May 4, 2017

Thomas Aquinas College takes ownership of Northfield campus

Story and photos by Stephen Kiltonic

Northfield Campus
NORTHFIELD – After 12 years, the former campus of the Northfield Mount Herman School will no longer be vacant. On May 2, ownership of the historic campus was transferred from the National Christian Foundation (NCF) to Thomas Aquinas College and the newly created Moody Center.

The signing ceremony, which took place in Olivia Hall, was attended by Michael McLean, president of the Catholic college, and Emmitt Mitchell, a member of the NCF’s Heartland Board of Governors and president of the Moody Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the evangelical heritage of Dwight L. Moody, who founded the campus’ original school, the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, in 1879.

McLean said the college, which is located in Santa Paula, California, intends to open its East Coast branch in the fall of 2018 with 36 students. It’s expected that the enrollment will grow to serve from 350 to 400 students.

Northfield Mclean Signs

Michael McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College, officially accepts ownership of the college’s newly acquired Northfield campus. Also pictured is Emmit Mitchell (left), president of the Moody Center.

“This is a monumental day for Thomas Aquinas College. We’re very, very grateful to the National Christian Foundation and to its leadership, specifically Emmitt Mitchell and Larry Edge (manager of the Northfield campus LLC) for shepherding us through this process,” said McLean. “The opportunity here at Northfield presents for Thomas Aquinas College a chance to expand its reach to increase the number of students that will benefit from its education.”

McLean added that opening the school is contingent upon getting approval from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

“We think this is an important moment in terms of the working relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics as we work together to spread the Gospel and to evangelize our culture,” added McLean.

Also attending the press conference were members of the college’s board of governors and alumni of the college, two of whom served as attorneys for their alma mater in the transfer of ownership.

Mitchell spearheaded the process by which the NCF selected the college. Since 2012, when the NCF took over ownership of the campus, there have been 153 inquiries into the property. Mitchell said that when he first walked the campus grounds in 2013, he wondered how he would find someone who both wants and needs a campus like the Northfield campus. “So, we prayed and we asked God, ‘What’s the way forward for us?’ and he kind of gave us a strategy,” said Mitchell, who praised Thomas Aquinas staff for their expertise and diligence throughout the entire selection process.

“I can tell you, I have never been so impressed, not only with the student body, but with the faculty and staff and their dedication to the mission,” said Mitchell addressing the crowd.

The NCF donated the majority of the 500,000 square-foot campus, including 22 buildings, to the college as a gift. A smaller portion was given to the Moody Center which will occupy several buildings on campus, including the historic Moody Auditorium, which was the home of the 19th-century evangelist’s famous revivals.

Mitchell said a museum with many of Moody’s artifacts and archives also will be created at Ravelle Hall, attesting to Moody’s life story and helping to secure the Moody legacy. Mitchell hopes to make the museum “a jewel on the Massachusetts landscape” that will inspire future generations.

Moody founded the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies and the Mount Herman School for Boys in the late 1800s with the aim to educate poor, young people with limited access to education. Moody’s mission was to create generations of committed Christians who would continue his evangelical efforts.

Northfield Stone Hall HiresThomas Aquinas College, founded in 1971, offers its students one, four-year, classical curriculum that spans the major arts and sciences with a focus on the “Great Books.” Students read the original works of the greatest thinkers in Western civilization in all the major disciplines – mathematics, natural science, literature, philosophy and theology – while academic life is conducted under the light of the Catholic faith. 

The college expects to add 36 students each year during its first four years of operation. Four faculty members also will join the student population. The cost of tuition as well as room and board is expected to be around $32,000, the same as its sister school in California. No intercollegiate, only intramural, sports will be offered.

Students and faculty at Thomas Aquinas College were excited about their new east coast branch. “Some families out there, they’re thinking about sending some of their kids from California out here to have the experience of being in New England, especially for that first class to have the experience of being part of the beginning of a college,” said Thomas Kaiser, associate dean of the Northfield branch, who attended the signing.     

A video version of this story will be featured on the May 6 edition of “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.