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In Memoriam: Tom Dillon

From Inside the Vatican: I tried to create a link, but was unable. Best report I’ve found so far.

One of America’s leading educators died this morning in a car crash in Dublin, Ireland. Prayers for his wife, four children and 15 grandchildren are urgently needed. The best way to honor him is to support the work he gave his life for: Thomas Aquinas College in California…

By Robert Moynihan

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15, 2009 — One of America’s leading Catholic educators, Dr. Thomas Dillon (photo), President of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, was killed this morning in an automobile accident while in Ireland. His wife Terry, who was traveling with him, was also injured, and is currently in a Dublin hospital, but is expected to survive. The couple have four children and 15 grandchildren.

I knew Dr. Dillon personally. He was a thoughtful, learned, kind man who committed his life to the noble cause of Catholic education, building Thomas Aquinas College into one of the great Catholic colleges in the world.

At a time when universities of Catholic tradition like Notre Dame and Georgetown are making headlines less for their academic excellence than for their inconstant support of Catholic principles, Thomas Aquinas College has received global recognition as a beacon of intellectual clarity and Catholic faith.

It seems to me that all Catholics who are thinking of offering financial support to Catholic colleges and universities should consider showing their support for the work of men and women of courage and conviction like Tom Dillon, and support Thomas Aquinas College. (Aerial photo of Thomas Aquinas College in California)

Tom told me he labored mightily each year to raise about $3 million to support his college (he raised a total of about $100 million over nearly 20 years).

Much of the money went to provide scholarships to bright young men and women from around the country who could not otherwise afford to attend such an institution.

I hope that some might feel moved to donate this entire sum of $3 million to the college right now in memory of Tom, to ensure that his efforts during 2009 are crowned with success. (Photo: Dillon with Pope John Paul II)

I believe there are some with the means to help ensure that, even after his death, Tom, and the critically important college of Thomas Aquinas he led for 18 years, are remembered and flourish.

Here is a link to the college’s website:

Tom’s influence on our country and our Church was enormous through the students who passed through his college. That influence will be felt for many, many decades to come.

On the evening of September 3, 2008, following Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing at the Vatican of the cornerstone of the college’s Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, a dinner was held honoring three cardinals and friends of Thomas Aquinas College: Archbishop Raymond Burke (left), Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura; Francis Cardinal Arinze (third from left), Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship; and Francis Cardinal Stafford (second from right), Apostolic Penitentiary. Also pictured is James Barrett (second from left), a member of the Board of Governors, Dillon (third from right — as usual in the background), and Lannette Turicchi, benefactor of the college.

Tom’s life lasted long enough for him to see the dedication of the college’s magnificent new chapel, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (photo). It was dedicated on March 7, a little more than one month ago.

Requiescat in pace. May he rest in peace.


At the following link is the text of an article about Thomas Aquinas College which captures the virtues of the place:


Here is the text of an address given by Dr. Dillon four years ago, which reflects the quality of his mind and vision:

AUGUST 22, 2005

Recently I had the opportunity to re-read and discuss Plato’s dialogue The Apology, which the freshmen will study in their philosophy tutorials later this month.

Upon taking up that great text once more, I could not help but reflect on how much Thomas Aquinas College is rooted in that ancient but nourishing dialogue, and how much Socrates—from two-and-a-half thousand years ago—has shaped this institution today.

What is most striking in the dialogue, of course, is that Socrates is willing to undergo death rather than give up his ways of inquiry and conversation about the deepest issues that face us all. His quest for truth and goodness will not be thwarted by any concern for his material welfare or by threats from the state on his very life. “No man worth anything,” says Socrates, “ought to spend his time weighing the prospects of life and death, but should consider only one thing in performing any action—that is, whether it is just or unjust.”

It is ironic, of course, that Socrates is accused of corrupting the youth, when in fact he is doing just the opposite: attempting to show the young that wealth, reputation, honor, and power are no where near as important as truth, understanding, and the perfection of their souls.

