Like bookends on the shelf of its celebrated Great Books program, Thomas Aquinas College will soon have campuses on both the West Coast and the East.
The pioneering Catholic college, based in Santa Paula, California, is announcing today that it plans to open a new campus in Massachusetts. It has entered into a preliminary grant agreement with the National Christian Foundation (NCF) to accept its gift of a former secondary school campus in Northfield, Massachusetts. TAC will assume ownership of the 217-acre property on May 2 and open its doors to students on this branch campus in the fall of 2018.
Prior to May 2, the college will complete its assessment of the physical plant at the new site and continue its efforts to obtain necessary permitting.
TAC says it wants to afford more students the ability to study the Great Books curriculum while maintaining a smaller, more intimate campus.
“To maintain an intimate community of learners at the college, we have thought it important to keep the student body on our California campus at 400 or fewer,” said college president Dr. Michael F. McLean, in a statement.
Since reaching full enrollment some years ago, though, the college has had to turn away more and more applicants each year.
“We have been considering, therefore, the possibility of a second campus,” McLean said. “Given the tremendous challenges and costs involved, the question would have remained no more than academic—but for this extraordinary opportunity that the National Christian Foundation has offered us. Never did we imagine we could acquire a campus so fully developed and so beautiful.”
The Northfield property is located in a rural setting in the Connecticut River valley some 90 miles northwest of Boston. It has 40 primary buildings, including eight dormitories, seven academic buildings and administration buildings. It has a library, a science hall, a large auditorium, a music building, a gymnasium with related athletic facilities, and a chapel that can be adapted easily for Catholic worship.
Established in the 19th century by evangelist and biblical scholar Dwight L. Moody, the Northfield property has a history of education and evangelism. It was the original home of Northfield Mount Hermon School, which began as two institutions – Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879 and Mount Hermon School for Boys in 1881. The two schools became a single institution in 1971 and consolidated to the Mount Hermon campus in 2005.
Four years later, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. purchased the Northfield property with the intention of giving it, free of charge, to an institution that would maintain it and continue Moody’s legacy of Christian education. Hobby Lobby then entrusted the property to the NCF, a leader in Christian philanthropy, to find a suitable recipient.
The founder of the NCF Heartland’s Board of Directors, Emmitt Mitchell, comments that, “From the beginning, we have been impressed with Thomas Aquinas College for its commitment to academic excellence. We selected it because of this reputation, its strong leadership, and its financial strength.”
“We are profoundly grateful to Emmitt and the National Christian Foundation,” said McLean, “for this magnificent gift of the Northfield property, and we are deeply thankful for their help in creating a $5 million matching grant to help us launch our unique program of Catholic liberal education in New England.”
The plan for the branch campus “is to start small and build slowly, just as our founders did in California,” McLean said. Thirty-six freshmen will be accepted in each of the first four years, and more as time goes along, allowing the student body to increase slowly to a maximum of 350-400 students. Seasoned tutors from the California campus have volunteered to move east as part of this new venture and will be a strong source of congruence between the California and New England campuses in all aspects: the academic program, the residential life, and the spiritual life of the new community.
“Both campuses will be fully committed to, and governed by, our founding document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education,” McLean said. “Both will initially be part of one college, with a single faculty, a single board of governors, a single curriculum, and a single accreditation, but we will explore the path to the possible independence of the two campuses in the years to come.”
A spokesperson for TAC said that McLean doesn’t want to give anyone the impression that the college has a commitment to remain as one school with two campus forever. “We may do that, but we may not,” said Anne Forsyth. “We’re leaving the possibility open that in time (10-15 years?), the community at Northfield may become its own college.”
TAC will share a portion of the Northfield property with the Moody Center, whose mission is to preserve the legacy of Dwight L. Moody. The Center will be restoring many historic parts of the campus, including the Homestead as well as the Moody Auditorium, which seats 2,200 and is the home of Moody’s famous revivals. It will also build a Moody museum, which will be open to the public, and house a repository of archives that have historical significance to the evangelist’s life and legacy.
“Northfield was once a premier destination for Christian leaders and conferences, and through this transition of ownership, The Moody Center has the opportunity to again re-establish the property as a preeminent location for teaching and training biblical scholars,” said Mitchell. “While D.L. Moody died over 100 years ago, the legacy of Moody lives on today. The Moody Center is committed to sharing his life and message of inspiration with the next generation.”
The 4-year, co-educational Thomas Aquinas College strives to impart a broad and fully integrated liberal education. It offers one 4-year classical curriculum that spans the major arts and sciences. Instead of reading textbooks, students read the original works of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization — the Great Books — in all the major disciplines: mathematics, natural science, literature, philosophy, and theology. The academic life of the college is conducted under the light of the Catholic faith and flourishes within a close-knit community, supported by a vibrant spiritual life.