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President McLean: “Thomas Aquinas College Has Much to be Grateful for …”

Posted: November 21, 2017

TAC Podcast

By Michael F. McLean
President, Thomas Aquinas College
Remarks at the 2017 Thanksgiving Dinner


I have just a few thoughts to share as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Thomas Aquinas College has much to be grateful for.

We can be grateful for the fact that we live in a country which enjoys a robust tradition of religious liberty. While efforts are ongoing to chip away at religious freedom, and to denigrate and trivialize religious belief and practice, the College, as you know, recently emerged victorious in its years-long fight against the HHS contraceptive insurance mandate.

Credit for this is due to our Jones Day legal team, which represented us, and a host of other plaintiffs, pro bono and to those who were responsible for passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, an act which counteracted several court decisions restricting religious freedom.

This victory protects, at least at the federal level, our First Amendment right to “feely exercise” our religion in the conduct of our business affairs. We hope the same will continue to be true here in California and will prove to be true in Massachusetts as the approval process with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education continues to play out.

We can be thankful, too, for a recent, very positive, report from our accreditors after their visit to the College in late September. The team’s commendations far outweighed its recommendations (always a good sign) and include two for which we should be very grateful to our faculty and students:

  • Thomas Aquinas College has a strong level of tutor camaraderie and commitment to student engagement and coherence and unity of the curriculum, and TAC has involved its tutors in the decision-making processes at the educational, the administrative and the governing levels.
  • Thomas Aquinas College has demonstrated high retention and graduation rates that speak to the achievement of students and the level of care by tutors and administrators.

While the final decision rests with the accreditation commission, I think we can be confident that our accreditation will be reaffirmed. As demanding as the accreditation process can be, the College should be grateful that accreditation is essentially a peer-review process, not a top-down government-review process, and that accreditors in our region have a great deal of respect for the right of higher education institutions, including Thomas Aquinas College, to define their own missions and their own standards for success.

We can be grateful, too, for the nearly completed St. Cecilia Hall and the tremendous benefit it will be to our lecture and concert series and to the musical and dramatic performances you students work so hard to produce. Added to this is the fact that we have received a pledge of $15 million for an athletic center from the same donor who built St. Gladys and St. Cecilia Halls. The first $3 million payment on this pledge arrived just a few days ago.

In our meeting with the donor, we asked for $11 million for the athletic center, but they wanted to do $15 million instead. Needless to say, we said yes. This gift will fund a gymnasium, racquetball court, workout rooms, a multi-purpose room, an outdoor pool, refurbished outdoor courts, and an outdoor running track. Hopefully this gift will benefit not only future generations of students, but some of you students here tonight as well.

Over the past 5 years, close to $30 million has been given or pledged for these three buildings by the Fritz B. Burns Foundation in Los Angeles. Fritz Burns earned his wealth building affordable homes in southern California, many of which were purchased by veterans of World War II.

Over many years, the Andersen Foundation of Bayport, Minnesota, has given more than $3 million in financial assistance to students of the College, donations made possible by the success of its business manufacturing and selling high-quality windows and doors.

Hobby Lobby Corporation, a company which began with $600 in borrowed money and with a family making small picture frames in the garage of their Oklahoma City home, invested around $6 million in the Northfield campus before it was turned over to the National Christian Foundation and then to us.

Of course, we should be grateful to these benefactors and to all of our benefactors. We should note that the United States is one of the few countries where you will find examples like these of cooperation between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and such a robust tradition of private philanthropy.

These goods are made possible by our country’s commitment to economic freedom and prosperity, a tax policy which encourages charitable contributions, and religious traditions which challenge those entrusted with great wealth to share with those who have not been so gifted. For these things we should be grateful as well.

Finally, you should be grateful to God for His beneficence and providence, and to your parents for the sacrifices they make on your behalf. God’s providence and their sacrifices make it possible for us to pursue together an education which helps us grow in our fidelity to the two great commandments — love of God and love of neighbor — a fidelity which is the fruit of a program ordered to the study of philosophy and theology and conducted in a way which depends upon, and encourages, friendship and the sacramental life.

Blest with this opportunity, I, together with my fellow faculty members and our chaplains, urge you to do your very best from now until the end of the semester to rejoice in these gifts you have been given and to rededicate yourselves to the common good of the College and to rededicate yourselves to what you came here for in the first place — not high grades or A’s on examinations, not the triumph of your own opinions or the esteem of tutors and students, but rather things of far greater worth and enduring importance: deeper relationships with Christ our King and the beginnings of Catholic wisdom and virtue.

If you do these things, you will, I think, be preparing yourselves well for whatever God eventually calls you to do and, in gratitude, you will be paying back more than you have received to those who make your lives at the College possible.

Please continue to pray for the well-being of Thomas Aquinas College and for the protection of religious freedom in the United States.

Thank you and God bless you.

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Michael F. McLean, 2017 Thanksgiving Dinner
Br. Robert Nesbit

“It was at the College when I began to take my faith seriously. The community life, all the people, the faculty, the staff — and the Mass — all that really helped.”

– Br. Robert Nesbit, O.S.B. (’07)

“With an academic program as rigorous as Thomas Aquinas College’s, and with a long line of successful alumni, Thomas Aquinas College is essential to the health of our Church in the United States and beyond.”

– The Most Rev. Thomas Daly

Bishop of Spokane