A number of things, I think, give Socrates confidence in his enterprise: he understands that there is a difference between mere opinion, on the one hand, and knowledge, on the other.

He sees that thinking we know when we do not know is a fatal impediment to achieving wisdom.

He realizes that there is an intrinsic power in what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful, and that the human soul is perfected by their apprehension.

Most of all, though, he sustains the conviction that real wisdom comes from God and that his mission to his fellow Athenians is divine in origin. “I owe a greater obedience to God than to you,” he says to the citizen jurors at his trial, “and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I should never stop practicing philosophy and indicating the truth to everyone that I meet.”

Now Socrates is certainly a model for us at Thomas Aquinas College, and though we may not always live up to what is best in his life, clearly our aspirations are shaped by his.

Consider Socrates’ own account of his life in one section of the Apology: “I spend my time trying to persuade you, young and old, to make your chief concern not for your bodies or your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your souls.”

How well Socrates sums up in a phrase the essence of the culture that also surrounds us, where the chief concern indeed seems to be for our bodies and our possessions. But at Thomas Aquinas College, contrary to the prevailing winds of the culture, we seek the highest welfare of your souls.

Like Socrates, we too are convinced that the unexamined life is not worth living, and we have structured a curriculum in which we invite you to examine the most important questions and issues that confront us as men.

Like Socrates, we see that there is a difference between knowledge and opinion, and we exhort you not to settle for easy answers; but to press for the right account—to seek the reasons and causes behind things—and to be diligent and unrelenting in your search for truth.

Like Socrates, we are convinced that our mission is divine in origin, and we would rather suffer institutional death than compromise our character and our dedication to pursuing and upholding the truth—and we are happy to be a stinging fly, if we must, within the educational establishment.

But unlike Socrates, we have the certainty of God’s revelation and we have Christ. Moreover, we have the teaching Church as a guide in our quest for wisdom.

It is remarkable—astonishing really—that Socrates could have the insights he did without the benefit of Christianity. How blessed we are, in contrast, to have Christ the Teacher, to have the Gospels and St. Paul, and to have an unerring Church to mediate God’s revelation. How fortunate also are we to have the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, whom pope after pope has recognized as occupying the pinnacle of Christian thought.

Our fundamental endeavor at Thomas Aquinas College is a modest one: to help you make a good beginning on the ascent toward wisdom. Your success in making this good beginning depends very much on you—on your diligence, on your intellectual energy, and on your cultivation of wonder.

These four years at the College are a precious opportunity to develop your minds and refine your habits of thought and action. You will be reading and discussing the greatest works ever written; works that have defined eras and shaped civilizations. In a community of friends, and under the guidance of tutors who care deeply about your good, you will seek to make reasoned judgments about the nature of reality. You will be aided in your inquiries by the rich intellectual tradition of the Church as you study Her wisest teachers—wise especially because of their own docility to Christ and His Church.

Liberal education concerns not what is servile and transient, but what is intrinsically worthwhile and permanent. By coming to Thomas Aquinas College, by devoting yourselves to four years of a liberal education, you are standing with Socrates and opting not for the life of convenience and trivial pleasure, but rather for the life rooted in the love of wisdom and ordered to virtue, especially intellectual virtue. Such a life is not easy, for it demands discipline and self-denial, but it is a life of genuine freedom and happiness.

Allow me to urge you to give free reign to your wonder as you progress through the curriculum. Think reflectively about the matters treated in the various arts and sciences which make up our course of studies. Only by asking questions, and only by deep reflection on what you study can you make what you are attempting to learn your own. It is important for you to test what you think you know, to ponder what you do not know, and to humble yourselves before the truth where you find it.

Let us together, then, approach this 35th year of the College’s existence with confidence in the nobility of our enterprise, with trust in God’s provident care, and with a determination to apply ourselves fully to the great things that lie before us. —Dr. Thomas Dillon

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