Thomas Aquinas College came into being in the late 1960s and early 1970s, during a time of great tumult in the United States that deeply affected the country’s institutions and its mores. The College’s founders, a seasoned group of lay Catholic educators, were concerned about the declining condition of higher education and, in particular, Catholic higher education.
The publication in 1967 of the “Land O’ Lakes Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University” was a watershed moment for Catholic higher education in the United States. In effect, it codified for many Catholic colleges and universities the steady erosion — already underway — of both their Catholic character and their commitment to traditional liberal education.
Across the country, venerable Catholic institutions that for many scores of years had faithfully passed on the intellectual heritage of the Church and of Western civilization were instead, in the name of “academic freedom,” adopting the curricula, methods, and aims of their secular counterparts. Not only did campus life in many places swiftly give way to the permissiveness of the time, the very commitment to Catholic liberal education was quickly disappearing.
In response, and in accordance with the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the apostolate of the laity, encouraging laymen and women to take a more active part in “the explanation and defense of Christian principles,” the founders of Thomas Aquinas College published A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education in 1969. In this, the founding and governing document of Thomas Aquinas College, they proposed to establish a new Catholic institution that was determined to be faithful to Christ and never to compromise its principles. They were unbending in their resolve to pass on the great intellectual patrimony of our civilization and the wisdom of the Church’s greatest thinkers, and to do so in complete fidelity to the Church and her Magisterium.
Thus, amid this great turmoil and disintegration, and in spite of the dominant relativism and skepticism in higher education, Thomas Aquinas College came to life. This new college would be dedicated to renewing what is best in the Western intellectual heritage and to conducting liberal education under the guiding light of the Catholic faith. The College welcomed its first freshman class in 1971, and it has remained faithful to its founding mission ever since.