You are on page 1of 10

Thomas Aquinas College

Santa Paula, California

Thomas Aquinas College was the first of the Aq

new Catholic colleges launched after the on-


set of the crisis of Catholic higher education

l e ge
in the late 1960s. The founding of TAC helped
encourage the founding of other Catholic col-
leges “born from the crisis,” and the college
or its curriculum are often used as a guide for C
9 71
these institutions. if o
r nia - 1
While there are several solid Catholic
colleges that successfully reflect the Catholic
intellectual tradition, TAC has built a national
reputation for its rigorous Great Books ap-
quick facts
proach that traces its 20th-century lineage to
Columbia University, The University of Chi- Founded: 1971
cago and St. John’s College of Annapolis. Type of institution: Small liberal arts college
Setting: Small city
Located next to the small city of Santa
Undergraduate enrollment: 341 (2008–09
Paula, about an hour northwest of Los Ange-
academic year)
les, Thomas Aquinas has a simple yet unified
Total undergraduate cost: $29,800 (tuition,
classical curriculum. room and board for 2009–10)
It is fully committed to a Great Books ap- Undergraduate majors: One (Liberal Arts)
proach, a discussion-style class format and a
curriculum that emphasizes the rich tradition Five Key Points
of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fulfilling its mis-
sion, the college uses no textbooks, no lectures 1. A rigorous Great Books curriculum
taught by the Socratic method.
and no menu of majors. All graduates receive
a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. 2. Solidly wedded to integrating classical
Among its many strengths is an impres- Catholic thought with academics.
sive faculty of “tutors.” All 37 tutors are well- 3. There is collegial student and faculty
rounded academics who engage students in (tutor) environment.
Socratic dialogue in small classes. Each is ex- 4. The college has acquired a prestigious
pected to be able to teach every course. A 1993 national reputation.
accrediting report quoted students as saying 5. The college was the first of the new
the tutors “‘were some of the smartest people’ orthodox Catholic colleges after
they had ever known.” Vatican II.

The Newman Guide 211
Thomas Aquinas College

TAC has been practicing this way of edu-
From the cating Catholics—up to 95 percent of the stu-
dent body is Catholic—for more than a gen-
Financial Aid Office
eration. The campus was originally located at
a Claretian seminary near Calabasas, Califor-
“Thomas Aquinas College is committed
nia, in 1971 and moved to its permanent Fern-
to making its unique program of Catho-
dale Ranch location seven years later.
lic liberal education available to accepted
Despite its small size, the college has ac-
students, regardless of their financial
quired a solid reputation, with a national stu-
need. Through the generosity of its do-
dent body coming from 42 states and several
nors, the College is able to offer financial
other countries. It consistently ranks among
assistance to young men and women who
the best liberal arts colleges in the country.
would otherwise not be able to attend.
Forty-five percent of its alumni go on to grad-
“Thomas Aquinas College realizes that in uate work.
these challenging economic times some Former president Dr. Thomas Dillon said
families have experienced a dramatic that to ensure this type of intellectual and
reduction in income and/or assets. The personal environment, the enrollment will re-
College stands ready and willing to help main at about 350 students. He told us, “You
students and families with their demon- can mass produce graduates—and a lot of col-
strated financial need as determined by leges do—but we are interested in a commu-
the financial aid application. nity of friends. We are looking for friendships
for life from TAC.”
“We encourage all families who feel they It was that community of friends that
are unable to manage the full cost of tu- mourned Dr. Dillon’s death in a traffic acci-
ition, room and board to apply for aid. dent in April 2009. Dr. Dillon, who had been
Visit our website for application materials at Thomas Aquinas for 37 years and became president in 1991, was highly respected for
his character and his intellect.
“Sources of financial assistance include
TAC co-founder Peter DeLuca is cur-
Pell Grants, California State Grants, local
rently serving as interim president. A search
and national scholarships, Stafford Stu-
among the current tutors for a permanent
dent Loans, Canada Student Loans and
president is expected to be completed by the
Veterans Administration benefits. Loan
end of 2009.
debt is kept to a minimum, with average
“This College simply wouldn’t exist if it
student loan indebtedness only $15,000
weren’t for Peter DeLuca,” wrote the college’s
after four years. The College also has its
first president, Dr. Ronald MacArthur, in
own generous aid program that provides
need-based Service Scholarships (work-
Both the Western Association of Schools
study) and tuition grants.
and Colleges, the regional accrediting agency,
“So apply for financial aid and let us and the American Academy of Liberal Edu-
show you how we can help! Contact: Greg cation accredit the college. This high quality
Becher, 800-634-9797 ext. 5936, finaid@ of education has been maintained without ac-” cepting federal or state government support.
The price for this nationally-recognized
education is well below the average for pri-

