The traditional charm of most New England colleges, including some of America’s oldest universities, has been largely replaced by state-of-the-art buildings, research facilities, and sports complexes. But on a colonial-era farm in Merrimack, New Hampshire, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (TMC) has preserved both the charm and the essence of traditional American higher education, when thoughtful students studied literature and philosophy beneath the canopy of great maple trees.
TMC’s students study Western civilization and Christianity, with an emphasis on the Great Books. The College offers one degree for all students in the liberal arts, with an integrated, four-year core curriculum. Although students come from many states and have beengrowing in number, presently TMC’s enrollment is fewer than 100 students.
While the College may seem tiny and quaint to some, for the students and faculty at TMC it represents a much-needed revival of education. Like many of the Newman Guide colleges, this is a post-Vatican II institution, founded by and for Catholic laity in 1978. Its emphasis on student internships and cultural leadership blend with the art and music program, which is designed to imitate medieval guild apprenticeships, and a mandatory Rome semester.
While the trustees and employees of the College all pledge fidelity to the Catholic Faith, the College emphasizes that non-Catholic students are welcome. Accordingly, about 10 to 20 percent of freshmen are not Catholic in any given year.
The college is governed by a 10-member lay board, which includes retired Notre Dame Law professor Charles Rice and attorney Patrick Monaghan of the American Center for Law and Justice. President William Fahey arrived at TMC in 2007 from Christendom College, where he was founding chairman of the classical and early Christian studies department. Before his appointment to president in 2009, Dr. Fahey served as provost, vice president for academic affairs, and professor of humanities.
TMC has a collaborative partnership with Holy Spirit College in Atlanta, Georgia, to operate Sophia Institute Press and the online Crisis Magazine and Catholic Exchange. Dr. Fahey oversees the day-to-day operations and serves as president and publisher. The College also publishes a semiannual periodical, Second Spring: An International Journal of Faith and Culture.
Currently TMC is located in the New England town of Merrimack, which has about 27,000 residents and is within easy access to Manchester and Nashua. Boston is about 50 miles away. But the College plans to build a new campus closer to Boston in Groton, Massachusetts, and has plans to grow to about 300 undergraduate students with a graduate program in Merrimack.
At $26,700 for tuition, room, and board, costs are well below the average for private colleges in pricey New Hampshire. TMC has enhanced its financial aid programs for students, including a scholarship established by the late journalist Robert Novak for underprivileged youth from the District of Columbia and Baltimore.
TMC’s academic program has a number of specific goals, selected as the marks of an educated Catholic. Examples include the ability to read Latin or Greek proficiently; to recognize pattern, harmony, symmetry, and order in works of nature and art; to explain what is meant by happiness and the common good; and to recognize, articulate and defend the deposit of the Faith, drawn from Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
All students take a common humanities core sequenced by year, starting with the Greeks and moving through the Moderns over fouryears. Also in 2012 TMC added a new course called Traditio, team-taught by Dr. Fahey and British author Joseph Pearce, who has joined the faculty as writer-in-residence. All students of the College meet to discuss texts in common, and the Traditio sequence revolves around great themes such as faith, sacrifice, friendship, pilgrimage, or war and peace.
The core has several other unique aspects. Students take a substantial six semesters of theology and Scripture. In addition to four semesters of Latin or Greek, students learn to communicate according to the principles of classical rhetoric in the three-semester writing tutorial. Students get a healthy dose of mathematics, science, and philosophy.
The curriculum includes a unique emphasis on arts and music, including the “way of beauty” courses in the first year, which introduce students to the philosophical and theological notions of beauty. All students learn chant and polyphony, including chanting the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours. They also study the principles of order and harmony in Euclidean geometry, and how it was used in traditional Catholic art and architecture.
The upperclassman core includes a tutorial program. Juniors and seniors work with their classmates and the professors (at TMC called Fellows) to create unique tutorials in areas of interest, which change from semester to semester. In the junior year, the areas of concentration can be particular authors, philosophers, works of literature, theological teachings, etc., culminating in an oral examination. Seniors concentrate in particular disciplines and complete a thesis, comprehensive examination, and speech before graduating.
All full-time sophomores study in Rome for one semester, residing at an historic villa with the Maronite Catholic monks of Saint Anthony Monastery, five miles from St. Peter’s Basilica. Students take a full course load and travel throughout the city and to other cities, like Assisi and Siena, as well. Students can also study in England for three weeks at Downside Abbey and Oxford.
Freshman year begins with a four-day orientation in the White Mountains, where students are introduced to New England through a series of hikes and the history and customs of the College around the camp fire.
