Academic Program Sets Us Apart, Says Thomas Aquinas College Dean
It’s an exciting time at Thomas Aquinas College, which is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity, with more students than ever benefiting from the faithful Catholic education provided by the College. The Santa Paula, Calif., campus reached full enrollment several years ago, but now TAC’s Northfield, Mass., campus allows for the College’s highest total enrollment ever.
The addition of the new campus has inspired several other developments, including a new motto for the College. The Newman Society recently asked Dr. John Goyette, dean of TAC, to discuss the motto and how it reflects the type of education that students receive.
Newman Society: What is the meaning behind the College’s new motto, Fides Quaerens Intellectum, or “Faith Seeking Understanding”? How does it relate to the College’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas?
Dr. Goyette: When we launched our New England campus last fall, we realized that we would need to update the Thomas Aquinas College crest, which previously read, “California – 1971.” Rather than trying to squeeze the name of both locations onto the crest, however, we decided to insert a motto—an expression of the essential nature of the institution. The College had never formally adopted a motto before, but the choice seemed obvious: St. Anselm’s description of the believer’s approach to learning, which is one of “faith seeking understanding.”
That short phrase tells you a great deal about Thomas Aquinas College. It tells you that our program is rooted in a desire to understand more perfectly, to see, as much as possible, what is first believed. It tells you that we have complete confidence in the compatibility of faith and reason, that we see natural science and mathematics not as threats to the Faith, but as ways to come to know and love God more deeply.
Although St. Thomas Aquinas did not coin the term “faith seeking understanding,” he embodied it. He labored his entire life to show how diligent study, illuminated by revelation, can bring us to some understanding of the mysteries of faith. More than any other Doctor of the Church, our patron shows us how the life of the mind is a foretaste of heaven, because it is there that the blessed—whose faith have given way to sight—have their desire to know Him perfectly satisfied.
Newman Society: How is this motto reflected in the education and student experience provided by the College?
Dr. Goyette: The entirety of Thomas Aquinas College’s academic program reflects that ours is a community of faith seeking understanding. Every student goes through the same integrated course of studies, which includes four years of natural science, four years of mathematics, four years of philosophy, four years of seminar (literature, history, and political science), two years of Latin, and one year of music—all ordered to four years of theology, the study of God.
At the heart of our curriculum are what we fondly call the great books, the original works of the greatest minds in our tradition, both ancient and modern. The great books explore the workings of the natural world, consider the most profound truths about the human person, and culminate in a contemplation of the greatest mysteries of God Himself.
Members of the teaching faculty—who are called “tutors”—guide small groups of students in discussions of these seminal works, employing what is known as the Discussion Method. In the classroom, 17 or 18 students sit around a table and, with a tutor as their guide, wrestle with the great books. Ideas are proposed and defended until, through discussion and argument, the class works its way toward an understanding of a given text. Together, in faith, we seek understanding and work toward truth—the Truth, Who is also the Way and the Life.
Newman Society: With the addition of the New England campus last fall, it’s an exciting time for the College. What do you think makes the College so attractive to Catholic families today?
Dr. Goyette: There are several colleges and universities today that offer a wholesome, faithful environment for Catholic students, as do both our California and New England campuses. But what sets Thomas Aquinas College apart, I believe, is our academic program, precisely because it is predicated on the notion of faith seeking understanding. We are the only Catholic college in the world that offers a curriculum based entirely on the great books and using the Discussion Method.
For 50 years we have held true to our founders’ vision of Catholic liberal education, and the results speak for themselves: not only does the College receive the endorsement of faithful Catholic programs such as The Newman Guide, it also consistently gets top rankings from secular publications, such as U.S. News and The Princeton Review, in recognition of our record of academic achievement. We also have alumni serving the Church and society throughout the world in every field and discipline—in technology, public service, education, law, medicine, and, of course, the priesthood and religious life.
I think that is probably what attracts Catholic families most of all. Here they know they can get an education that is both faithful and excellent, one which will prepare their children for whatever vocation or career to which they are called.
Newman Society: Anything else you’d like to add?
Dr. Goyette: I guess I would point out that families ought not be deterred by one factor that, sometimes, will lead them to erroneously conclude that they cannot come to Thomas Aquinas College—the cost. In keeping with our Catholic mission, the College is committed to never turning away any student on the basis of financial means. We meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, and we cap student loans at $18,000 over four years. Last year Kiplinger rated the College #1 out of 1,200 colleges and universities on its “Best Value Colleges” list. Any student who is willing and able to be part of our community of faith seeking understanding can afford to do so.
Also, it’s worth noting that, for students who want to get a sense of whether Thomas Aquinas College is for them, there is no better way to find out than to visit. In particular, rising high school seniors should check out our two-week Summer Program, which is now available on both coasts.
Copyright © 2020 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.