Moody legacy to continue on Northfield, Massachusetts campus
SANTA PAULA, CA—May 3— On Tuesday, May 2, Thomas Aquinas College took ownership of a property in Northfield, Massachusetts where, contingent upon the approval of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, it plans to open a branch campus in the Fall of 2018. At a signing ceremony that took place in Olivia Hall on the Northfield campus, officials of the National Christian Foundation (NCF) formally transferred ownership to the Catholic college and the newly established Moody Center that will be housed on a portion of the property originally developed by the 19thcentury Protestant evangelist Dwight L. Moody. As President Michael F. McLean described it, “This was a monumental day in the history of Thomas Aquinas College.”
Among those who attended the signing ceremony in Olivia Hall on the campus of the former Northfield School were members of the college’s board of governors and alumni of the college, two of whom served as attorneys for the their alma mater in this transfer of ownership.
“We are very, very grateful to the National Christian Foundation and to its leadership, especially Emmitt Mitchell and Larry Edge, for shepherding us through this process,” said Dr. McLean. “The opportunity here at Northfield presents Thomas Aquinas College with a chance to increase its reach and to increase the number of students who benefit from its education, and we are very grateful that the NCF has made this opportunity possible.”
In his role as a member of the NCF’s Heartland Board of Governors, Mr. Mitchell oversaw the process by which the NCF selected Thomas Aquinas College — out of a pool of 153 initial inquiries — as the recipient of this historic campus. “I can tell you, I have never been so impressed, not only with the student body, but with the faculty and staff and their dedication to the mission. And these trustees…How can I say it? They love that institution,” he said. “I feel very confident that we are making an excellent choice.”
A celebration of the transfer of ownership took place in the Moody Auditorium later in the afternoon. Speakers included Abbot Xavier Connelly of St. Benedict Monastery in Still River, Mass.; Dr. McLean; Mr. Mitchell; Mr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church in Chicago; and a great grandson of Dwight Moody, Mr. David Powell. Offering hymns were the choirs of Northfield Mount Hermon School and of Trivium School in Lancaster, Mass.
Dwight Lyman Moody established the Northfield School in 1879. In 1971 it merged with another institution that Mr. Moody had founded, the Mount Hermon School for Boys, in the nearby town of Gill. The resulting coeducational institution, Northfield Mount Hermon, operated on both properties until consolidating to the Mount Hermon campus in 2005.
For the last 12 years, the Northfield campus has gone unoccupied, waiting for the day that it could be restored to its original mission of providing affordable, Christian education for young adults. Ingranting the campus to Thomas Aquinas College, said Mr. Mitchell, the NCF is choosing an entity that “has a mission similar to Moody’s, which was to educate young people in a fashion that they can make a difference in the world — basically, a Christian message — give them the confidence to go out and do great things in their life.”
The NCF’s donation of the New England campus is the largest gift in Thomas Aquinas College’s history, consisting of some 100 acres of land that include a chapel, residence halls, a library, a gymnasium, and ample classroom and administration space. At this morning’s ceremony, the College took possession of 20 buildings in all, which will allow it to expand its more than 45-year history of Catholic liberal education to the East Coast. The Moody Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Mr. Moody’s evangelical legacy, will share the property, with Mr. Mitchell serving as its new president.
Commenting on the events of the day, Dr. McLean said, “We think this is an important moment in terms of the working relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics as we work together to spread the Gospel and to evangelize our culture,” said Dr. McLean. “I am grateful to our Board of Governors, who have counseled and advised us through this process, and have been very supportive and helpful in the guidance they have given us, and also very generous in terms of their own support. I am also very grateful to the faculty of Thomas Aquinas College, who have considered this possibility very seriously and have committed themselves to our efforts in New England.”
After Moody's death in 1899, his eldest son, William, continued his father's work at the schools. The younger Moody pushed for consolidating the two schools into a single corporation called the Northfield Schools. Throughout the 20th century, a new Christian view was taking hold, stressing social justice and good works in place of personal salvation. Working to find opportunities for students of color, the schools first established a relationship with the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students in the 1940s, then with A Better Chance in the early 1960s, and for the past 40 years, with Upward Bound.
In 1971, Northfield and Mount Hermon became a single coeducational school. The school consolidated to the Mount Hermon campus in September 2005, and the Northfield campus was sold in 2009 to the owners of Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. purchased the 217-acre Northfield campus for $100,000 on behalf of the C.S. Lewis Foundation from Northfield Mount Hermon School in 2009 after the college preparatory school consolidated operations onto its nearby Gill campus with the intention of gifting it for the college.
The C.S. Lewis Foundation then sought to raise $5 million to open the college, but by the mutually agreed upon fund-raising deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, it had realized only about $600,000; thus the foundation lost its “sole beneficiary” status, and the doors opened to other possible organizations.
Looking for another Christian institution or school to gift the property to, the Green family eventually gifted the property to the National Christian Foundation who continued the search for a suitable organization.