Visitors to Thomas More College often say the campus looks just as they had imagined New Hampshire. Somehow, studying Robert Frost here is not merely appropriate but nearly compelling. Until the school purchased the property, the present location was a farm that had been in the Bowers family for more than 150 years. There is a 19th-Century drawing of the site that shows the white house and the barn much as they look today, except that the huge maples that now line parts of the drive were not yet planted.
According to local historians, the white house, now used for the offices of faculty and administration, is the only building still existing on an original lot of the “Brenton Grant,” a piece of land granted to William Brenton by the Massachusetts Court in 1658. This was part of a militarized frontier between the English and French powers in the New World. Sometime after 1724, the Blanchard family claimed the land and built a farmstead on it. The property has been continuously inhabited, the old home has weathered the history of the nation since colonial times. In the years after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, the Bowers home appears to have been part of the Underground Railroad, for there are still traces of a mysterious tunnel leading to a hidden room. Students and faculty who have lived or worked in the house claim that there are presences to be felt—whether the school legend of “Aunt Emma” or what the old Romans would call the manes of so many generations. Since 2008 the campus has been consecrated to St. Joseph and receives the annual rogation blessing in the spring.
The Bowers-Blanchard House
The Bowers-Blanchard House, or white house, itself contains items of great interest: panes of glass dating to the 18th century, the core of the original cape and central hearth built by Col. Blanchard, secret stairwells, and horse-hair plaster. It is said that the wood now on the second floor incorporates the wood of the earliest house, cut and installed some fifty years before the American Revolution. The Blanchard-Bower House is now used for the offices of faculty, staff, and administration. Beneath the great federal colonade of the 1830s façade, faculty and students may converse in the shade while overlooking the center of the campus adjacent to the President’s rooms.
The massive old red barn has been converted into a series of rooms where prayer, conversation, and feasting mark the seasons as much as the ruddy autumn leaves or the first spring crocus; where jollity and good food keep the winter at bay even with two feet of snow just outside. On the lowest level is the dining hall. The old exposed beams of the New England barn blend with a tile floor pattern based on the streets of Rome, connecting our American and Italian campuses. Here students serve one another during meals, harkening back to the medieval academic tradition. Although we have our own chef, much of the food preparation and cooking takes the color and taste of the diverse student body. The hall opens out into a piazza, which provides for open air dinning in fair weather.
The large double doors marking the front of the barn open to the College chapel. Inside, the irregular structure of the original barn and stalls are still visible, reminding us of the humble origins of the Faith. The sanctuary lamp burns continuously to recall that this is the Eucharistic center of the campus. Daily Mass and the sacraments are available for all students. On the walls of the chapel, older sacred art is slowly being filled with original works by our artist-in-residence David Clayton. Currently an image of Our Lady—the focal point for College vespers—hangs to the right of the altar and is complimented by a large image of the Sacred Heart as well as an image of Saint Michael the Archangel on the left. Plans are underway to fill the sanctuary with frescoes and icons of traditional inspiration. The chapel is a place of calm sustenance, where the still point of the day can be rediscovered.
On the ground floor, just beyond the chapel one finds the junior common room (for the students) with a piano, mail boxes, a small library, and games for diversion. There is also space dedicated for studying. On the second floor are two seminar rooms, faculty offices, and a small recording studio for the Vatican internet news service, H2O. On the third floor beneath the original post and beam construction is a small workshop, where students may study woodwork.
The refurbished barn—with its dining hall, seminar, common room, and chapel—seems to have undergone a natural conversion, one most suited to the traditions being preserved and celebrated in the College. The primary meaning of “culture” is “cultivation of the soil,” and the later meaning—cultivation of the mind—has developed at the school from the earlier one. First a center for agricultural activity, the barn now stores the long cultural labor of the intellect and the imagination, gathered in books, illuminated in the classroom, celebrated in conversations over meals, and finally, in the supreme union of the bread and wine, the body and blood, exalted in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Grounded in the reality of labor, signifying more than an ordinary student center possibly could, this building is the focus of the happy simplicity of the school’s daily life.
Louis B. Warren Memorial Library
The Warren Memorial Library was dedicated in the fall of 1990 to the memory of Louis Bancel Warren, a dear friend and patron of the College from its early days. Since then, the Louis B. Warren Memorial Library has been the center of the academic life of the College: the core course in humanities meets in the main classroom every morning; classes in natural science, literature, mathematics, writing, and the classical languages convene there regularly; the public lecture series, the film series, the annual summer program for high-school students, concerts, weekend colloquia, and occasional conferences for teachers and visiting students are held within its walls; numerous local political and educational groups enjoy its scholarly setting for their assemblies; and Catholic religious associations have made use of the rooms for retreats.