212 The Newman Guide
Thomas Aquinas College

vate colleges in California. Tuition, room and “I’ve been a customer as well as a pro-
board cost students $29,800 in 2009-10. Gener- ducer,” DeLuca has said. “I have all the same
ous financial aid packages may include fed- good feelings that other parents have because
eral Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. of that. And also, it’s been a tremendous
honor to spend my life doing something so
worthwhile and seeing it work. I feel as if I’ve
Governance been able to strike a blow in favor of Western
Civilization after all.”
Thomas Aquinas was founded by lay Catho-
lics and continues to be led by a lay board of
governors. The 30-member board includes Public Identity
prominent Catholic business leaders. There
are no priests or religious on the board. The The founding document of Thomas Aquinas
college receives no financial support from College, “A Proposal for the Fulfillment of
the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, although it Catholic Liberal Education,” begins with not-
has received praise and official sanction from ing the contemporary “crisis in the Catholic
Cardinal Roger Mahony, who presided at the college”—which was as much a prediction
college’s new chapel as an acknowledg-
Mass of Dedication ment in 1969. The
in March 2009. document contin-
Among gover- ues: “The first and
nors emeriti are Dr. most pressing duty,
Ralph McInerny, therefore, if there
the distinguished is to be Catholic
Thomist philosopher education, calls for
and emeritus profes- reestablishing in
sor at the University our minds the cen-
of Notre Dame, and tral role the teach-
former U.S. ambas- ing Church should
sador to the Vatican play in the intellec-
William Wilson. tual life of Catholic
William Bentley teachers and stu-
Ball, a Catholic con- dents.”
stitutional attorney, Dr. Dillon told
and industrialist J. Peter Grace are listed as us two years ago that the college has remained
some of the prominent deceased governors of faithful to that promise. “Thomas Aquinas
the college. College,” he said, “was the first of the new
President DeLuca is a TAC co-founder Catholic colleges to set out for orthodoxy.
and has served as an officer of TAC for most of We’ve kept to the founding principles that are
its history, most recently as vice president for contained in our founding document.”
finance and administration before taking the Tutors explain that classical works such
reins after Dr. Dillon’s tragic death. DeLuca is as St. Augustine’s Confessions reflect the
a graduate of St. Mary’s College of California Catholic intellectual tradition. Dr. Dillon
and was an early director of the Intercolle- said, “There is a dedication to theology as the
giate Studies Institute in the 1960s. Four of highest science, and our curriculum focuses
his six children graduated from TAC. on the ‘highest things.’”