TMC supports several internship programs in specific fields including journalism, law, or finance. In Rome, the Vatican Studies Center helps students work temporarily for news agencies including Vatican Radio, Zenit, H2O News, and Aletheia News. Dr. Pearce also teaches a variety of small tutorials and works with students who aspire to be writers.
Over 60 percent of TMC’s alumni continue on to professional or graduate school, a percentage comparable to Ivy League schools.
Students are expected to abide by a code of honor and, with every exam or assignment, pledge that work is their own. Trusting in the honesty of students, Fellows at TMC usually do not proctor exams.
Three Benedictine monks and two diocesan priests offer daily Mass and confession throughout the week. One Monsignor and several Maronite monks serve the students in Rome.
Thomas More College is consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every year at Mass. Part-time chaplains celebrate daily Mass,including an Extraordinary Form Mass on Fridays, in a small chapel on campus. The chapel is filled with icons and sacred art produced by the College’s artist-in-residence David Clayton.
Typically, about 50 percent of the students and faculty attend daily Mass. A student schola leads English and Latin chant.
Students also can attend Extraordinary Form Masses on Saturday and Sunday at the local parish, or a Byzantine Catholic Mass at the nearby Melkite Rite church.
Confession is available daily as well as by appointment. Students chant morning prayer (lauds) and evening prayer (vespers) each day. There are also Divine Mercy devotions, nightly recitation of the Rosary, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and voluntary retreats for men and women each semester.
Every day since the founding of the College, students have been found reciting the Rosary in the chapel or at the outdoor Marian shrine. They also have access to two local parishes in Merrimack, St. Joseph Cathedral of the Diocese of Manchester is 20 minutes away, and the traditional community of the St. Benedict Center is within a short drive.
The College has two funds to support vocations and absorb student loans accumulated by graduates who are entering a seminary or convent: the Saint John Vianney Fund for future priests and the Saint Mother Katherine Drexel Fund for future nuns.
Thomas More’s campus is primarily residential, with 95 percent of the students on campus. There are two residence halls, Kopka Hall for women and Stillman House for men.
Students are not allowed into the residences of the opposite sex. Chastity is encouraged by teaching the Theology of the Body, chastity talks, and peer monitoring. There is a curfew, and students may not leave campus without permission. Alcohol is never permitted except on special occasions monitored by the College.
One student commented that by living on campus, students get to know each other very well. “It’s almost like a family. You know 80 people very well. We go to class together, we pray together, and meals are communal.”
There are local dinner events in which students sometimes dine with faculty and their families. Typically there is a dinner address by a visiting guest or Fellow of the College.
Crime in Merrimack is very low and as such, it has been recognized as one of the safest small towns in the United States. Students have access to three regional hospitals, each about 10 minutes away.
There is time for informal relaxation, and the Student Social Council meets every week to help direct social functions. Social events include excursions to outdoor locales and to cities such as nearby Nashua and Manchester, as well as Boston. Winters provide opportunities for skiing. There are many hiking options in the mountainous state, and the College’s proximity to the sea encourages sailing or whale watching.
TMC’s Catholic guilds enable students to gain skills and experience from master craftsmen in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, music, theater, homesteading, and baking. These guilds take their spirit from the associations of men and women who advanced their trades and responded to the needs of their local communities in the Medieval Age. The artist-in-residence David Clayton teaches students to “write” (i.e. paint) sacred icons, and a Massachusetts master carpenter leads the woodworking guild.
The College has a newspaper, The Smoker’s Porch, St. Cecilia’s choir and a schola cantorum. In addition, students have access to the Merrimack YMCA next to the college. Students pray in front of an abortion facility and attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
The director of student life organizes events including formal banquets and dances, movie nights, talent shows, bonfires, and campus-wide games. TMC also sponsors field trips each weekend to nearby locations such as Boston, the White Mountains, the beaches of Maine, Robert Frost’s Farm, and various museums.
All students perform service on campus, including working in the dining hall, participating in snow removal, and assisting with security.
The Bottom Line
The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts provides a rigorous, classical education. Alumni have told us that the College offered a liberating experience that was refreshing and sometimes surprising.
There are several unique aspects of the College, including its humanities sequence, “way of beauty” courses, and traditional spiritual life. In its more than 30 years of existence, the College has lived up to its founders’ desire to preserve traditional liberal arts education.
Thomas More College has long emphasized its intellectual offerings and has strengthened its already notable Catholic identity. For students seeking an enriching intellectual experience, TMC has much to offer.