Northfield campus to educate once more

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NORTHFIELD, MASS. — Dwight Moody left behind a legacy for the town of Northfield, Mass., and Christian education. In 1879 he created the Northfield Seminary School for Girls. The school was meant to give equal opportunity to education despite students' economic means. In 1881 Moody founded a second school, Mount Hermon School for Boys. In 2005 the schools were consolidated to the Mount Hermon campus. For 12 years the Northfield Campus has stood empty.

Residents enjoy leisurely walks there and security officers roam the grounds to ensure everything is preserved. However, come fall of 2018, students may pursue scholarship at Northfield once again. Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic institution based in California, will be celebrating an official signing for the campus on Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. at Olivia Hall.

Thomas Aquinas college was opened in 1971. The college has been looking to expand for some time now, and an East Coast campus seemed right up its alley.

"Forty percent of our students come from east of the Mississippi," Anne Forsyth, director of communications for the college said. At its original campus the college has already exceeded its maximum occupancy with 389 students. After Northfield and Mount Hermon were consolidated, a parent of one of the Thomas Aquinas students made the college aware of the Northfield vacancy. In 2009 the campus was sold to the the National Christian Foundation, which has been working since then with Thomas Aquinas and The Moody Center to develop a future for the campus.

Though Thomas Aquinas is a Catholic institution and Moody was an Evangelist, college officials like Forsyth and Paul O'Reilley, the vice president for development, can't help but draw comparisons between Aquinas' and Moody's curriculums and values.

Like Moody, the college attempts to give an education to all that are "intellectually capable and willing," said O'Reilly. At Thomas Aquinas the cost of tuition, room and board is covered for any student who needs it.

An important part of Moody's legacy was also that he required all students to perform manual labor. Most of Thomas Aquinas' maintenance and upkeep is done by students as a part of their 13 hours a week work study, O'Reilly said.

Moody's legacy will be retained by help of The Moody Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to retaining Moody's heritage. The Moody Center will be restoring parts of the campus and will open up a museum detailing Moody's work and life.

The Thomas Aquinas curriculum also has some unique factors of its own that college officials think would suit the 500 acre campus space.

"Education is the pursuit of truth. Our Lord said he is the way of the truth and the life." Forsynth said. "We believe the best education can be done in a religious context."

Though the college doesn't force its students to go to church or shy away from non-Christian texts, the prevailing philosophy throughout the curriculum is that truth and spiritual enlightenment go hand in hand. At the college all classes contain only 15 to 18 students and are discussion based. There are no textbooks but students read everything from the bible, the Greeks and Romans, Shakespeare to Marx and Kant.

"One of the things we try to do is have them think of their faith as rational," O'Reilly said. They don't discourage students who question their faith, and are confident that students will come to an even deeper understanding and resonance with Christianity after completing the curriculum.

The opening of the college is contingent upon approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. The college will still be accredited in the California higher education system.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153, or you can follow her @birchharmony


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