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President McLean’s 2019 New England Matriculation Address: “The Beginning of a New Chapter in the History of TAC”

Posted: August 24, 2019


by Michael F. McLean, Ph.D.
President, Thomas Aquinas College
New England Convocation
August 24, 2019


Thomas Aquinas College accepted this campus from the National Christian Foundation in May of 2017 with deep humility and a profound sense of gratitude.

In the period since that time, we have secured the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education to operate an undergraduate college and to grant degrees. We have ensured that our California accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission will extend to here in Massachusetts. We have received gifts from a broad spectrum of donors whose generosity has made the preparation of this campus possible. And we have recruited an excellent team of faculty who are loyal to the College’s mission and who will bring our academic program to life, an excellent chaplain who will tend to the spiritual needs of this community, and an excellent staff who will provide the services essential to our successful operation.

Finally, we have recruited a group of highly able students, and might I add, parents, who are also committed to the mission of the College and who have the courage, energy, and enthusiasm to lead the way here in New England and who will help make this great enterprise a success.

As we open today on this iconic property, we are grateful to be in the Diocese of Springfield and for the strong support and encouragement we have received from Bishop Rozanski over the four years or so which have led to this day. We are also mindful of the history and tradition of this place and of the formative role it played in the lives of generations of students for over 125 years.

As I said when accepting this property, we have great respect for the life and achievements of Dwight L. Moody and his wife, Emma Revell Moody. We have a sense of how much they labored and sacrificed to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to thousands of people hungry for His words of mercy and consolation. We look forward to being good neighbors with the Moody Center and to supporting their efforts to preserve and advance D. L. Moody’s legacy of evangelization.

We are grateful for the beauty of this campus and for the beauty of the Connecticut River Valley. We intend to be good stewards as we return the campus to the use for which it was first intended — a school of modest size, offering a Christian, in our case Catholic, education of the highest quality to students from every economic background, a school where students who receive financial assistance will work on campus to help pay for their education, just as D.L. Moody required at the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879.

We are thankful for the beauty of its buildings which we now occupy, and of those which we will occupy in the years ahead, some of which were “sung up” from royalties on the Moody and Sankey Gospel Hymns, others built by generous and sacrificial donations from people like Mary Billings French, Elizabeth Billings, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Sage, Helen M. Gould Shephard, George S. Palmer, Elizabeth G. Merrill, James Keep, Bertha Bristol Tracy, Donald Dolben, and David F. Bolger.

While making use of these buildings, and while respecting their history, we will continue to renew them over time, and dedicate them to great saints of the Catholic Church. Sage Chapel now honors Our Mother of Perpetual Help; the pool area in Meany Gym will be known as the Connelly Family Aquatic Center and will honor a great role model for our students, St. Joan of Arc; Kenarden Hall will honor the great administrator and martyr, St. Thomas More; and Palmer Hall will honor either St. Gianna Molla or St. Hildegard of Bingen, both of whom, among other things, were devoted to science and medicine. More saints will be memorialized as our conversations with benefactors continue.

This day marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Thomas Aquinas College. Deeply committed to its mission of Catholic liberal education (not “liberal Catholic education,” as one wag commented on Facebook recently), the College began humbly in 1971 with 33 students and 4 faculty members on a leased campus in Calabasas, California. Today, thanks to the generosity of many benefactors and to the providence of God, the College has over 2,000 alumni — some of whom are with us today to mark this occasion — and a campus in the hills above Santa Paula, California, which has grown from a few trailers and a corn-dog and cotton-candy stand into one of the most beautiful in all of higher education.

Here in Northfield, thankfully, we are skipping the trailers and the corn-dog stand and beginning with a campus of great beauty and promise. We open today with 58 students and 8 faculty members and, God willing, we will gradually grow our enrollment to between 350 and 400 students, equal to our enrollment in California and perfect for a campus of this size.

We will keep to our mission as articulated in our founding and governing document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education. In accordance with the Proposal, and guided by the method and doctrine of our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, and by the teachings of the Catholic Church, we will educate our students in the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition, helping them make a good beginning in the broad range of the liberal arts, and introducing them to the greatest works of our civilization. As is the case in California, our classes here will be marked by vigorous discussion and a fruitful exchange of ideas conducted in a spirit of openness, charity, and goodwill. As we have done in California, we will create a strong moral and spiritual community and prepare our students to serve well their communities, their country, and their Church.

It is, to my mind, a sign of the providential nature of this undertaking that the education we are offering here in the 21st century was well described in the 1889 edition of The Handbook of the Northfield Seminary and the Mount Hermon School, which quoted the words of St. Augustine: “The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him, and to imitate Him as we may, by possessing our souls of true virtue.”

This is a greater sign even than my seeing on my many visits to Northfield, when so many details of this effort were still to be worked out, the encouraging fact that “Dr. Mike’s Auto Clinic” is located just a few hundred yards south of this campus!

Augustine’s words state well the goal of Thomas Aquinas College, and so with those words in mind we come full circle on the Northfield campus, back to the earliest years of the Northfield Seminary. We are, in our own way, giving new life to the educational vision that animated this campus in the beginning, and, in so doing, we hope to continue to forge friendships with the citizens, and with the Catholic communities, of Northfield, the Pioneer Valley, and all of New England.

Grateful for the leadership of you faculty, staff, and students, I ask all of you here today to offer thanks to God in your prayers for this opportunity, and to pray that it is His will that we are today opening on this campus a college which will be a beacon in higher education in New England, a community of teachers, students, and friends of which the Thomas Aquinas College family and the Church can be proud.

Thank you.



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Michael F. McLean at New England Matriculation 2019
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)

“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”

– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)

Scholar and Writer