The College of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More—which also goes by the nickname Fisher More College—is both new and old. This mainstay in The Newman Guide has undergone a significant transformation in the last year, which means that we are taking a whole new look at this micro-college founded more than 30 years ago.
The College, in fact, has had a few other significant changes since 1981, but never has it gained much national attention because of its very small size. It had just 20 students in 2011-2012, all of them Catholic. Now President Michael King is trying to enlarge the College, beginning with a new campus, a short-term goal of 120 students and a long-term goal of 250 students.
Until 2010, the College was led by founder Dr. James Patrick, a devoted scholar of the liberal arts who preferred a small number of students with whom he could interact personally. First established as the Saint Thomas More Institute, it became a college in 1991 and was accredited to award bachelor’s degrees in 1999. During this period, the College heavily emphasized academics and the cultivation of virtue through studying the Great Books, with a relaxed approach to residence life and spiritual development outside the classroom.
While maintaining its commitment to classical education, the College has changed more than its name. The addition of St. John Fisher as a patron signals a greater emphasis on spirituality, including the development of a residential campus where students are encouraged to immerse themselves in Catholic liturgy and prayer. The College’s literature quotes the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper: “It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation.”
The curriculum still includes the classical liberal arts and the Great Books, but with much greater emphasis on philosophy and theology. The core requirements account for three-quarters of the credits required for graduation, including eight courses in theology and seven in philosophy. Students take a series of seminars on the interior life to support their spiritual development.
Also, whereas the College formerly awarded only degrees in liberal arts, now the College also offers concentrations and degree programs in the classics, history, literature, philosophy, and theology. Fisher More is also seeking accreditation to award a business degree.
The College is governed by an entirely lay board of trustees, and it has a good relationship with Bishop Kevin Vann of Dallas-Fort Worth, who has celebrated Mass annually at the chapel. President King was formerly at Benedictine College (Kansas) for 10 years as professor of finance and chairman of the business school, following several years as an entrepreneur, investment banker, and employee for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.
Tuition is a low $12,000 per year, far below average private college tuition in Texas—and after scholarships, the average student pays less than $6,000. Room and board is $5,100 and fees are $800 per year. The College deliberately does not participate in the federal loan program, but it also is committed to helping students avoid private debt by providing generous scholarships and a work-study program.
Dr. Taylor Marshall was recently hired as dean and professor of philosophy. The former Episcopal priest was assistant director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The substantial core curriculum has a Catholic emphasis throughout, with eight foundational theology courses. The last required theology course is Catholic Social Teaching, which Dean Marshall says "is the most misunderstood part of theology." This unique course begins with the French Revolution and the papal teachings of that time, not the 1960s.
Theology electives include Mariology and Theology of the Roman Rite. This latter course studies the theology of traditional Roman liturgical prayers and structures—not only the Extraordinary Form Mass, but also the Breviary and papal liturgies.
Although Fisher More’s theology is faithfully Catholic, theology professors do not currently have the mandatum to teach. Dean Marshall has applied for the mandatum from Bishop Vann, and the College hopes that all theology professors will have the mandatum by fall 2013. The President of the College and all faculty take the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, as well as the Oath Against Modernism issued by Pope St. Pius X in 1910.
The seven required philosophy courses emphasize Thomistic philosophy. Fisher More does not begin theology courses until the sophomore year, following the traditional scholastic order of philosophy before theology. Dr. Marshall explains that “theology presumes philosophy”:
“For example, how can a college student study ‘Christology’ and the ‘two natures of Christ united in one’ hypostasis if he has not previously studied ‘Philosophy of Nature,’ in which he learns what a nature is and what a hypostasis is? How can a theology student appreciate orthodox Trinitarian thought if he hasn’t studied metaphysics and the concept of separated substance?”
Whereas the College previously required four years of both Greek and Latin, Greek is no longer required but offered. Students have two semesters of Latin requirements, but those who do not pass the Latin placement exam may be required to take an additional two semesters of introductory and intermediate Latin.
Other core courses include six in literature, four in history, and one each in art, math, music, natural science, and rhetoric. Some courses are scheduled with an interdisciplinary approach; for instance, Ancient Greek and Roman History is taken at the same time as the literature course Epic 1, featuring Homer and Virgil.
