students’ musical talents and artistic performances, such as Gilbert and Sullivan productions, or the Choir’s recent performance of Handel’s Messiah. They are very keen on supporting something that is so integral to the program.”

The new building, with its concert-hall acoustics, theatrical lighting, and 580-person stadium seating, will offer an ideal setting for lectures and concerts. It will also host the annual Matriculation ceremony and orientation assemblies, dramatic productions, dances, informal musical performances, and academic conferences.

In addition to the main auditorium, the hall will include a discussion room for post-lecture question-and-answer sessions, informal “Tutor Talks,” and senior thesis defenses. Its lower level will feature a recreation area and a coffee shop that opens out to a terrace overlooking the future site of the campus tennis courts.

The new building will be named for St. Cecilia, the patroness of music, whose namesake roses will be planted in the adjacent garden. The Fritz B. Burns Foundation has opted to name some of the building’s interior spaces after friends of the College and the Foundation: the auditorium, for example, will bear the name of Fritz B. Burns; the discussion room will be named after Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, the College’s late president; and the coffee shop will carry the name of the Burns Foundation’s longtime executive director, Ken Skinner, and his widow, Joyce.

The design architect for St. Cecilia Hall is Scott Boydstun of Rasmussen and Associates in Ventura, California, who has designed 12 of the permanent buildings on campus. The college hopes to break ground by mid-summer and to have St. Cecilia Hall ready for use in the second semester of the 2016-2017 academic year.


About Thomas Aquinas College

Now in its 45th year, Thomas Aquinas College has developed a solid reputation for academic excellence in the United States and abroad. At Thomas Aquinas College, there are no majors, no minors, or electives because all students acquire a broad and fully integrated liberal education. The College offers one 4-year, classical curriculum that spans the major arts and sciences. Instead of reading textbooks, students read the original works of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization — the Great Books — in all the major disciplines: mathematics, natural science, literature, philosophy, and theology. Rather than listening to lectures, they engage in rigorous Socratic discussions about these works in classes of 15-18 students. The academic life of the college is conducted under the light of the Catholic faith and flourishes within a close-knit community, supported by a vibrant spiritual life. Genuinely committed to upholding civic virtue and leading lives dedicated to the good of others, Thomas Aquinas College graduates enter a wide array of fields where they are a powerful force for good in the Church and in the culture. Well-versed in rational discourse, they become leaders in education, law, medicine, journalism, public policy, military service, and business. In addition, a steady 10% of alumni go on to the priesthood or religious life.