Thomas Aquinas College, a private 4-year college located on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest is a small school affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The 131 acre, rural campus in Santa Paula, CA provides a backdrop for discussion and meditation associated with the exercise of Catholic faith. Established in 1971, the centerpiece of the campus is Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel with its 135 foot tall bell tower. Santa Paula, formerly an oil town, has returned to a largely agricultural economic base, growing citrus fruits in the Mediterranean-like climate (although avocados have begun to increase as a viable produce as well). A city of approximately 30,000, it suits the college well for not being too great a distraction for the students.
Thomas Aquinas College is accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission and offers a single degree: Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. The school’s stated mission explains that “the founding and governing document of Thomas Aquinas College, they proposed to establish a new Catholic institution that was determined to be faithful to Christ and never to compromise its principles. They were unbending in their resolve to pass on the great intellectual patrimony of our civilization and the wisdom of the Church’s greatest thinkers, and to do so in complete fidelity to the Church and her Magisterium.”
Further, “St. Thomas is so important because his principles, methods, and chief doctrines, as well as those of Aristotle, on whom the work of St. Thomas securely rests, are true in their own right, and are sure ways to a deeper understanding of our Catholic faith and to a deeper appropriation of the life-giving mysteries revealed in the Scriptures, in the tradition of the Church, and in the world God has created.”
There are just under 400 students enrolled at Thomas Aquinas College, all unmarried students live on campus in one of the six gender-specific dormitories. There are no varsity athletics, but club and intramural sports are poplar on campus. Each fall, roughly two-thirds of the student body makes the 350-mile trip to San Francisco to participate in and help to lead the annual Walk for Life West Coast. Throughout the year, groups of students also visit a Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Ventura, where they bear witness to the Culture of Life and pray for the victims of abortion.
On campus there are regular food drives, blood drives, and charitable fund-raisers. Classes are a “comprehensive study of theology, philosophy, mathematics, language and experimental science through reading and closely discussing the greatest scholarly works in these fields. The classes [are] tutorials and seminars, not lectures.” Of note is that the Saint Bernardine of Siena Library has a collection of rarities, including thousands-year old Hittite seals.