Thomas Aquinas College President Michael F. McLean delivered the following address at the reception after the funeral for the College’s founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, on October 25, 2013. (See video)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today. I had the honor of being a student of Dr. McArthur’s at St. Mary’s College in the late sixties and his friend and colleague over many years at Thomas Aquinas College. With the help of an excellent faculty and staff, I now have the privilege of leading the institution he was so instrumental in founding and of doing my best to maintain its strength and its fidelity to the mission he and the other founders so ably articulated. I am deeply indebted to him for taking a chance on me as a tutor back in 1978 and for the inspiration, guidance, and constant encouragement he was kind enough to provide since then.
Speaking of 1978, I am reminded by Tom Kaiser’s remarks that Ron’s voice was so loud on the phone in South Bend, Ind., that I literally held it three feet from my ear! At least he was calling with good news …
On a more serious note, I also recall returning to a hotel room Ron and I were sharing on a fundraising trip years ago to find him on his knees praying the Rosary. That was a reminder to me that faith and prayer were at the very center of Ron’s life and that they were the wellsprings from which everything else in his life flowed. Just as he held a crucifix on that long-ago day, so did he hold a crucifix when he died.
Ron’s years at Laval studying Aristotle and St. Thomas under Charles De Koninck were very important to the founding of Thomas Aquinas College. Also important were his years at St. Mary’s College of California, where he taught the great books and became an excellent practitioner of the seminar and tutorial methods. Of even greater importance, however, is the fact that Thomas Aquinas College stands as an expression of Ron’s spiritual life — a reflection of his love for Christ and His church; his devotion to the saints; and his deep and abiding faith, hope, and charity.
The College’s founding document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, of which Dr. McArthur was one of the principal authors, makes it abundantly clear that genuine education must be ordered to the truth and that the truth is ultimately embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “Divine Revelation,” the Proposal says, “not only communicates the truth but also designates teachers to clarify, define, and explain it. Thus, Our Lord told His apostles, ‘Anyone who listens to you listens to me’… On this account, the believer embraces at once Christ as the supreme teacher and the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles as altogether truthful and divinely appointed interpreters of His teachings…”
On many occasions Ron pointed to the Church’s repeated endorsement of St. Thomas, and its designation of him as the Universal or Common doctor, to explain why the study of St. Thomas crowns our curriculum. This great saint, then, to whom Dr. McArthur had a strong devotion both because of his piety and his intellect, joins the Church’s principal teachers at the heart of the College, as do some other of its greatest saints — Augustine, Anselm, Athanasius, and John Damascene — to all of whom Dr. McArthur had a great devotion as well.
Just as Christ, His church, and its saints are at the heart of Thomas Aquinas College, so also, naturally enough, is faith. The College’s founding document continues, “Since the Faith liberates the believer from error in his submission to its teachings, it both guides and strengthens his intelligence in the performance of those activities which constitute his very life as a thinker…” For this reason, the founders continue, “the Christian student, because of his faith, can be liberally educated in the most perfect and complete way…the religious college quite properly can claim to be the liberal educator par excellence, because through wisdom based on faith the student’s natural appetite for the truth can be perfectly satisfied…”
Today we thank the founders, and especially Dr. McArthur, for advancing and defending this robust and compelling vision of genuine Catholic education.
We thank God for giving Dr. McArthur the faith which kept him strongly committed to this vision, enabled him to help the College remain true to its mission over many years, and to rally, with great wit and rhetorical power, all who heard him — students, faculty, friends, and benefactors — to the College’s cause and the at once arduous and joyful pursuit of Catholic liberal education.
We thank God for giving Dr. McArthur the hope which, in the face of every adversity, kept him always focused on our final goal — the vision of God — and which made it possible for him, and his dear wife, Marilyn, to venture forth, I am sure with fear and trembling, to found, establish, and preserve a college.
And, finally, we thank God for giving Dr. McArthur the charity which enkindled in him the love of Christ and the desire to do good for generations of students and faculty. This he did by being such an important part of a program and community ordered to virtue, the country’s common good, and the love of God.
Those of us who follow in Dr. McArthur’s footsteps will forever pray that we may imitate him in these virtues and, as well, in humility, which St. Thomas says is the first of all the virtues. I can say with certainty that Ron found numerous ways to keep me humble — the dunce cap he gave me at the dinner inaugurating my presidency, for example, (a dunce cap I see in my office every day) is a constant reminder of my own frailties and his sense of humor. Thank you, Ron, for that.
In his own humility, Ron always insisted that whatever good he achieved was really the work of God, and he frequently deflected to others any praise he received for his own accomplishments. In humility, too, he knew that this College, however good it might be, was always capable of doing its work better, and that with God’s help, must always strive for the best in teaching and learning.
The humble pursuit of virtue, of course, is not the duty only of us who labor at the College, but is, as I am sure Ron would remind us, the duty of all, especially Christians. This so that, when we are to meet our Maker, we may join with St. Thomas in saying, in words that were close to Dr. McArthur’s heart:
“I receive thee, price of my redemption, viaticum of my pilgrimage,
For love of whom I have fasted, prayed, taught, and labored.
Never have I said a word against Thee.
If I have, it was in ignorance, and I do not persist in my ignorance.
I leave the correction of my work to the Holy Catholic Church,
And in that obedience I pass from this life.”
Posted: October 29, 2013
“I thank you so much for what you are doing at Thomas Aquinas College. I hope there will always be a Thomas Aquinas College. Your contributions to the Church and the world are marvelous to behold.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York