In May, Thomas Aquinas College, New England, bid farewell not only to its first graduating class, but also to its founding dean. Dr. Thomas J. Kaiser (’75) passed the reins to Dr. Steven R. Cain and returned with his wife, Paula (Grimm ’75), to California, where he resumes his role as a full-time tutor.
When the College acquired the new campus in 2017 and began searching for a member of the teaching faculty to oversee it, then-president Dr. Michael F. McLean immediately thought of Dr. Kaiser, who was a member of the College’s first graduating class. “He thought it would be natural for me to go to Northfield, because of my experience in the founding of the California campus,” Dr. Kaiser recalls, “and because I had taught all the courses and knew the faculty members well.”
Seeing the wisdom in Dr. McLean’s suggestion, Dr. Kaiser accepted the position. “I was excited about going out there and helping it get started.” Thus, despite the sacrifices their move would entail — which included leaving their 10 adult children and nearly 30 grandchildren — the Kaisers enthusiastically embraced their New England adventure.
And what an adventure it was! In addition to the dean’s regular duties, which include supervising and hiring faculty as well as regularly reporting to the Board of Governors, Dr. Kaiser faced an array of challenges specific to the pioneering task at hand. The most prominent among these was the campus itself, which had not seen regular maintenance for years. Since most of the buildings antedate 1900, this prolonged neglect meant that substantial renovations were in order, especially in the Chapel and residence halls.
The enormity of the tasks left Dr. Kaiser unfazed: “I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer, in terms of home repairs and auto repairs, so I loved overseeing the renovations,” he says. Over the course of three years under Dr. Kaiser’s can-do leadership, the campus came far. Renovations to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel concluded in 2022, culminating in its dedication on March 7, while repairs to other buildings have proceeded apace, with several already extensively refurbished and renamed.
For all the attention to buildings, however, Dr. Kaiser never lost sight of his principal mission: firmly embedding the College’s program of Catholic liberal education in New England soil. As of this past May, that mission has been accomplished. “The whole academic program has been set up and executed there,” he says. “All the labs have been set up, and we had our first Commencement, which we had to adjust to fit the campus. I think New England is off to a good start.”
Succeeding Dr. Kaiser as dean in New England is Dr. Cain, who, with his wife, Mary (O’Hara ‘87), moved to Northfield a year ago to prepare for his new responsibilities alongside Dr. Kaiser. “Unfortunately, because we had just the barebones of faculty, Steve had to teach a full load while also shadowing me, and that was not easy,” Dr. Kaiser observes. “But he’s a really good person for the job. He’s got a wonderful personality, a lot of common sense, and a lot of experience: He’s been teaching for over 20 years at the College, and his wife is an alumna.”
“Taking on the office of Dean at our New England campus has been an exciting, daunting challenge, but I have been encouraged by the support that I have received both from the community here in Northfield and our friends in California,” says Dr. Cain. “Please pray for the continued success of Thomas Aquinas College, New England.”
In taking on his new duties, Dr. Cain appreciates the example that Dr. Kaiser has set. “I am especially grateful to Dr. Kaiser for all he did out here for the past three years,” he says. “His wisdom and charity, his leadership and dedication, have given a good beginning to the work of instantiating our Founders’ vision of Catholic liberal education here in the Connecticut River Valley.”
“It was really fun to be the founding Dean, and to work with the students and their pioneering spirit,” says Dr. Kaiser with a smile, adding: “I think they’re in really good hands.”