The Newman Guide 213
Thomas Aquinas College

Perhaps this emphasis is reflected in a Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Archbishop of
comment made to us by the director of ad- Quebec, Canada (2009).
missions that while 90-95 percent of the study
body is Catholic, there are numerous conver-
sions each year.
There appear to have been no question-
The Great Books curriculum is structured
able speakers on campus, as TAC reflects a
around six disciplines each year: seminar,
strong public witness to the faith. Many of
language, mathematics, laboratory, philoso-
the guest lecturers discuss the Thomist tra-
phy and theology. All the traditional classical
dition. In early
writers are present,
2007, for example,
including Descartes,
there was an all-
Galileo, Newton,
college seminar on
Tolstoy, Dostoyevs-
Aquinas’s Summa
ki, Einstein and even
contra Gentiles, a
the debates of Lin-
St. Thomas Day
coln and Douglas in
Lecture by Father
1858. The dean’s of-
James Schall, S.J.,
fice publishes a jour-
of Georgetown
nal, the Aquinas Re-
University and a
view, “in the hope of
lecture on Thomas
maintaining and en-
Aquinas by Dr.
larging a communi-
Paul Gondreau of
ty of learners which
Providence Col-
extends beyond the
confines” of the TAC campus.
In March 2009 Dr. McInerny gave a series
All students take required classes in
of three lectures on natural theology based on
each year. There are no electives, no classes
his prestigious Gifford Lectures, first given at
that reflect “vocational” training. No trans-
Glasgow, Scotland, in 1999-2000. According
fers are accepted. There are no study-abroad
to one observer, it was “very Aristotelian and
programs because it is deemed to be a dis-
traction from the college’s focus. Freshmen,
Among other recent speakers have been
sophomores and juniors participate in bian-
two papabili, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Ni-
nual evaluations with professors in a process
geria, who delivered the 2004 commencement
known as the “Don Rags,” named after a sim-
address, and Cardinal Christoph Schonborn,
ilar system used by Oxford University dons
O.P., the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria.
or professors. Grades mostly come from class
George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John
Paul II, spoke at a 35th anniversary event for
Our interviews indicate great respect for
the college and warmly endorsed it.
the tutors, nearly a third of whom are alumni
The last three commencement speakers
of Thomas Aquinas College. Interviewees
were: Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith,
were reluctant to single out any for special
then-Secretary for Divine Worship and the
praise. One staff member speaks of the “per-
Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican’s
sonal example of the tutors, who are exempla-
Roman Curia (2007); Cardinal George Pell,
ry role models, humble before the Truth, liv-
Archbishop of Sydney, Australia (2008); and
ing their vocations as husbands and fathers,

214 The Newman Guide
Thomas Aquinas College

leading wholesome lives that the students ac- ence. Four years are required in both subjects,
tually have an opportunity to see because of which is very unusual in any standard ‘lib-
our small community and the tutors’ involve- eral arts’ program. This is why we tend not
ment in the life of the college.” to describe ourselves as a ‘liberal arts’ school,
Further, the tutors have formed a col- but rather one that offers a ‘liberal education’
legial faculty environment. One said, “Since or a ‘classical education.’”
there are no departments, you do not find fac- One tutor tells us, “In the case of the the-
ulty who think they can only talk to others in ology courses, the depth and attention given
their field.” The curriculum and the faculty’s these classical works shows TAC’s commit-
wide familiarity with it promote a degree of ment to theology as queen of the sciences.” Al-
commonality. though it is the goal at the college for each tu-
The intellectual environment is rigorous tor to be able to teach every great book, those
across the curriculum. One administrator who specifically concentrate on theology are
noted, “Yet another hallmark of our program practicing Catholics, are carefully chosen and
is its rigor in mathematics and laboratory sci- take an Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium.

Message from the President

Dear Parents and Prospective Students:

Thomas Aquinas College is unique among American colleges and
universities. We hold with confidence that the human mind is capable
of knowing the truth about reality, that living according to the truth is
necessary for happiness, and that truth is best comprehended through the
harmonious work of faith and reason. We understand the intellectual virtues to be essential
to the life of reason, and we consider the cultivation of those virtues to be the primary work of
student and teacher.

The College offers a single academic program: an integrated, non-elective curriculum rooted
in the Western, Catholic intellectual tradition. The greatest books in that tradition, both ancient
and modern, replace textbooks; careful inquiry in small tutorials, seminars, and laboratories re-
places lectures. The curriculum challenges students and faculty alike to disciplined scholarship
in the arts and sciences — indispensable for critical judgment and genuine wisdom.

Thomas Aquinas College also provides a strong Catholic liturgical and sacramental envi-
ronment conducive to spiritual growth while its rules of residence support the good moral order
appropriate for those engaged in the pursuit of truth.

