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Parents Joanne & David Dowdy on
Thomas Aquinas College & New England

Posted: June 15, 2017

“God is Doing a Really Great Thing Here”


On May 2 the National Christian Foundation (NCF) donated to Thomas Aquinas College the gift of a campus in Northfield, Massachusetts. It’s a property that Joanne and David Dowdy, parents of Will (’05), know well. For 35 years Mr. Dowdy has taught at the Northfield Mount Hermon School, which, from 1971 to 2005, operated on two century-old campuses, one of them the Northfield site. Indeed, it was from Mr. Dowdy that College officials first learned of the campus’ availability.

In the following interview these TAC parents share their thoughts about the future of Thomas Aquinas College in New England and the role they have played in helping it to come about.

Q: Could you please tell us about your history with Northfield, Massachusetts?

Mr. Dowdy: We came on the faculty here at Northfield Mount Hermon School in the summer of 1982, and for our first two years lived on the Northfield campus that now belongs to Thomas Aquinas College. I had my first class in Stone Hall there. I have been an English teacher here for 35 years, and I’m also the faculty advisor for Catholic students. Up until 2005 faculty and students were going back and forth several times a day between the two campuses, depending on class location, sports practice, department meetings, and so forth. So I spent some 23 years working on that campus.

Mrs. Dowdy: When you go to the vacant Northfield campus today, it’s hard to imagine how alive it was when the school was still there. It was a hopping place, beautiful and really energetic. Northfield Mount Hermon has such a great community, and it was a lively part of the whole neighborhood in Northfield. I think that’s why the community is excited now about the College’s acquiring that property. They’ve missed that liveliness, that life on the campus.

As soon as it was announced that the NCF would be giving the campus to TAC, everyone looked the College up. Everything we heard was that people were pleased. They looked at pictures of the California campus and said, “Oh, OK, they know how to take care of a campus. Phew!”

Mr. Dowdy: That’s important. People are concerned about holding on to the beauty of the campus and not letting these old, esteemed buildings deteriorate. So seeing the California campus has been really important for people.

Q: And what is your history with Thomas Aquinas College?

Mrs. Dowdy: We came into the Catholic Church in 1995. Around that time we started reading Catholic publications and talking with people in Catholic education, and the name TAC kept coming up. Then, about five years later, when our oldest son, Will, was getting into the upper years of his high school, we started looking into colleges. In 2000 the College’s president at the time, Dr. Tom Dillon, came out here to give a presentation at Will’s school. That’s when Will got the vision for it.

Mr. Dowdy: Will had some good opportunities at Columbia and the University of Chicago, but he came out to TAC for a three-day visit, sat in on some classes, and was completely enamored of the fervor of the students, who took the discussions from the classroom to the lunch room to the playing fields to the dorm. And he thought, “This is the kind of engagement I’m looking for,” more than he found at the big-name schools. We also were very taken with the school, the people, the students, the classes, and the beauty of the campus.

Mrs. Dowdy: He had four very good years and graduated in 2005. He also met his wife there, and we’re so grateful to the College for that! We admire our daughter-in-law, Erin (Sale ’05), for how she reflects her TAC education in her life. It is their experience, our sharing in their education, and the friends they made at TAC, that make us enthusiastic about the possibility of the College opening a campus here.

Q: What role did you play in helping to make this opportunity possible?

Mr. Dowdy: We went out for Will’s graduation in 2005, the year Northfield Mount Hermon closed the Northfield campus. In talking with Admissions Director Jon Daly — who is our son’s brother-in-law — I said, “Jon, I’ve got a proposition for you: What would you think about opening a second campus out East, because we don’t have a great books Catholic education available to us back there?” But at that time there was a price tag on the campus, around $60 million, so Jon looked at me like, “Well, I’ll mention it to the president, but that’s probably not going to happen.” And I knew it was a long shot.

When our daughter was looking at colleges in 2014, we were on the phone with Jon, and I said, “Well that campus is still available, but now the price tag is much better. It’s free, fully furnished, and the NCF is looking for someone to give it to. What do you think?” He said, “Well that’s more interesting.” He said he would take it to President McLean and talk it over.

Q: So you’re the one who made this happen?

Mr. Dowdy: I would say that the Holy Spirit did!

Northfield Mount Hermon has always been supported invisibly by a group of people with powerful prayers. There are a lot of people in this area who feel a very strong connection to the school’s founder, D.L. Moody. They have been praying for his campuses, his schools, throughout all these long years.

There have been people who have been coming to the campus weekly for 30 years, making prayer walks around the grounds, praying for God to, in a sense, restore the campus to its Christian foundation. So when TAC was announced, folks thought, “Finally! Thirty-five or forty years of praying are now bearing fruit and bringing a genuine Christian endeavor here!”

I won’t pretend all those people are excited about a Catholic college, but many are. There’s the general public, people in town who are obviously hoping to have somebody back on the campus; but there’s also this other more silent, more hidden group of people who are looking at it as a possible answer to very fervent prayers over a very long time.

Mrs. Dowdy: I recently operated a table for the College at a Catholic men’s conference in our diocese, and people were so interested in it. There’s a lot of anticipation of what it could do for our diocese and for this area.

Q: What was your own reaction to this news?

Mrs. Dowdy: Oh, wonderful! My goodness! We were so excited!

Mr. Dowdy: In May or June of 2015, President Mike McLean and Vice President Paul O’Reilly came out here to look over the property. We met with them, and that’s when I got really excited. From early on, way back in 2005, I had thought, “This is the perfect solution to this empty campus.” I still think it’s almost too good to be true. It’s just such a great fit. My time here, my love for the Catholic faith, my love for education — the kind of education you’re doing — it just all pulls together.

Mrs. Dowdy: One of the things that was such a great joy was to have the NCF say to us that they didn’t think they could have found a better match for the campus than TAC. That was wonderful to hear.

Q: Would you say that the cooperation of the NCF and the College — and the establishment of this Catholic institution on a campus founded by a Protestant minister — are signs of a healthy ecumenism at work?

Mr. Dowdy: There is a growing sense in this area that Protestants and Catholics don’t have the luxury of being too suspicious of each other because, in some ways, we have to hold together. The Northeast is a notoriously difficult place. We’re saturated with educational institutions, we have a long and colorful history, and we’re fiercely independent. So the fact that Christians can recognize each other across the divide has been an important part of the experience here for a lot of people.

Mrs. Dowdy: God is doing a really great thing here. It kind of takes our breath away. It’s just amazing. Thomas Aquinas College is right in the middle of it. All these wonderful things, and all those buildings waiting to be studied in again! What we can tell you from being here is that it’s a blessing to be on this campus and in those buildings. The classrooms are wonderful. The music hall is a beautiful building. The chapel, too. It’s an amazing, wonderful thing to have them all be given to TAC for the study that goes on there.

Note: Contingent upon the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, Thomas Aquinas College’s New England campus will open its doors to students in the fall of 2018. See up-to-the minute news about the College’s eastward expansion  and receive email updates.

Joanne and David Dowdy 2017

David and Joanne Dowdy

Matthew Dugan (’18)

“When you’re discussing the great works you have to assimilate what’s being said by the author to your own understanding. Rather than passively receiving information, we’re becoming self-learners and independent thinkers, making the great ideas our own.”

– Matthew Dugan (’18)

Wayzata, Minnesota

“Thomas Aquinas College has always been thoroughly Catholic in its identity. It's an outstanding program of studies, founded on a loyalty to the Chair of Peter and to the Magisterium of the Church.”

– Raymond Cardinal Burke

Prefect Emeritus, Supreme Tribunal

of the Apostolic Signatura