Dr. John Finley


Returning to teach at Thomas Aquinas College, California, this academic year is a homecoming of sorts for Dr. John Finley (’99) — in more ways than one. Not only is he an alumnus of the College, he is also an alumnus of the faculty.

Dr. Finley is the oldest son of one of the College’s early tutors, Dr. Norman DeSilva (’75), who tragically died of a brain tumor in 1985. He was raised by his mother, Maureen (Barlow ’76), and stepfather, Jim Finley (’76), in nearby Ojai. Upon graduating from high school in 1995, he enrolled at the College his parents had loved. And, after exploring other career paths in the years following his graduation, he came to realize that his abiding love for the intellectual life was too strong to play second fiddle to another profession.

Accordingly, Dr. Finley earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Dallas in 2003 and completed his doctorate in 2006, shortly before his first return to the College as a tutor. He taught for six happy years on the California campus, during which time he also married his wife, Hilary, and welcomed the first of the couple’s three children. In 2012, however, he moved to St. Louis, looking to serve the Church by educating future priests at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

“St. Louis is one of the few major cities in the U.S. that’s Catholic in its history and heritage,” Dr. Finley observes. “The seminary was great. It was orthodox; they have a focus on Aquinas and a whole class devoted to natural philosophy — which was wonderful to teach, coming from here!” For 10 years, he led seminarians through the mysteries of philosophy, but as their young family grew, Dr. and Mrs. Finley found themselves growing homesick for the West Coast.

“The students here come because they want to engage in the intellectual life.”

“We missed our families, especially in a place like St. Louis, where it’s so multi-generational if you’re a native,” Dr. Finley explains. So, in 2022, the family returned to Southern California, where Dr. Finley had been hired to provide continued education for the staff and faculty at the Valor Institute. Although delighted to be back in his home state, he quickly became aware of another longing. “I realized,” he says, “how much I missed being in the classroom.”

Now only three hours south of the College, rather than 2,000 miles east, Dr. Finley contacted his alma mater earlier this year and was grateful to receive an invitation to rejoin the teaching faculty. “From an outsider’s perspective, the seminary and TAC seem very similar: They are both Catholic and they are both small,” reflects Dr. Finley. “But it really is the case that the students here come because they want to engage in the intellectual life. In the seminary, your students are well intentioned, and they know that philosophy is important, but you still have got to get them interested in it.”

Teaching the Sophomore Mathematics and Junior Philosophy tutorials, as well as Sophomore Seminar, Dr. Finley has found abundant intellectual enthusiasm among his sections. “I had the opportunity to teach many of these texts during my time away from TAC,” he says with a smile. “To be able to come back and do those in a Socratic setting is a real joy.”