June 1, 1928 – February 8, 2013
Nearly 500 people arrived on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College Saturday, filling the pews of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel to remember and to pray for the soul of John W. Blewett. A former vice president of the College who, for 18 years, oversaw the development of the campus, Mr. Blewett played a key role in the history of the College. He was famous for his reverence, his friendliness, and his determination — all of which were reflected in the day’s memorial. (See: photos from the funeral Mass.)
The morning began with a requiem Mass in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, offered in the extraordinary form, and fittingly so, given Mr. Blewett’s love of the Latin Mass. Serving as celebrant was one of Mr. Blewett’s grandsons, the Rev. John Blewett, SJS, parochial vicar of Holy Cross Parish in Mazomanie, Wis., joined in the sanctuary by all three of the College’s chaplains and numerous visiting priests. The Thomas Aquinas College Choir and Schola Cantorum filled the Chapel with sacred music from the choir loft, while Mr. Blewett’s casket rested under the dome just outside the sanctuary.
A long caravan of vehicles then left the campus for a brief graveside service at Santa Paula Cemetery, where one of the College’s founders, Mr. Marcus A. Berquist, and its late president, Dr. Thomas E. Dillon, are also buried. The vehicles then returned to campus for a luncheon and memorial, where Mr. Blewett’s children, grandchildren, friends, and former colleagues shared memories of a man who was tireless in his devotion to God, in his care for his family, and his love of his friends.
When he was a college student, attending Seattle University on a basketball scholarship, Mr. Blewett was a fighter, diving for every loose ball and battling for every rebound. After his graduation in 1951, he would bring that same intensity to his work as a longshoreman, a sportswriter, a labor negotiator for the Kaiser family of companies, and ultimately as a vice president of Thomas Aquinas College.
As a testament to God’s providence, Mr. Blewett arrived at the College on October 7, 1980. It was the start of the third academic year on the then-new campus near Santa Paula, Calif. With just one permanent building, the College teetered on the verge of insolvency, and it was mired in a land-use conflict with local oil interests. What it needed was someone who could oversee a massive building project, operate on a razor-thin budget, and stare down a barrage of corporate lawyers and negotiators.
Enter John W. Blewett, 52 years old, with decades of business experience under his belt. With two daughters enrolled at the College, he understood both its predicament and its promise. “We can truly say of him, more than anyone else, that without his help we might not have been able to shape the campus as it is today,” says Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, the College’s founding president. “There was never anyone who could doubt his sincerity of purpose, and as such he remains an example for all of us who have undertaken the good fight.”
During his tenure, Mr. Blewett oversaw the construction of the College’s first classroom building, St. Augustine Hall; St. Bernardine of Siena Library; and three residence halls: St. Katharine of Alexandria, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Bl. Junipero Serra. He also helped to formalize and establish the College’s admission process.
Yet his contributions to the College extended well beyond his work. While at the College, Mr. Blewett was a friend and father figure to many students, whom he came to know through late-afternoon battles on the campus basketball courts. “He inspired many to grow in faith, myself included,” reflects Eric Paget (’01). “A great man,” adds Franklin Salazar (’82) “and father of a wonderful family that I have often looked back on for guidance about what it means to live a full and Catholic family life.”
Three generations: The late John Blewett (right) with his son John (left) and grandson Rev. John Blewett, SJS (center)
Retirement and Beyond
After his retirement from the College in 1997, Mr. Blewett remained active in behalf of the Church. He served for several years as the president and CEO of the Wanderer Forum, and then as the managing editor of The Latin Mass magazine. As always, he was a strong advocate for the unborn, faithfully praying and counseling outside of local abortion clinics. He also continued on as an emeritus member of the College’s Board of Governors, regularly attending meetings and campus events.
Mr. Blewett and his wife of 62 years, Barbara, were blessed with seven children, three of whom are alumni of the College: Katharine (Masteller ’82), Margaret (Wall ’82), and Paul (’85). To date, four of their 28 grandchildren also have gone on to attend the College: Joseph DeTar (’11) and Mary Colette (’11), Michael (’13), and AnnaMaria Masteller (’16).
“John loved this school. He gave his heart and soul to this school. For that we will be forever grateful,” says President Michael F. McLean. “The repose of his soul will remain in the prayers of this college community going forward, now and forever.”
Posted: February 19, 2013
“We learn how to find the truth for ourselves, so that for the rest of our lives we will be able to pursue the things that matter most.”
– Danielle Chouinard (’14)
“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”
– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)
Scholar and Writer