When members of the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors met on the California campus last weekend, Dr. Glen Coughlin (’81) hosted a panel discussion to help his fellow governors “get a little deeper understanding of the mission of the College.” To that end, Dr. Coughlin — who currently serves as a senior tutor on the New England campus — invited five Board members who played a unique role in the College’s history to share their experiences of the College and its history.

Peter DeLuca
Peter DeLuca

The first to speak was Peter L. DeLuca, the College’s fourth president, who discussed the collapse of Catholic higher education in the 1960s, which impelled him and his fellow founders to establish Thomas Aquinas College in 1971. “Obviously we couldn’t do anything about the whole enterprise,” he lamented. “But what we thought we could do is to have a single instance of where the very best kind of Catholic liberal education went on, and where people could see that it was a superior form of education. So, in a way, it was kind of a demonstration project as it was originally conceived.”


Andrew Zepeda
Andrew Zepeda (’79)

Next up, Andrew Zepeda (’79) — a founder of the Los Angeles-based law firm of Lurie, Zepeda, Schmalz, Hogan & Martin — spoke to the immediate success of the founders’ vision, relating his experience as a student in the College’s earliest days. “It was more than just an intellectual experience,” he said of his four years studying the Great Books and experiencing the richness of the College’s musical and liturgical life. “It was very moving and caused you to really think through your life as a Christian.”


Brian Kelly
Dr. Brian Kelly (’88)

As a student in the late 1980s, Dr. Brian Kelly (’88), spoke next about how the College “stayed on mission” in the subsequent years. A senior tutor and the onetime dean of the California campus, Dr. Kelly recalled the College’s existence feeling somewhat “tenuous,” yet still like “an institution that was permanent and steady.” He attributed this steadiness to the common identity and clarity of purpose which continues to unite the faculty, chiefly grounded on the College’s founding document, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education. “That is how this tiny endeavor has lasted this long with little or no mission drift.”

Thomas Kaiser
Dr. Thomas Kaiser (’75)

The final speaker, Dr. Thomas Kaiser (’75), described the 2019 founding of the New England campus, where he served as dean before returning to California last fall. A member of the College’s first graduating class, Dr. Kaiser was able to compare the two foundings, noting that New England had the advantages of a complete campus and an experienced faculty. “One of the things I found wonderful about founding a new campus is that you are restarting,” he said. “You have a chance to kind of rethink what you are doing and re-invigorate your commitment to the school and its mission. I think it has just been a wonderful experience.”

Although some had initial misgivings that success and expansion could compromise its single-minded focus on its mission, the panelists agreed that the future of the College — which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, as well as its first year with Commencements on both coasts — is bright. “Through the years, I still get the sense of institutional permanence and steadiness,” said Dr. Kelly. “I have become more and more firmly convinced that the clarity with which we grasp and articulate our mission lies at the heart of our perseverance.”

The audience listens to the panelists