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The small college attracting some of the Church’s best brains

Hats off to Thomas More College: graduation class of 2019

These are the first days of spring in New England, when you begin to understand why Robert Frost said “nature’s first green is gold”. Three pigs turn on rotisseries made of brick and mortar. The men, decked in flannel shirts and waistcoats, sing folk-songs about Thérèse of Lisieux. Young women in light dresses string garlands in their hair and dance on pedals from the cherry-trees. We eat crackling with thanks and praise to the Risen Lord (not to mention the students who kept a 30-hour vigil at the spit) and wash it down with freshly-bottled ale courtesy of the brewers’ guild. A few pipes are lit; a few romances are enkindled. It’s the Feast of the Resurrection at Thomas More College, so we’re feasting – just as our fathers in the Faith did a millennium ago.

This is what sets the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (TMC) apart. Here, one gets a real sense that American Catholics stand in an unbroken succession from Jerusalem through Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia – right down to Merrimack, New Hampshire. That means the curriculum arises organically from TMC’s place: New England. Students read Frost and Nathaniel Hawthorne while hiking the White Mountains and sailing the coast of Maine.

For the last four decades, TMC has also kept a satellite campus in Rome, where every student spends one semester of their sophomore year at the heart of the Universal Church. They attend morning Mass in St Peter’s and read Dante beneath the walls of the Vatican. Then there’s the Oxford Studies Program, where a lucky few spend two weeks travelling through the mother country while studying England’s greatest Catholics: Cardinal Newman, GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Gerard Manley Hopkins and JRR Tolkien among them.

TMC is known as the Newman Guide school that best maintains the traditional liberal arts atmosphere. Unlike secular liberal arts colleges, however, Catholicism permeates every aspect of life on campus. Grace is said before meals. Mass and Confession are offered daily in the chapel. Students are immersed in Catholic literature that even many Newman Guide schools neglect, from the 1928 Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset to the medieval York Mystery Plays. Objectivity isn’t a byword for relativism, and in classes on modern philosophy, students are taught never to lose sight of the absolute truth of Christianity.

You can tell the difference just by walking through campus. Men take their hats off indoors and women dress modestly. I remember Anthony Esolen saying how, when he first came to teach at TMC, he was immediately struck by the fact that couples on campus hold hands. “Those rites of attraction and conversation, flirting and courting,” as Dr Esolen calls them, are alive and well here. Men and women have their own dorms and, with respect to CUA, pornography has always been banned on internet servers. Virtue is the norm, not the exception.

TMC’s commitment to a Faith lived as well as learned is obvious from its faculty profiles. The veteran journalist Philip Lawler leads classes on American history and just war theory. The renowned biographer and speaker Joseph Pearce is a visiting fellow. “The two years that I taught at Thomas More College were the most spiritually rewarding and intellectually stimulating in all my years of teaching,” Mr. Pearce told me. “It’s a very special place.”

Lawler is also the director of TMC’s new think tank, the Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture. He explained to me that the Center was “born of a shared conviction that secular liberals have dominated public debate for too long, particularly in New England. We need a new sort of institution to encourage intelligent discussion of public issues from a Christian perspective.”

The Center’s fellows include Peter Kreeft, the great philosopher of Boston College; and Fr George William Rutler, the Herald’s legendary Agony Priest columnist.

The Easter banquet I described earlier was about 13 months ago. Now, as I walk through campus, the big white tents are being raised on the main lawn. Tomorrow is May 18: graduation for the class of 2019. This time last year, it was my girlfriend Helena sashaying up to the rostrum to receive her diploma. In about three months’ time, the tents will go back up for our wedding reception.

I was introduced to Helena by my oldest friend, one of her classmates. Helena’s father is the college president and her mother is a professor. It was through TMC that I got to know Phil Lawler, who’s now a Herald contributing editor and my co-host on a forthcoming Catholic current events radio show. Some local alumni, administration officials and I have started a combined book-and-gun club.

I come from a long line of Wasps, or white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. My forefathers were the original settlers the American northeast. Those hardy, puritanical Yankees were the stuff of Hawthorne novels. And yet I’m certain that it’s here, at Thomas More College, that the best of New England – and the Faith – will be handed down to my sons.

Michael Warren Davis is an associate editor of the Catholic Herald. Find him at michaelwarrendavis.com