Sincerely yours,

Peter L. DeLuca, Acting President

The Newman Guide 215
Thomas Aquinas College

These tutors guide students in the first ry texts very different.”
year through the Bible. In the sophomore As with Mass attendance, weekday meals
year, works by St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, and formal events, there is a dress code for
St. Anselm, St. John Damascene and Gaunilo classes. This means slacks, collared shirts and
are included in the theology works read and closed shoes for men and dresses or skirts
discussed. One staff and tops for women.
member says, “Stu- Modesty is empha-
dents are often pow- sized. The prefects,
erfully affected by or student resident
reading Augustine’s assistants and univer-
Confessions and his City sity staff reinforce the
of God.” During the dress code.
freshman, junior and According to
senior years, Thomas one tutor, “This un-
Aquinas is read. In the derscores the con-
senior year, four land- cept that we present
mark papal encyclicals ourselves in a more
of St. Pius X, Leo XII, classy and formal way
Pius XI and Pius XII when we are engaged
are studied. in a higher activity.
While sometimes The students usually
the circumscribed cur- come to enjoy this
riculum forces, say, practice, and it fosters
pre-medical students a healthy way of liv-
to take additional ing they appreciate.”
coursework before attending medical school, To help give prospective students a pre-
those interested in a broad educational focus view of academic life at TAC, the college runs
can thrive in this Great Books oasis. In fact, an annual two-week summer program for
about five percent of the students already rising high school seniors. They are exposed
come with bachelor’s degrees. Of those, some to tutors in small seminars where they study
are professionals in their 20s who want the Sophocles, Plato, Kierkegaard, Shakespeare,
undergraduate education they might have Euclid, Pascal and Boethius. They also par-
missed earlier. There have been some middle- ticipate in the college’s spiritual life. About
aged students. 45 to 50 percent of the attendees subsequently
And yet, students at TAC are diverse as enroll as undergraduates.
well as motivated. One administrator said, The environment, although stimulat-
“The criteria important for admission are an ing, is not intimidating. “At TAC,” one tutor
ability to do the work and a desire for this said, “people can talk to each other. Students
education. Many of our students are self-se- can talk with each other at lunch about what
lecting. You have to want to learn.” they are talking about in class. The majority
She added, “In the freshman year, many of the tutors—and chaplains—eat lunch with
students are learning how to learn. If you students. It is a congenial setting. It is intel-
went through high school memorizing infor- lectual but not only intellectual. It is relaxed
mation for a test and did little else, you will and personal, too.”
find the Socratic method and reading prima-

216 The Newman Guide
Thomas Aquinas College

ristic Adoration and frequent opportunities
Spiritual Life for confession. There is a Legion of Mary
Father Paul Raftery, O.P., one of the chaplains, About 11 percent of TAC alumni have
says that the college’s strong Catholic identity entered religious life. In a 2007 Vatican pub-
is shown by “a full embracing of the Catholic lication, Dr. Dillon attributed this success to
faith, fidelity to the Magisterium, a concern Catholic faithfulness, the academic program,
for orthodoxy and reverence in liturgy.” campus chaplains, the overall college com-
There are four Masses daily offered by munity, the lay witness at the college and a
three non-teaching chaplains who are of the supportive “like-minded” student body.
Dominican, Jesuit and Norbertine orders.
These Masses are at 7 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 5 p.m.
and 10 p.m.; there also are two on Saturdays Student Activities
and three on Sundays. They have been de-
scribed as “reverent, prayerful and sincere.” Despite its small size, Thomas Aquinas has
Tutors participate in the weekly Masses, a number of student activities. They include
which take place at the Chapel at St. Joseph the student journal Demiurgus; study groups
Commons. There also is a small Our Lady for four languages; three dramatic groups,
of Guadalupe Chapel. There is a Mass dress including one known as St. Genesius Players,
code. which presents a couple of productions per
The biggest recent development on cam- year; various choral and instrumental groups;
pus, by far, was the construction of the $23 the Bushwhackers hiking club; and intramu-
million Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy ral sports. There are dances, Schubertiades
Trinity, which recitals, intramural sports (largely basketball
was dedicated in and soccer) and
March 2009. Cel- other informal ac-
ebrated architect tivities.
Duncan Stroik The Masses
designed the are enhanced by
chapel, which is student participa-
in the Roman- tion in a choir—
esque style and which also pres-
includes a 135- ents concerts—as
foot bell tower. It well as by the
also has an eight- Gregorian chant
foot statue of ensemble, Schola.
Our Lady as the There is an active
Woman of the pro-life group,
Apocalypse on TACers for Life.
top and a lime- The director of
stone cornerstone blessed by Pope Benedict admissions, Jonathan Daly, offered us a mov-
XVI at St. Peter’s Square in September 2008. ing story of how this group began.
This new structure enhances an already “It started in 1997 with a student from
vibrant spiritual program. In addition to the Washington state named Angela Baird,” he
25 or more weekly Masses, the students also said. “She had prayed and counseled outside
participate in an evening Rosary and Eucha- of abortion clinics since the age of 14. When

