I remember the first time I toured Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The campus seemed so perfect I was certain that this was the place for me to go. I proceeded to tour a second time back in January of this year and now I am a full time student here. My views as to whether or not this was the right school for me have not changed, I’m still certain it is.
But I’ve become very surprised at how little this college is actually Catholic in its classes. Now, I came from a very small, very traditional, Catholic, college prep school, (St. Thomas More Academy, Raleigh. Go Chancellors!) so my views of what a Catholic education should be are likely very different than that of those of other Catholic (or even non-Catholic) students.
I was lucky that I got Fr. Stan, the school’s chaplain, as my First Year Experience instructor. (In case you’re wondering, First Year Experience is “how to college,” a class which while very redundant for me, may be very helpful to someone else) And I have been fortunate to get to know him and he has also been very helpful for faith based questions that might, and have, come up. I’m also coming to the school at a time when the new Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel is about to open. I somehow won a lottery and got a ticket to the dedication.
Through orientation, I had heard the phrase “Aquinas (or AQ) is as Catholic as you want it to be.” For a little while, I didn’t believe that. I came to realize that was the case when, in my first Intro to Communications, the professor asked us which pronoun we wanted to referred to as. That was certainly a question I hadn’t been asked before.
This is because of the “free research” identity that AQ takes on. Free research means that the professors can teach what they like, and that they aren’t bound to specific curriculum. Most colleges and universities in the United States are free research institutions. Most colleges and universities also tend to have a bit more liberal leaning, as I have noticed from AQ. I’m going to come back to that in a minute.
AQ is a different type of Catholic college, though. Notre Dame (also a Catholic university) has a tendency to be known as a party school and has at (many) times strayed away from the teachings of the Catholic faith. AQ hasn’t done that. AQ keeps it’s Catholic identity in many of it’s things. It upholds the four pillars of the Dominican faith: Prayer, Study, Community, and Service.
Back to the liberal/conservative thing. Before I go further, I would like to say what I have said to many people before. I am a Catholic first, an American second, and Conservative third. And I do think being a more liberal Catholic institution has helped me. Now, I didn’t come from a “sheltered” environment, as some have called STMA, but STMA does have the tendency to lean more conservative. The only times I had been surrounded by “liberals” before coming to AQ was at my job at WIZS in Henderson, NC.
To wrap it up I’ll say this. Being a Catholic conservative at a liberal institution can be really good for some people. For those that are serious about their faith, it will help you find a group of friends that are as serious as you are. It will also help you become more firm in your beliefs. It has been a good experience for me thus far, and I hope and pray it will continue to be a good experience in the future.
And, a word of advice to all of those discerning what school they should go to. Wherever you go, find your Newman Center or Catholic Center or what ever Catholic campus ministry is available on campus. And by all means don’t stop praying!
Addition: Most of this article was drafted and written before the tragedy in Las Vegas. I ask all of our readers and listeners to pray for those that were injured, for those that are mourning, and that God will let all of those who lost their lives into His embrace.
Grant them eternal rest unto you oh Lord, may your light shine on them for ever. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
Matthew Handley is one of the original members of EPIC Radio and is a freshman student at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. He is also a contributor to epicdmr.org.