The Art and Civilization course looks not simply at paintings, but also architecture, churches, cities, and music. The course emphasizes the roots of art in all of the humanities, including theology, and in Western culture and Catholic Christendom.
Students are required to participate in weekly Spiritual Seminars, which are not for credit. These are one-hour seminars with a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), leading students into the interior life through mental prayer, Mass, Marian devotion, and other pious devotions.
Socratic dialogue is an important part of classes and seminars. The core curriculum begins for freshmen with Logic and Rhetoric, which prepares students for engaging in Socratic dialogue responsibly.
In addition to the College, Fisher More operates its own classical high school on campus. It is considering opening an elementary school in the near future.
Fisher More says that campus life is “centered around the Sacred Liturgy,” and the liturgy is very traditional.
“The College’s first goal is to foster true devotion and piety in our students through the liturgy and tradition of the Catholic Church,” explains the College. “All graces, even intellectual graces, flow to us from Christ our Lord and thus through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Hence, Fisher More is a place of spiritual formation and scholastic excellence.”
There is one Mass each day, including Sunday, and they are always celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. Nearly all the resident students attend Sunday Mass on campus, and nearly all attend daily Mass.
Confession is available 20 minutes before and after each Mass, except for the full hour allowed on Mondays. Students gather for communal prayer including daily morning prayer (Terce) chanted in Latin, a daily Rosary, the Angelus at noon, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Eucharistic Adoration each Friday.
The College has one full-time chaplain, Fr. Simon Zayas, T.O.R. Two other priests (Fr. Philip Wolfe, FSSP and Fr. Juan Diego, CFR) each assist one day a week as part-time chaplains.
On the current campus, Masses are celebrated in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher, which seats about 120 people. The new campus (see below) will have a chapel that was built in 1907. After restoring the chapel to its original beauty—it hasn’t been used as a chapel for 25 years—the capacity should be about 250 people, with a choir loft and confessional.
The current campus has 12 buildings on 1.5 acres in the university section of southeast Fort Worth. It is surrounded on all sides by Texas Christian University. Two small apartment buildings are used for residences: one single-story building with four apartment units for women, and one two-story building for men.
As of the 2013-2014 academic year, Fisher More is expected to move to a new campus at the very large Our Lady of Victory building in Fort Worth. The five-story, 76,000 square-foot building was built in 1909 and served as the provincial house for the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.
In that single building, the College plans to house 60 students immediately and up to 120 students within two years. Students will live in the top two floors, with men and women separated by floor.
The building will also include a chapel, classrooms, offices, a library, a refectory, and high school facilities. Initially the campus will occupy three acres, but the College hopes to acquire another 15 acres from the Sisters and build additional facilities in the future.
Students who do not live locally with their parents are expected to live on campus. Visitation by students of the opposite sex is never allowed in the residences. Currently a coed student lounge is available from 9 a.m. until midnight for socialization.
The College does not allow alcohol on campus.
Fisher More is located in the university section of southeast Fort Worth next to Texas Christian University and near a few other small colleges. The city of 658,000 people has more than doubled its population since 1950, with a crime rate significantly above the national average but relatively low among large U.S. cities.
The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is between the two cities, about 15 miles east. The Baylor All Saints Medical Center is two miles from campus.
The College has not in the past devoted substantial attention to student life outside the classroom, but that is changing. Fisher More has hired a Director of Student Life who organizes campouts, weekend outings, events, and spiritual activities such as Eucharistic Adoration.
Students, faculty, and staff gather together for a communal lunch each weekday. It often includes a spiritual reading.
There are no formal clubs, but some students work with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to help the poor and there are plans to begin a Legion of Mary apostolate for students. In addition, students help with teaching and organizing catechism classes, children’s choir, and training for altar servers.
Fort Worth boasts a number of cultural attractions, including three notable art museums, a zoo, and a science center. Dallas is 30 minutes east and offers a number of additional activities and opportunities.
The College of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More is on the move with a revised curriculum, new campus, and plans for substantial growth. The College trusts in Divine Providence to in all things, but it hopes to possess all the ingredients of success.
Fisher More’s attraction is clearly its strong curriculum with heavy emphasis on philosophy and theology. But Catholic families will also find a highly traditional liturgical and prayer life that is uncommon even among Newman Guide colleges. The academics and spiritual life combine to provide a thoroughly Catholic experience that aspires to the higher things.