The library’s present collection includes over 40,000 volumes of books, and periodical holdings equivalent to about 7,500 volumes of more than 500 assorted titles. The library is affiliated with the state library system and connected to the statewide database of library holdings. The library has computers for e-mail and Internet access especially for online databases and other collections.
The Grotto and St. Francis Hall
Winding through a woods of Maple and Birch trees, one may take a small path down to an ancient spring, atop of which now sits a stone grotto, home to the College’s Marian shrine. The grotto was designed and built entirely by students and alumni under the inspiration of the rural shrines of the old world.
Not far from the grotto is the oldest and newest hall on campus, St. Francis Hall. An outdoor glade cut into the Maples and Pines, St. Francis Hall is the location for a portion of the College’s natural history classes. Students work on regaining their powers of observation in the company of the Hairy Woodpecker, Chickadees, and the Nuthatches. A short walk from St. Francis Hall the students may also explore the wetlands of the campus as well as the riparian treasures of the nearby Pennichuck reservoir.
In 1986, the College added the first modern building—Kopka Hall—a dormitory named after John Kopka, III, who found the site for the campus and donated the original buildings to the College. Kopka is the hall of residence for women.
In 1994, Stillman House, the second dormitory complex, was dedicated to Chauncey Devereux Stillman, the chief benefactor of the College. Stillman was a prominent Catholic convert, patron of the arts, and friend of the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson. Stillman is the hall of residence for men.
Since 1983, Thomas More College’s campus has extended beyond the borders of the United States into Italy. For many years, two religious orders in or near Trastevere hosted the College. Since 2008, the College’s Rome campus has been located at the Villa Serenella in the Portuense section of Rome. Built at the turn of the 19th century, the grounds and stately house were eventually purchased to be used as a house of studies and monastery for the Antonine order of the Maronites. Maronite Catholics are ancient eastern Christians who reside chiefly in Lebanon, and who have maintained their unity with Rome thoughout history. Many Maronite families are descended both from ancient Christians of the Levant and the French crusaders who defended and resettled the region in the middle ages. French, Arabic, Italian, and Latin are all commonly heard at the monastery. The morning liturgy makes use of Aramaic, the everyday language of Jesus and the Apostles.
Villa Serenella, a typical Roman villa of the period, is surrounded by 13 acres of olive groves, pine trees, walking paths, a soccer field, and fountains. Less than five miles from the Vatican, the Villa is located in a non-touristy Roman neighborhood with bus connections to the historic center. As a private residence with features common to late 19th century standards, the villa was furbished with horse stables, gardens, and a mosaic swimming pool.
At the Villa, Thomas More College students enjoy communal daily life in a setting of beauty and tranquility that refreshes both body and soul after daily tours in the highly urban environment of Rome. The monastery chapel offers daily Mass, lauds and Vespers, as well as Benediction and Adoration. The extensive grounds, the quiet spots for reading and writing, the frequent opportunities for conversation while relaxing on the terrace or warming up by the hearth all contribute to a fertile environment for intellectual, cultural, and spiritual growth of our students.
…When we have left Rome, we are astonished by the discovery, by and by, that our heart-strings have mysteriously attached themselves to the Eternal City, and are drawing us thitherward again, as if it were more familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born!
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun
Pine Mountain (Site of Freshmen Orientation)
Each year, first year students begin their time at Thomas More College by spending their first days on Pine Mountain in northern New Hampshire. At 2,400 feet, Pine Mountain is central to the Presidential range of the White Mountains. In a rustic setting, students and faculty begin their friendships and mentoring relationships. The time spent in this simple and invigorating setting is to emphasize the balance needed for a successful education, between the needs of the mind, the spirit, and the body.
Leaving the main campus, students travel up the Merrimack and Pemigewasset river valleys. Initial hikes begin in the Crawford Notch. The students ascend Mount Willard and lunch overlooking the site of the lost Willey family homestead, the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Ambitious Guest.” From there, the journey continues towards the Presidential Mountain range. Students pass by Jefferson Notch, where deserters of Roger’s Rangers, fleeing with loot from their raid against the Indian settlement of St. Francis, lost their way and were destroyed by the elements and the retaliating Indians. Amongst the treasures lost was the “Silver Virgin,” a statue beloved by the Abenaki Indians, based on an image of Our Lord and Lady from the cathedral of Chartes in France.
At Pine Mountain the new students establish their “base camp.” Morning prayer and evening Mass are offered on the heights looking out toward Mount Washington, providing the liturgical frame of each day. The time is divided between a variety of hikes and short presentations on the nature of the liberal arts. Thomas More College embraces its New England heritage and identity. What better way to start the first year than on the heights of the mighty White Mountains.