By Mary Beth Miller


The Millers visit the California campus in 2017.
The Millers visit the California campus in 2017.

“Have you heard of the Newman Guide?”

This mustard seed of a question — from a friend at a Lenten supper in 2017 — has grown into quite the gift for my daughter Grace (’24) and our family.

I’m embarrassed now to admit it, but my answer that evening was, “No.” And until researching the guide’s list of faithfully Catholic colleges the next day, I hadn’t heard of Thomas Aquinas College, either, despite having grown up just 100 miles south of the California campus.

But as Oregon transplants since 2000, our family returns to Southern California for occasional visits. Driving home from one such trip during the Summer of 2017, I remembered — perhaps through the prompting of the Holy Spirit — the Newman Guide and TAC.

On a lark — without scheduling a campus visit and against the protest of my husband and three kids who just wanted to get home — I insisted we take a detour to see the campus. After driving through the dusty town of Santa Paula and up winding Ojai Road, we pulled into the almost-deserted parking lot.

Feeling like interlopers, we peeked into the silent chapel, walked across the empty quad, and eventually came upon a small group of students eating lunch in the Commons. We introduced ourselves, and one volunteered to find a fellow student, Isaac Cross (’18), so he could give us a tour.

Mr. Cross spent an hour showing and telling us about all things TAC: the history of the school; the program’s philosophy, pedagogy, and curriculum; campus life, the classrooms, the library. It all seemed so good, and true, and beautiful. I came away feeling like TAC was perhaps the most perfect place on the planet.

Grace wasn’t as convinced, but she was interested. Then, in 2019, she attended the High School Summer Program, loved it, and came home eager to apply. In a bit of a role reversal, it was then that my husband and I were the ones who needed convincing. At that point, committing to TAC required a leap of faith on our parts.

You see, we weren’t the typical TAC family. Grace hadn’t had a classical education, nor had she been homeschooled. My husband and I had attended UCLA, a mega-school with mega-options for majors, career pathways, research, sports, and student life. Could a college with only one major and fewer than 400 students be for real?

Spring of 2020 was a time for choosing. It was also the time when the case for choosing TAC became crystal clear. Everything seemed upside down: the pandemic, the protests, education, our country, the world. I read TAC’s founding and governing document, the Blue Book, and realized that, 50 years ago, the school’s founders had anticipated and answered the problems of these times. Their answer was the moral and intellectual formation that TAC provides. Their answer was Catholic liberal education.

In August 2020 — three years after that impromptu campus visit — Grace commenced her freshman year at TAC. Almost immediately we realized that our reservations were unfounded. Anything she had given up by forgoing a mega-school was more than made up for by the tremendous gifts she was receiving at tiny TAC.

Grace is learning from the greats. She is learning how to think. She is being formed morally and intellectually for these times, as the founders intended.

At the beginning of the school year, College co-founder Peter L. DeLuca came out of retirement to teach Grace’s Freshman Theology class. Grace loved him, and through his class began to love her Catholic faith more deeply, too.

“It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” (Matt. 13:32). The power of small.

TAC is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. It’s been a privilege for Grace and our family to start to open its gifts.