….I first heard about Thomas Aquinas College when I was an undergraduate at the University of Kansas in the early 1970s and a student of what was then called the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program. I graduated from high school in 1973, and in a few weeks from now, I will be attending my 50-year high school reunion in the suburbs of Kansas City, where I grew up. I was not yet a Catholic when I showed up as a freshman at KU. My main interests at the time were basketball and the Grateful Dead, and KU had them both! But God had other designs.
Providentially, I enrolled in the Integrated Humanities Program as a freshman. By the middle of my junior year, I was baptized and received into the Catholic Church. If I were to distill it down to one thing, in addition to the power of supernatural grace, what converted me to the Catholic Church was a “great books” liberal arts education.
The IHP, as it came to be known, was taught by three remarkable professors: Dennis Quinn, Franklyn Nelick, and John Senior. It is interesting to note that the IHP also opened its doors at the University of Kansas in the fall semester of 1971 as a college within the college.
As it turned out, the third of these three professors, John Senior, who eventually became my godfather, was a dear friend and colleague of Dr. Ronald McArthur, the founding president of Thomas Aquinas College. In the ’70s I remember Dr. Senior mentioning a new upstart college in California, a new college devoted to the renewal of the great traditions of philosophy and western liberal education….
The one and only visit I ever made to TAC before now was for a wedding of the daughter of one of my KU classmates in June of 2009. I believe it was the very first wedding celebrated in the new Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. I told my buddy I would do the wedding under one condition: that he would arrange for me to meet Ronald McArthur, who at the time was 85 years old and still teaching seminars! Born within a year of each other in the mid-1920s, John Senior and Ronald McArthur were contemporaries. Senior died in 1998, and McArthur passed away in 2013.
“What the first founders of this college envisioned, when they began this bold educational project, is now bearing tremendous fruit in schools, colleges, and educational endeavors across this country and beyond.”
Well, my friend made good on the deal, and late in the evening, the night before his daughter’s wedding, the two of us sat down at the outdoor patio on campus with Dr. McArthur and a bottle of wine and listened to the wisdom of this giant of a man — and he was literally a giant at 6’5”. We sat up until 1:00 a.m. listening to Dr. McArthur tell us story after story about our old professor and his dear friend and colleague. Truly the stuff of legends, and I shall never forget the conversation we had that night out under the stars.
As you might imagine, these great men and profound thinkers didn’t always see eye to eye on what is wrong with modern higher education. Dr. McArthur would argue that the problem with higher education is a “crisis of reason.” He would say that young college students don’t know how to think logically anymore. They need to be immersed in the perennial philosophy of the ages. They need to learn the wisdom of St. Thomas.
John Senior, who had great love for St. Thomas and was steeped in Thomistic philosophy, would respond, “Well, Ron, I don’t disagree with you. We are certainly living in an age that suffers from a crisis of reason. Objective truth is no longer being taught in our colleges. But more than a ‘crisis of reason,’ we are suffering from a ‘crisis of imagination.’ Young people today have lost the sense of wonder. They don’t have any poetry in their souls….”
From Thomas Aquinas College website