Thomas Aquinas College Buries Its President

Thomas Dillon’s Funeral Held in Chapel He Built

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SANTA PAULA, California, APRIL 24, 2009 ( Thomas Dillon, the president of St. Thomas Aquinas College, was buried today following a funeral service held this morning at the newly dedicated Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Dillon, 62, died last week in a car accident in Limerick, Ireland, to attend a meeting of the International Council of Universities of St. Thomas Aquinas. His wife, Terri, sustained minor injuries in the crash.

The funeral was the first to be held in the chapel, which he helped build.

In a note sent last week by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, the prelate called Dillon a «man of vision» who «left a noble legacy of faith and learning, which will continue to enrich minds and hearts for years to come.»

He added, «May we all continue to be inspired by his tireless zeal and fervent dedication in his efforts to build up the Kingdom of God in our midst.»

Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, recalled in a statement that last month that he had consecrated the Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel: «It was apparent to all that Dillon rightly considered the chapel to be the heart and soul of the college to which he had devoted so much of his energy, talent and life.

«And though his death is a great shock to us all, there is some small consolation in knowing that the completion and dedication of the chapel was the last great act in the life of a man devoted to knowing and loving God.»

Ginger Mortensen, a graduate of the class of 1996, said in comments to ZENIT that not only did she know Dillon as a professor, but also as a boss, and as a friend.

After graduating from Thomas Aquinas College, Mortensen worked at the college’s development office for seven years. She now holds a similar position at the International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Gaming, Austria.

«I owe a lot to him,» she said, «as he taught me so many things that I am putting into practice now — not just how to do my work, but the importance of reaching out to people in a personal way.»

 «Despite a demanding schedule, he never lost sight of the people who were the reason for his schedule,» Mortensen recalled. «Even as president, and therefore a public relations figure, fundraiser and administrator, he continued to teach one class.  

«He wanted to keep in mind the reason for the presidency — the education of students at the College.»
Mortensen noted that Dillon never lost sight of the reason of the college’s existence — «to provide a truly Catholic liberal arts education.»

She said he led «the fight in the battle against enforcing multiculturalism as a condition of accreditation. This threatened the very core of education in general and catholic education in particular, which he saw clearly.»

Mortensen said Dillon and his wife Terri were important figures in the lives of those studying or working at the campus: «Tom and Terri reached out to everyone they met and treated them as friends. I remember traveling with Tom and Terri in the car. I was always impressed that they began their journey with a prayer — and often included was a novena for someone who had asked for their prayers.»

The Thomas Aquinas College graduate noted, however, that «one of [Dillon’s] biggest goals was to have the crown jewel of the campus built — Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.»

«He traveled to visit churches and form ideas to make sure the chapel was center and most beautiful building of the campus,» she noted.

The chapel was consecrated March 7.

Thomas Dillon is a native of San Francisco, the first of six children born to Shirley and Thomas J. Dillon.

He graduated from St. Mary’s College of California, and obtained masters and doctoral degrees in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame.

Dillon joined the faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas College in 1972, a year after the college was founded. After serving as assistant dean for student affairs and academic dean, he was named president in 1991.

Concerned with stringent accreditation requirements that would have endangered the integrity of the school’s curriculum, in the 1990s Dillon became a major player in organizing the American Academy for Liberal Education.

Dillon is survived by his wife, Terri, four children and 15 grandchildren.

It was announced Monday that the college’s board of governors appointed Peter DeLuca, vice president for finance and administration, interim president.

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