The Recorder – Northfield Seniors Visit the Thomas Aquinas College Campus

NORTFIELD – A group of Northfield veterans visited the Thomas Aquinas College campus on Tuesday, learning about the school’s instruction and history, while also sharing their personal experiences on the historic grounds.

The tour group consisted of about 20 participants. Many of them were at the event thanks to the “Happy Feet” program, a Northfield Senior Center group that organizes walking tours. Previous hikes have taken place at Barton Cove in Gill, the Turners Falls Canal and other locations. Recently, the program has also started hiking with Northfield Elementary School’s kindergarten students.

“The reason we chose them was because the campus is beautiful, the area has a lot of history, and a lot of people who used to be professors at (NMH) were curious about the changes that were made,” said Colleen Letourneau, the center’s senior director. .

The tour, which was originally planned to take place during the school’s winter break but was postponed to the summer due to inclement weather, was led by Associate Director of Admissions John Jost. Jost, an alumnus of the larger Thomas Aquinas College campus in Santa Paula, California, was joined by Visitors Coordinator and Admissions Assistant Caroline Guinee, Assistant Dean Andrea McCann, and Pedro da Silva, a rising sophomore from Brazil. who has been staying on campus for over summer vacation.

Explaining the history of the 217-acre campus that was founded by 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, Jost noted that the grounds were formerly owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School. When NMH consolidated into its Gill campus in 2005, the land was vacant for over a decade. Hobby Lobby purchased the land and ultimately donated it to the National Christian Foundation in 2012, which in turn gave it to Thomas Aquinas College for use as a secondary campus.

Jost said he was proud of the way the campus, in trying to build something new, also tried to maintain a sense of continuity with the campus’ previous tenants.

Many of the tour participants shared their own story with the campus while it was still owned by NMH, whether they were students, faculty or parents of students. One resident told how his daughter got married in the campus chapel, while another noted how the auditorium seats had changed since she was studying there.

The first stop of the tour was the Nossa Senhora do Perpétuo Socorro Chapel. On the back wall, Jost pointed to four photos, depicting the chapel’s evolution from the unused building it was when the campus opened in 2019, to the colorful and vibrant place it is today. The chapel holds twice-daily Masses and is considering holding three Sunday Masses next school year.

The tour then headed to the Tracy Student Center, which an alumnus of NMH remembered as the old gym. Jost explained that the building serves as a social hub for the campus’s small student body, with activities such as foosball, ping pong and a study room in the former running track upstairs. The hall is also used as a dance hall.

“This is as convenient as possible,” Jost said. “It’s where we love to have our dances.”

Jost also talked about how Thomas Aquinas College intends to remain a small campus. The Massachusetts campus opened in 2019 with about 60 students in two classes and recently held its first graduation ceremony for sophomores. As of 2022, the student population has grown to 180, but the school plans to cap enrollment at 400 students, with 100 students per class.

“We want to keep a community together,” he explained.

The college has a fairly high percentage of international students, representing 20% ​​of the students in last year’s freshman class. Da Silva noted how many students, including himself, were unable to find the education they wanted in their country and heard recommendations about Thomas Aquinas College from students in their countries. Jost added that students are making a strong commitment to the school, as many of them don’t return home until after they graduate.

The tour ended in a classroom in the Palmer Building. Gathering the tour group around a long table, Jost explained the school’s “liberal Catholic” educational model and academic mission. In each class, after an opening prayer, the teacher asks a question about the text, which the students discuss during the class.

“We think it’s important for students to ask questions to help (their faith),” added Jost.

Noting how everyone is essentially doing a “dual major in theology and philosophy,” Jost mentioned that students are encouraged to see their disparate classes as part of a combined whole. As an example, he mentioned that a student might be taking a math class, but might bring up a concept from science or philosophy. To help with this, the college also has a long-term goal for the faculty to teach all the courses the college offers. In the 50 years since the California campus opened, Jost said only four or five professors have completed the entire curriculum.

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