School year starting at Thomas Aquinas College with Saturday convocation

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2019 6:30:00 PM

NORTHFIELD — After 14 years without students, the Northfield campus will once again have inquiring young minds traversing the grounds this fall.

Thomas Aquinas College, the new occupant of the campus, which also has a branch in Santa Paula, Calif., will see students moving in on Friday as they prepare to kick off their first year. Convocation Day is set for Saturday, with classes starting Tuesday.

Thomas Aquinas College’s New England campus in Northfield will see 60 students occupying the facilities for the 2019 to 2020 school year. This will consist of 30 freshmen and 30 sophomores who transferred from the college’s West Coast campus.

The school will continue to accept 30 students per class for the next few years, then increase accepted class sizes until there are a few hundred students enrolled. At that time, Director of College Relations Anne Forsyth said, college staff will reassess the rate at which the school will be able to continue growing.

The 217-acre campus has been mostly unoccupied since Northfield Mount Hermon School consolidated to its Gill campus in 2005. While the 100-year-old buildings are structurally sound, some renovations were required to prepare for the new college, Forsyth explained. Residence halls, a dining room, classrooms, office buildings and the athletic facility, as well as faculty residences, have all been renovated for the upcoming year.

The college will have eight seasonal faculty members who will act as a source of congruence between the East and West Coast campuses, as well as four recently graduated resident assistants. The college also hired the Rev. Greg Markey of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. as the first chaplain for the New England campus. Dr. Tom Kaiser will be the New England campus’ dean of students.

The private, Catholic, coeducational college offers a single classical curriculum and one degree — a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, which is considered to be the equivalent of a double major in philosophy and theology, and a minor in mathematics.

Forsyth said the college educates its students for life, rather than a specific career. The college uses discussion-based classes and teaches from The Great Books of the Western World.

“Instead of lectures, tutors lead discussions that students are responsible for creating and partaking in,” she said.

Forsyth, herself an alumna of Thomas Aquinas College, said students read from the traditional texts and discuss what they’ve read in class. The discussion is normally started with a thought-provoking question from the class leader or tutor.

“It’s engaging,” Forsyth said. “You learn how to analyze and listen well. Students have to be able to cite text or authors to explain what they mean.”

College leaders have found that it is important to maintain a small, intimate community of learners that they find essential to the college’s discussion-based classes. This led them to limiting the number of students enrolled on the Santa Paula, Calif. campus to 400 or fewer. The school reached full enrollment on its California campus some years ago, and was then gifted the Northfield campus from the National Christian Foundation.

Forysth said the college is now realizing its hope of extending its unique program and Catholic liberal education to a larger number of young people. While other liberal arts colleges have struggled to maintain enrollment, Thomas Aquinas College is expanding to its second campus thanks to its private benefactors.

“We are entirely funded by private donations,” Forsyth said. “Our benefactors are making an investment in these young people.”

The school receives no direct government or church funding, and is highly regarded for its generous financial aid policies. Thomas Aquinas College was recently ranked first in the nation on Kiplinger’s list of the 400 Best College Values among liberal arts colleges.

Saturday’s convocation schedule

■8:30 a.m. — Mass of the Holy Spirit, with a blessing of the campus’ century-old chapel in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help by the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield.

■9:45 a.m. — Flag-raising ceremony, at the flag pole in the center of campus.

■10 a.m. — Coffee on the lawn by the flag pole.

■10:20 a.m. — Academic procession assembles in the auditorium library.

■10:30 a.m. — Matriculation ceremony in the auditorium with Bishop Rozanski presiding.

■Noon — Lunch at the tent by Gould Hall.

■1:15 p.m. — Interview with Chris Weinkopf, director of communications, in the classroom of Palmer Hall.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.

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