The Spring 2010 semester at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts is only Dr. William Fahey’s second semester as president of the school, but he has already rolled up his sleeves and stepped into his role as a Catholic leader and educator.
Fahey spent nearly a decade at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. before he came to Thomas More College in the fall of 2007. Though he was “very satisfied” with the work done in the Classics Department at Christendom, “I had arrived at a point where I felt in my bones and I felt very clearly in moments of prayer that I was called to some further service,” Fahey told CNA. “And so, when the opportunity arose to assist at one of the great ‘counter-cultural’ or ‘alternative’ Catholic Colleges, I was excited.”
Two years later, the board asked Fahey, then-provost of the college, to become its third president, a role that has occupied his time almost completely. However, though early in his term, Fahey has made strides in improving the education and Catholicity of the College.
“The most significant change has been the review and development of the curriculum,” Fahey explained. “I was prompted by the Holy Father’s April 2008 Address to Catholic Educators in which he talks about the duty of all educators to strive to ensure students encounter Christ throughout the institution, in particular in their studies.”
While the curriculum review maintained much of its previous content, “one of the things that the College faculty all agree on is that we must never make the curriculum an idol,” Fahey recalled. “We won’t be radicals and revise it constantly, but we do always have to remind ourselves that the truth and the Catholic intellectual tradition are larger than any particular curriculum, college, or group of scholars.”
Throughout the whole review, and after it, the college has retained two of its oldest strengths: the Humanities and an understanding and defense of beauty. And it is this emphasis on beauty that makes Thomas More College unique. Noted Fahey, “It is one of the three great “convertible” attributes of God and all good things: truth, goodness, and beauty. To possess one, is to possess all, as the saying goes. Thomas More College always had this as part of its tradition.”
Because of this dedication to the pursuit and study of Beauty, students also “learn basic principles of Catholic art theology and practical artistic technique. They learn how to paint—or ‘write’ icons; they will also learn the basics of musical theory and learn to pray—in Latin and English, with chant—the Liturgy of the Hours,” Fahey explained. This love of beauty in sacred and secular art is matched by a love of Sacred Scripture and great literature. “We are the only College where students will carefully work through the canon of Sacred Scripture during the entirety of their four years along side with four years of reading the great classics of western thought.”
Another unique aspect of the college, is the fact that the president teaches classes as well as serves as an administrator. Fahey notes, “strangely, the teaching and administration combination is a good one for me. I should add that the College has something of a tradition there. The founding president, Peter Sampo, taught a full-load while presiding over the College for three decades.”
“Isolated from the classroom, I could never be a president,” says Fahey. “Quite frankly, I am not sure how presidents who are not teachers represent an institution dedicated to teaching and learning. This would be like a divorced man representing marriage.”
“It’s a modern notion that the President is a technocrat or development specialist. I suppose that is why most modern presidents hop from post to post every 3 or 4 years. They really don’t have any attachment to their own institutions. Without love of a community, you can’t serve it in a leadership role.”
Fahey was quick to note that his “quiet and simple” prayer life helps him considerably. “I try to pray the Liturgy of the Office sometimes according to the traditional Benedictine Office, sometimes according to the modern form in the morning and evening. I pray the chaplet of St. Anne on my ride to work, and we try very hard to pray a family rosary at night. Some weeks are good and I have a nice run of lectio divina too.”
St. Gregory the Great is Fahey’s patron. He explained to CNA that St. Gregory “was a contemplative, Benedictine scholar who kept finding himself placed in positions of authority, when he really just wanted to read, write, pray, and converse with friends and students. He writes quite explicitly on how to balance leadership with contemplation.” Because of the obvious inspiration for his own life, Fahey said he tries to spend a little time reading the works of St. Gregory at the beginning of each day when he can.
Though Fahey says he is an avowed amateur at most things and doesn’t really have any hobbies, he is devoted to his wife and five children, from whom he draws a lot of his strength. He also cited Pope Benedict XVI as a great inspiration. “I must say, I cannot believe how blessed the Church is in his Pontificate! I cannot keep up with his writings on education. It is just marvelous to be a teacher and College president right now!” exclaimed Fahey.
CNA asked Fahey if there is more that he would like to do. “Oh yes,” he responded. “The College needs to grow. At the moment we are limited, rather strictly, to about 100 students, but the plan is to grow to about 300. This will require a building and campus development campaign, future hiring, etc.
“My colleagues and I have our work cut out for us.”