One of the co-founders of Thomas Aquinas College and its vice president for finance and administration, Peter L. DeLuca 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)
When I heard that Dr. McArthur had died, the thing that first came to my mind — since for the last several years I have been teaching Freshmen Theology — was something from Scripture. It was the cry of Elisha when he saw the prophet Elijah, his master, going up to heaven in a whirlwind. He said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
The reason I thought of that was because Elijah was, first of all, to Elisha, his spiritual Father. Elijah had called him from following the plow, and had made of him a servant of God. He had asked that when Elijah was gone, he might inherit a double portion of his spirit. (The double portion of his spirit signifies that he was asking to be his heir, who always received a double portion of his father’s property in Israel.) Elijah told him that that was a very difficult thing to ask, but he would receive it if he saw Elijah going up. So at that moment when he uttered that cry, he had seen Elijah going up. So he knew Elijah was his father. He identified him as his father, as his spiritual father.
Why did Elisha say that Elijah was “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen?” Because Elijah had been the great leader and defender of the faithful, of the 7,000 men who had not bent the knee to Baal or kissed the idol. He had defended Israel against Ahab, and against Jezebel, and against 500 prophets of Baal. So, in addition to being Elisha’s father, Elijah was the spiritual leader of Israel. So Elisha identified him well. That is why I thought of that text when I heard that our friend had gone home to God. Because he was to me, and to many of you, I know, a spiritual father.
I first met Dr. McArthur when I was a junior in college, about 52 years ago. He was teaching me Aristotle’s ethics, junior philosophy, at St. Mary’s College. Like most of you, I was captivated by his enormous energy and his enormous enthusiasm. He was more alive than most people. He loved, loved the truth. He was a lover of wisdom, but there are many lovers of wisdom. He also had been given the gift that made him a great teacher: If he loved something, you loved it, too, if you were in the same room. It was that gift that changed my life, because in that class I became a lover of the things that he loved, and necessarily of him.
He did that for so many of us, and changed our lives for the better. He certainly was a guide to me in years after that, in many ways morally as well as intellectually, and an inspiration. The thing that was most significant to me was what happened in that junior philosophy class to my soul.
Dr. McArthur was also the leader of this people, though it might have been better to compare him to Moses than Elijah. Because he made this people — he and Bill Grimm. Because he made this people, he brought into existence Thomas Aquinas College. Not singlehandedly, I understand that but most of those of us who were also part of that were brought into it by his vision, and his enthusiasm, and by his love. That founding has made all of our lives so much better, and has built this community.
I think it is important to remember why Ron thought the founding of this college was necessary. He, as Tom said, believed that ideas have consequences. That’s a title of a book by Richard Weaver that’s worth reading. That book lays out a theory that I know Ron believed firmly, and that is basically that the disintegration of Western civilization is intellectual in its roots.
It’s not that we all have original sin. That is a cause too, but that is a common, and it runs through the whole human race. The abandonment of the intellectual tradition of the West — and particularly by its greatest defender, the Catholic Church — had gone on in modern times and permeated the Catholic intellectual establishment of America even before the Land O’Lakes statement. It is what made the Land O’Lakes statement possible, Dr. McArthur believed that if we were going to turn things around, we had to turn around the intellectual life.
Dr. McArthur told me once something that has stayed with me, and that is that an intellectual tradition has to be a living tradition. It cannot just exist in the books. There has to be a community, an intellectual community that has a common body of doctrine at its core. That was why there had to be established a true Catholic intellectual community. That was why he wanted to found the College. He knew perfectly well that this college would never educate more than a few people, and he knew that it would be pretentious to think that he knew how to turn around civilization. But he thought that to do the right kind of thing and to spring the intellectual tradition of the Church forward into a living community was what was absolutely essential to whatever else Providence wanted to do with it.
That was the core motivation. I was convinced very early by him about that. That was the task, and it was a task that seemed at the time pretty difficult. I remember when someone first proposed to Ron that he should start — well, the exact words were, “Well, then, why don’t you start your own college?” And he said, “You can’t start a college!” It took a good deal of conversation after that, but he finally decided you could, and off we went.
We will all miss our dear friend. He was a completely unique person, as everyone is, but a really unusual person, and he has done so much for all of us in our lives. There is nothing we can give back to him now except that we can pray for the repose of his soul, and I know that he would want me to ask you to do that. So, I will. Thank you.
Posted: October 29, 2013
“Few schools anywhere can match Thomas Aquinas College’s extraordinary blend of deep Catholic faith and rich academic formation.”
– The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput
Archbishop of Philadelphia