Ronald P. McArthur, the founding president of Thomas Aquinas College, died Oct. 17 and is being remembered for the profound impact he had on the college's community, and beyond.
“He was the kind of man that was of very strong and particular opinions … but he still had a great liberality of heart and mind, and in that true Thomistic fashion, would give a listen to his interlocutor whom he disagreed with in a way that most people don't listen to their friends,” Andrew Whaley, a 2005 graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, shared with CNA Oct. 18.
“He would really listen to you, and really try to understand … he shocked me with his humility and liberality all the time.”
The college's current president, Michael F. McLean, stated Thursday that “the entire Thomas Aquinas College community is united in prayer for Dr. McArthur.”
“Of course, we pray first for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his wife, Marilyn, but we also offer a deep, heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving. We thank God for blessing us with this good, holy man, who was our mentor, our colleague, our teacher, and our friend.”
McArthur was born in California in 1924, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Attending St. Mary's College after the war, he planned to become a lawyer. But his encounter with Plato's “Apology” transformed him; he said, “I saw then that ideas were important.”
Following his time at St. Mary's, McArthur earned a doctorate in philosophy at Laval University of Quebec, and then taught at several California colleges. Together with a number of colleagues, McArthur formed a vision for Catholic liberal education and decided to form a college devoted to it.
Thomas Aquinas College's founding document was written in 1969, and McArthur was named its first president the following year. As president, he recruited faculty and students; fundraised; and taught.
He remained president through 1991, and then returned in 2002 as a tutor. Due to failing health, he retired from teaching in 2012.
“We started the school because we thought that education in general was going in the wrong direction, to more and more specialization, to fewer and fewer required courses, that students were not being generally educated,” McArthur told the Los Angeles Times when he stepped down as college president.
“And we thought, more particularly, that Catholic schools were losing their sense of purpose.”
Whaley characterized McArthur as one of “these men who looked out at the modern landscape, all of the upheaval going on, and developed a vision for the way things ought to be, in their heart, and had the guts to pull the trigger and build it.”
He added that McArthur “had a big heart; he did so much kindness, so much good to people behind the scenes, in addition to building Thomas Aquinas College.”
McLean, who became the college's president in 2010, reflected that “it is beautiful to contemplate the many fruits of Dr. McArthur’s work.”
“How many people came to the College that he helped to found and, as a result, discovered the life of the mind, the gift of faith, or their vocations? How many people are now priests or religious, bringing grace to countless others? How many marriages, families, children, and grandchildren owe their very existence, in part, to the sacrifices he made?”
“Already, we can see quite clearly the world of good Dr. McArthur achieved in his short time on this earth. May he rest in peace,” McLean concluded.
McArthur's funeral Mass will be said Oct. 25 at 9 am at Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel on the college campus, and will be in the extraordinary form. It will be preceded by a rosary the prior evening, at 7 pm, at the same chapel.