Residential Life at Aquinas College: the Oxbridge Model

September 27, 2012

Introduction

A new Program for Residential Life at Aquinas College is underway! Faculty, staff, students and administration have come together during the last ten or twelve months to form a new way of life at Aquinas that will uniquely prepare men and women for life in the next generation. This new Program is based on the Oxbridge Model of Houses, an ancient design for university life that has made a comeback in recent years in both private and state universities across the country. This past year, Aquinas College received some assistance in the development of its residential plan. Mr. Daniel Hill, Head of the Catholic Chaplaincies for the Archdiocese of Sydney in Australia, and Dr. David Daintree, President of Campion College in Sydney, Australia, joined the Aquinas College community for a week-long discussion about how to best implement the Oxbridge Model at Aquinas. The basic design of the “House system” incorporates all members of the Aquinas Community into one of eight Houses. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, board and community members are all included in Houses under the patronage of saints who represent a vast array of ages and experiences, and who model for our students virtue, scholarship, and community life.

Work and Leisure

In his book, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, the 20th century author Josef Pieper observes that although politically most of us do not live beneath a totalitarian regime, socially we have tended (particularly in America) to impose on ourselves a burden of similar weight. Work, by its nature is a blessing, but when it becomes an escape, an antidote for boredom, or a competitive obsession, the dignity of work is undermined. Work, in the absence of integration with the rest of life, negatively impacts us as physical, intellectual, and spiritual beings. But even more critical to our understanding of a healthy, vibrant culture is the concept of leisure, or the way we use the spaces that are between work, obligation, and sleep. In an article on leisure and work in the New York Times, ‘leisure specialist’ Alison Link remarked that, when surveyed about their perceived levels of freedom, respondents from incarcerated persons and those in the workplace were often identical, and that members of the prison system often have a better understanding of leisure and its importance than those who are considered free members of society. Studies indicate the amount of time Americans spend at work has increased, but a simple observation of current cultural trends indicates that the way in which we utilize the rest of our time, in the spaces in between work, has changed dramatically. As products of the culture, students who are engaged in study often succumb to a mindset of utility in their studies and are intent on simply getting through the process. The Residential Life Program at Aquinas proposes that a balanced life is a good life, and that work, study, and leisure, when integrated, lead to happiness.

Rooted in ‘Real Time’

female residential students in 2012The Ancient Greeks believed that chronological time was the moving image of eternity. In a similar way, the inhabitants of the Middle Ages thought that to plan, build, or do anything that was not rooted in the next life was absurd. Following this premise, the Program for Residential Life at Aquinas draws its inspiration primarily from the Liturgy, and the Divine mercy that is released through the annual celebrations of the liturgical calendar. The major feast days of the Church, the holidays, patronal House feasts, and Sundays create a framework of festivity and elicit an annual pattern of feasting and fasting according to the deeper patterns that have been part of the Western world’s practice for two millennia. Each of the Houses host weekly vespers and social coffees, regular formal dinners with academic addresses, House meetings, service to the community, annual events such as comedy nights and talent shows, and of course House competitions of an athletic and non-athletic nature.

The Director of Student Life, Mary Schultz, thinks students will be surprised at how many residential activities they will be exposed to. “It isn’t as if they have to do everything, all the time, but it is an atmosphere where you are always welcomed and encouraged, whatever you choose to do, and we’ve seen, that in that environment, more students choose to engage.”

Aquinas’ Program for Residential Life reflects the beauty of the Christian Life. When this life is lived to the full, it anticipates the Life that is to come. The ultimate festival, the visio beatifica, begins here on earth in the practice of virtue, service, and joy. The Residential Life Program at Aquinas is a model of the simple joy of living, of a life of faith, of being present to the other, of thinking well, and of the meaning of true friendship. The aim of the Program for Residential Life at Aquinas is to form our students in a way that will enable them to be great mothers, fathers, religious men and women, priests, citizens, and professionals in all disciplines, and to prepare them for eternal happiness in the life to come.

students move in to Seton LodgeSister Mary Cecilia, O.P., Vice President of Student Life sees the Aquinas College Residential experience as an integral part of the holistic education students will receive. “So many students miss out on so much of the college experience because of the isolation and segregation that often accompanies the ‘dorm-life’ setting, especially in the freshman year. The Residential Life Program at Aquinas is one of inclusion and participation, one that informs and completes the college experience.” In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict wrote: “The one who hopes, lives differently.” Graduates of Aquinas who have experienced the Residential Life Program will be different, and that difference will greatly influence their families, workplaces, and society. They will be infused with hope in the tradition of the saint for whom Aquinas is named and from which it draws its inspiration that is ultimately grounded in Christ. In this present age, the message of truth shines forth even more brilliantly than in those times that were considered pre-eminently Christian. Challenging times create the perfect atmosphere for great acts of courage. Those who are formed as members of Aquinas College’s Program for Residential Life will be ready for that challenge.

To find out more about the development of Residential Life at Aquinas, please visit the Residential Life section of our website.