The Newman Guide 217
Thomas Aquinas College

she was a sophomore at TAC, she and a small ing, which houses the cafeteria, or anywhere
group of her classmates went hiking, a popu- else on campus.
lar pastime for TAC students. Two of the men’s halls have chaplains in
“In a tragic accident, she slipped and fell residence, and one of the women’s halls has
off a cliff when she turned around to speak a female resident assistant. Student prefects
with one of her friends monitor the dorms. There
walking behind her. She is a curfew on week-
landed 60 feet below onto nights and a later one
a rock. Two students [in- on weekends. Chastity
cluding Daly] found her is encouraged. Although
while others went for one interviewee reported
emergency help. that some drinking takes
“As she was waiting place off campus, there
for the helicopter rescue, does not appear to be a
they prayed together. drinking or drug prob-
Her final request was for lem at TAC.
prayers for aborted babies. For routine medical
She died later that night. attention, the college has
Ever since her death, a part-time nurse and a
TAC students have made medical health special-
regular trips to abortion ist. Ten minutes from
clinics. On the seventh campus in town is Santa
anniversary of Angela’s Paula Hospital, a 49-bed
death, students arrived facility. Although small,
at a particular abortion this facility has an emer-
clinic and were surprised gency room and a helio-
to find moving vans dis- port. There also are three
mantling the clinic. It was medical centers within a
closing permanently.” 15-to-20-minute drive in
The pro-life effort continues at the col- the cities of Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura.
lege. In January 2009, for example, about two-
thirds of the student body attended the Walk
for Life West Coast in San Francisco, about
The Community
400 miles away.
The college is located six miles from Santa
Paula, which has about 29,500 people, five
Residential Life times its 1970 population. About 71 percent of
the city is of Hispanic origin, and that heri-
All TAC students are housed in six residence tage reflects some of the town’s stores, restau-
halls, three for men and three for women. rants and activities.
They are named for Blessed Junipero Serra, A one-time get-away spot for Hollywood
the 18th-century Franciscan missionary, and actors, the region relies on agriculture, and
five saints. Each room accommodates two Santa Paula is known as the “Citrus Capital
students. There is no visitation at any time at of the World.” One of the features of Santa
opposite-sex residences. Men and women can Paula is a series of eight outdoor murals that
get together at the St. Joseph Commons build- chronicle the city’s history.

218 The Newman Guide
Thomas Aquinas College

The Pacific Ocean is a half-hour away, The Bottom Line
and students go to the beach. The two mil-
lion-acre Los Padres National Forest abuts In some ways, Thomas Aquinas College
the campus and offers outdoor opportunities. stands by itself among Catholic colleges. It is
There are many cultural and entertainment the only Catholic college that exclusively fo-
opportunities in Los Angeles and Santa Bar- cuses on the Great Books. There is an impres-
bara as well. sive intellectual rigor at TAC that is matched
The weather is the pleasant type that can by a commitment to orthodox Catholicism.
be expected in southern California. The local This combination has attracted a wide
crime rate recently was only about 60 percent following around the country, and TAC’s rep-
of the national crime index. utation has become international. More than
Out-of-state students who attend Thom- 90 percent of the student body is Catholic,
as Aquinas are likely to arrive at Los Angeles and alumni tend to make up a large percent-
International Airport (LAX), the busiest U.S. age of tutors . There is a certain sense of ongo-
passenger airport west of Chicago and one of ing immersion in a special adventure at TAC
the key world airports. United, American and that can last a lifetime—and beyond.
Southwest airlines make up about half of the The intensity here, although conducted
passenger traffic, but many carriers are rep- in a collegial way, is likely to appeal to a par-
resented. ticular type of student. The TAC summer high
Most students who arrive at the airport school program offers prospective students a
take a short trip on a commuter bus, the Ven- very practical test drive.
tura County Airporter, that runs between
LAX and the Oxnard airport, where the col-
lege’s staff meet students and bring them di-
rectly to the college.

The Newman Guide 219
For more information on
recommended Catholic colleges
go to

Videos, pictures, application deadlines, open house dates,
admissions contact information, insider tips and more!

Free and online 24/7

Follow The Newman Guide
on Facebook and Twitter @TheNewmanGuide