All College
Peter A. Kwasniewski (’94)
Peter A. Kwasniewski (’94)

While in Warsaw last month to promote the translation of his two latest books into Polish, alumnus author scholar Dr. Peter A. Kwasniewski (’94) spoke before some of the country’s top educators about, as he described it, “the immense value of classical liberal education in itself and in the modern world.”

“A well-ordered liberal education deeply rooted in the great Western and Catholic tradition will profoundly humanize, enrich, and transfigure the inner and outer life of the student who is blessed to receive it,” said Dr. Kwasniewski in his address to the Classical Education Conference, Liberal Arts in Contemporary Education: The American Example. “It will open for him a life of moral liberty, conscientious action, beneficial leisure, and friendships centered on wisdom. … It is a burning necessity for a flourishing society of free men and women who are not alienated from creation, from their own history, or from their very selves; men and women in whom the image of God is alive, seen, embraced, and on the way to fulfillment.”

The first professor and director of admissions at Wyoming Catholic College, Dr. Kwasniewski spoke in the main ballroom of Warsaw’s Royal Castle to an audience that included Poland’s Minister of Education and Science, as well as several of his deputies, various other government officials, and educators from throughout the country. He also participated in two panel discussions, both dealing with how the central European country can improve its schools and colleges through Catholic liberal education.

“A few years ago I went back to Krakow for a book launch, when the first of my books was to be published in Polish, and I met a number of Polish Catholics who have become friends,” says Dr. Kwasniewski, explaining how his speaking invitation came about. One of those friends was Dr. Paweł Milcarek, a Polish professor of philosophy who works in the country’s education department. When Dr. Milcarek learned that his government was hosting a conference on classical education this fall, he suggested that it include an American speaker, due to the success of the classical education movement in the U.S. When his colleagues asked whom to invite, Dr. Milcarek recommended Dr. Kwasniewski.

Over the course of his address, Dr. Kwasniewski described how the inspired teaching of a classically educated teacher in high school led him to come to Thomas Aquinas College some 30 years ago — and the transformative nature of the four years that followed. “The Great Books education offered by a place like Thomas Aquinas College helps us to see that there are perennial questions as well as a certain number of plausible answers to them,” he said. “It enables us to answer — or to start answering — the ultimate questions. What is really important in life? Does life have a meaning? Is there a ‘big picture,’ and where do I fit into it? What is the common good?”

The value of a classical education, he continued, bears fruit in the lives of its students. “It is not at all surprising that those who have been brought to greater perfection in themselves by such an education will be able to do great things in their lives, in their families and neighborhoods, in their careers, in the public and political sphere, and in their service to their country,” said Dr. Kwasniewski. “The graduates of TAC and of similar colleges demonstrate this in unmistakable ways. Alumni have shown a remarkable ability to excel across many fields of endeavor: not only philosophy, theology, and mathematics, as one might expect, but also law, business, medicine, engineering, politics, social activism, the military, architecture, and the fine arts.”

To accompany his address, Dr. Kwasniewski brought brochures listing the College’s complete syllabus, demonstrating the breadth and depth of its academic program. “It really felt special to be able to take the curriculum of TAC,” he said. “It was exciting for me to be able to share that with the Polish people that I was with, because they have nothing like that.”

Yet that may change, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Kwasniewski and many others. As the government’s sponsorship of the Classical Education Conference suggests, there is a yearning in Poland, having jettisoned the ideological curricula of Communism and grown tired of the utilitarian, vocationally driven models of Western Europe, for something with deeper roots and greater reach. The accomplishments of schools such as Thomas Aquinas College — “TAC has been so successful after 50 years that it opened a second campus on the East Coast,” Dr.Kwasniewski observed — may provide a much-needed blueprint for Poland’s would-be reformers.

Ironically, it may be American educators such as Dr. Kwasniewski who are best situated to help their European counterparts reclaim the continent’s educational treasures. At a dinner on the night of Dr. Kwasniewski’s address, Dr. Milcarek gave a toast to his guest. “Poland is one of the younger countries in Europe. It doesn’t have the same depths of roots that France and Germany and some of the other former Roman Empire countries have, but here we are trying to revive classical education in our country,” Dr. Kwasniewski recalls him saying. “And to help us, we have brought somebody from across the ocean, from one of the youngest countries, to tell us, from the Old World, how to do this.”

Dr. Kwasniewski participates in a panel discussion.
Dr. Kwasniewski participates in a panel discussion.