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Our Rich History: Renaissance ’71 — Celebrating 50 years of VMC/TMC; a Golden Jubilee was in order

By Dr. Raymond Hebert
Special to the NKyTribune

Part 4 of our series, “Retrospect and Vista II”: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

Msgr. John Murphy, president of Thomas More College, decided that the first fifty years of Villa Madonna College (VMC)/Thomas More College (TMC) should be celebrated in style. In the summer of 1970, he appointed a Golden Jubilee Committee, with representatives from every constituency in the college community. Joseph Gausepohl served as the general chairman of the committee, which organized commemorative events to highlight the celebration in 1971. All on campus were invited to submit possible titles for the anniversary programming. The winning title of “Renaissance ‘71” was submitted by Mary Jo Beall, a junior at Thomas More College, who earned a $25 prize (Sr. Irmina Saelinger OSB, Retrospect and Vista, p. 80).

Renaissance ’71 Program front. (Courtesy of Thomas More Archives)

With “Renaissance ‘71” as its guide, the committee assembled a program composed of multiple events that celebrated the past but also looked forward to the future. There were a few opening events during the spring semester of 1971. The culmination was Founders’ Week, featuring a series of activities between Sunday, September 12 and Saturday, September 18, 1971. Likewise, during the university’s centennial in 2021, we will officially open with activities planned for September 10-13, 2021, paralleling the closing dates of the golden jubilee.

In 1971, the following activities were part of the 50th anniversary year:

•• On January 10, 1971, the Jubilee Year was appropriately opened with a Concelebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption.

•• Soon after the Opening Liturgical function, it seemed appropriate to immediately highlight both the great man, St. Thomas More, after whom only recently (in 1968) the college had been named, as well as the talented faculty who served the college and the community. Between January 20 and February 17, 1971, on consecutive Wednesday evenings, selected faculty delivered lectures on various aspects of the college’s patron, known internationally a few years earlier as the Man for all Seasons in Robert Bolt’s highly-acclaimed play by the same name. An Academy Award-winning movie — also entitled A Man for All Seasons — followed, also featuring Paul Scofield in the title role. All of this attention had brought St. Thomas More’s name into the limelight intentionally. The theme for the lectures was “to help friends of the college and the general public to become better acquainted with a great man whose ideas and ideals are finding application and appeal in the twentieth century” (Retrospect and Vista, p. 81).

The topics and speakers were:

• “More and His Times,” Robert Handy, Ph.D. – Chairman of History Department

• “More, the Statesman,” Sister Mary Philip Trauth, S.N.D., Ph.D. – Professor of History

• “More, the Man of Letters,” Sister Agnes Margaret Humbert, C.D.P., Ph.D. – Professor of English

• “More, the Complete Man,” Rev. Anthony Lovegrove, Ph.L. Exchange Professor – Philosophy (England)

•• Also during the spring, as a second more broad-based tribute to the academic nature of the institution, a special mid-semester Futuristics and Higher Education Symposium was held, recognizing thirteen well-recognized scholars in the field of education. All of them spoke about the theme of Futuristics ’71. The title was “The Future and the Undergraduate.” It was held from March 25-27, 1971, culminating in a President’s Ball in honor of Msgr. John Murphy, celebrating his 20 years as the President of VMC/TMC. There were four key speakers:

• Nicholas Rescher from the University of Pittsburgh, who, in his 1960s writings, devoted attention to protections of value “change in the future.”

• Billy Rojas, a University of Massachusetts historian known for his work as the coordinator of the Program for the Study of the Future in Higher Education there.

• Paolo Soleri, a Scottsdale, Arizona architect whose design interests reflected his quest for a syntropic balance between man and nature.

• Gary Woditsch, the director of Institutional Research at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, who had been the leader in the establishment of an “experimental college” in Bowling Green.

Dr. Richard DeGraff shaking hands with a faculty member. (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives)

The coordinator was Thomas H. Maher, the Associate Academic Dean at Thomas More, who also had been the primary champion for the college’s “Venture Program,” a progressive approach to the college’s core curriculum that will be discussed in a later article.

•• Later in that spring semester, on April 27, 1971, a Choral Concert for Organ and Brass was held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. It was a musical tribute to the year-long celebration.

•• Finally, the Founders Week events were meant to wrap up the Golden Jubilee Celebration.

The program, as found in the institutional archives, listed the following events (September 12-18, 1971):

1. Sunday, September 12, Concelebrated Mass – on campus in front of the Monte Casino Chapel

2. Thursday, September 16, Academic Convocation – 10 a.m. – Seiler Commons. Speaker – Dr. Warren Bennis, President of the University of Cincinnati

3. Friday, September 17, Musical Program – 8 p.m. – Outdoor concert on campus. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

4. Saturday September 18, Renaissance ’71 Ball – 9 p.m. Beverly Hills Supper Club
(Retrospect and Vista, p. 8 and Renaissance ’71 file in TMU Archives)

With these events over, the focus on campus shifted to the groundbreaking of the new science center on June 1, 1971, and the official arrival of Dr. Richard DeGraff as the seventh and first lay president of Thomas More College on July 1, 1971.

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is a Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He has just completed his 46th year at Thomas More and, with that background, will now serve as the General Editor of the official history of Thomas More College/University from 1971-2021. With a projected title of RETROSPECT AND VISTA II, it will serve as the sequel to Sr. Irmina Saelinger’s RETROSPECT AND VISTA, the history of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at hebertr@thomasmore.edu.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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