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Scott Turicchi: “The Relevance of
Thomas Aquinas College Today”

Posted: July 23, 2018

Audio

by R. Scott Turicchi
Chairman of the Board of Governors
Thomas Aquinas College
Alumni Association Dinner
July 7, 2018

 

It is a great privilege to be able to address you and, on behalf of the whole Board of Governors, to accept this award. It’s not for me, it’s really for our Board, and I would like to just let you know that our Board members are all very dedicated to the College and to its mission. They have tremendous love for what goes on within this academic institution. That keeps us motivated, and hopefully it will motivate you, as well.

When Aaron first reached out a couple of months ago and asked if I would both accept this award and say a few words, I readily accepted the opportunity, only to then think, “Wait a minute — I know a lot of these people in this room! That’s not a good thing.” A lot of times when I do presentations on behalf of my company, I’m speaking to total strangers. It’s much better! So then I asked him, “Well, what is it you would like me to talk about?” And he said, “Well, I think you better talk about something important, something heavy.” I said, “Wow, this is getting worse.” And just so you know, if I had not been foolish, and I had made a different decision 37 years ago, I would be out there with you tonight, and we would all be looking at someone else making a presentation. But you’re stuck with me here. So let’s dive into it, because I think I’ve burned a couple of minutes.

What Aaron came back with — and all of you as alums, you’re going to be getting a little letter from me in August, as we begin our fiscal year — he happened to hit a topic, the themes of which you will see when you get that letter. It’s the relevance of Thomas Aquinas College today. And I actually think this is very worthy of reflection as we approach the 50th anniversary of the founding document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, dated 1969. But I think in order to really address this question, we must go back to understand some of the reasons why there was a need for TAC to even exist in the minds of our founders. (Now I’m really going out on a ledge here, given that we have one of the founders in the room. So, to try to read Jack’s mind, I’m going into dangerous territory!)

I think if you read the founding document, two things become very clear. There were two things going on within the American academic world that were cause for concern at the beginning, and through the middle part, of the 20th century. The first was a movement of education toward learning vocational skills and away from absorbing modes by which we learn to think. The second was an evolving understanding of academic freedom.

Now, there is not enough time to go into both of these in great detail, but I do want to take a few minutes to explore the latter point, which is one of academic freedom. Many will point to the year 1967 and, specifically, the Land O’Lakes Statement that gave or took, if you will, academic autonomy away from ecclesiastical authority for Catholic institutions. And this was given great prominence, of course, by the signatory of the University of Notre Dame.

But I would point out that this was a culmination of more than 75 years of development of a concept of academic freedom that actually came out of Germany beginning in the late 1800s. I am going to quote a German thinker. He’s not identified, so I can’t tell you who he is, but listen to what he is saying in the late 1800s: “For the academic teacher and his hearers (students), there can be no prescribed and no proscribed thoughts. There is only one rule of instruction: to justify the truth of one’s teaching by reason and the facts” — not the truth, but one’s truth.

This was eventually incorporated in 1940 into the American Association of University Professors’ statement on academic freedom. This first had an effect on secular universities but soon gained traction in those that were religiously affiliated. In the United States, the real battle took place in the spring of 1967 at the Catholic University of America, regarding the teaching appointment of Fr. Charles Curran. The academic establishment at the time understood that a victory at CUA — a pontifical university founded and governed by the most prominent cardinals and bishops in the Untied States — would bring about a profound change in the relationship between academia and the Church. While that board initially elected to refrain from extending Fr. Curran’s teaching contract, under pressure from the Academic Senate and the students — who shut down the university for a week — not only was Fr. Curran granted an extension of the contract, but he was given tenure.

That blink of the bishops in the spring of 1967 unleashed a deluge of dissent against Humanae Vitae only one year later, led by that same Fr. Curran. So I propose that under this backdrop, Thomas Aquinas College was founded and remains relevant to three important constituencies: the academic community at large, the Church, and, more broadly, society at large. I wish that in the past 50 years a course correction had taken place, and there was a lesser need for TAC today, but unfortunately that is not the case.

To the academic community, TAC stands as a beacon that rightly understands that academic freedom is not an end in itself, but a means to fulfill education’s goal, which is to find knowledge of the Truth. Of course, this is more difficult for the academy to understand today as it lives in the skeptical world of Pontius Pilate, who questions, “What is truth?”

To the Church, TAC demonstrates the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, the collaboration and proper role of the laity vis-à-vis the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The proper understanding is to utilize the people of God’s talents to build the Kingdom of God, not to clericalize the laity or to laicize the clerics. TAC represent the right relationship between the secular aspects of running an academic institution and the proper respect for the magisterium as invested in the local bishop.

These first two examples of TAC’s relevance are inward-looking to specific communities — the first being the academic community, the second, the Church community — but I want to turn our attention to the last group, which is our society and culture. When I was first elected as the chair of the Board of Governors four years ago, my opening remarks to my fellow governors focused on preserving the mission of Thomas Aquinas College. However, I see the mission of the College in very broad terms, basically, as Fr. Buckley said in his invocation, assisting us to become saints — which will allow you, TAC grads and alumni, to act as leaven in the world. I dream of the day, which I am not likely to see, when we will have a liturgical feast day in the Church’s calendar dedicated to the saints of Thomas Aquinas College — founders, presidents, tutors, students, and graduates. We all know saints have walked these halls. It is in the formation of saints that TAC has its most relevance, and that is the only way by which our society will improve.

Unfortunately, the passage of time since TAC’s founding has not been kind to our culture. What was an academic question of freedom now has bled into society as a whole, devolving into each person pursuing his own definition of truth; hence the problem has grown exponentially. But by your example — and I mean the witness of each one of you — you can demonstrate that human freedom is (and I quote from Fr. Jacques Philippe, a noted French spiritual director), “not so much a power to transform as a capacity to welcome.” If freedom is not dedicated to a real good, driven by objective values, it simply ceases to exist.

So let tonight, which is rightly meant to to be enjoyable and a time to renew friendships, also be a challenge to each one of us — and for this purpose I include myself as part of your group — to examine how we are progressing on this path to sainthood. Let us take the time to re-read the founding document, to remind us why TAC was born and why she is still needed. The real answer to the question that was asked as to the relevance of TAC in the modern world rests with all of us: If we remain true to the gift that Thomas Aquinas College has given us, and therefore remain relevant in the world, then TAC remains relevant as an institution.

May God bless each one of you, and Thomas Aquinas College, for the next 50 years. Thank you.

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Scott Turicchi at the 2018 Alumni Association West Coast Dinner (2018)
Suzie Jackson (’15)

“The texts we are reading ask the fundamental questions in life, which every human person needs to be able to answer. You want to answer these questions, and you experience the beauty of wonder in discussing them.”

– Suzie Jackson (’15)

Manassas, Va.

“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”

– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)

Archbishop of New York

(1999)

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