A Bittersweet Spring: The College bids Farewell to Dr. Anthony Esolen
May 17th, 2019
On March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph husband of Mary, the College community gathered to celebrate Dr. Patrick Powers’ fiftieth anniversary of teaching. Dr. Powers, a long-time resident of Warner, NH, has taught at Thomas More College for 10 years. Dr. Powers’ colleagues took turns throughout the night roasting him in good fun and with affection, as well as giving praise for his virtues displayed in a vocation well-lived over five decades. That evening, I had the honor of presenting Dr. Powers with the Thomas More Medal, a symbol of the College’s respect, admiration, and appreciation for his dedication to our College over these many years.
When Dr. Anthony Esolen joined the faculty of Thomas More College two years ago and picked the town of Warner, NH as his residence, we were heartened that he would have such a neighbor and colleague in-arms as Dr. Powers to assist him in adapting to a new life away from Providence College.
The catalogue of sad events surrounding Dr. Esolen’s leaving Providence College is well known. Persecuted and maligned, he sought a new home, and found one at Thomas More College. Dr. Esolen joined our College to teach, but also because of a vision we shared: to establish a Center in the heart of New England, one dedicated to the restoration of Christian culture. The goal of the Center is to provide a voice of clarity in five areas currently suffering under many secular and “progressive” ideas: Family Life, Education, Civic Life, Culture, and Church Teaching. St. Thomas More, our patron, knew well their importance and lived his life modeling and defending the virtues required to sustain each. The Center had been envisioned for years, but the arrival of Dr. Esolen—and our friend and colleague Phil Lawler—allowed the vision to take concrete form. After two years and much labor, the Center is established.
But the hard work of the College and the Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture took its toll. For Dr. Esolen, a long commute to our campus to teach, traveling for his own speaking engagements, and maintaining his vocation as a writer have unfortunately proven too much.
As some may know, Dr. Esolen has suffered with a malady of his leg his entire life. In a beautiful essay written for Touchstone in 2011 entitled “My Pain & Gain,” in which he goes into detail about his condition, he speaks of a moment in his life when the condition of his leg was so severe, the doctors gave up on him and suggested amputation or pain management—thankfully, it was not necessary to pursue the former. In the end, in a manner that only someone with Tony’s sensitive nature could see, he explains that his leg, seemingly a curse, brought him many blessings. The reflection is a worthy read and a window into how the Christian must handle suffering.
Once again, Dr. Esolen’s health has brought “Pain & Gain.” These past two years, unexpectedly, he has suffered mightily with his ailment. Commuting to our College and traveling for his own speaking engagements, combined with his other activities, have proven too much. This past year, the College administration reduced his teaching and travel obligations, but to no avail. Rightly concerned for his own family as well as his health, Dr. Esolen resigned his post with Thomas More College on the evening of Monday, May 13th. In his resignation letter, he wrote, “I want you to know that I am grateful for my time at TMC, and that I will continue to say and to write good things about the College, because in fact there are only good things to say and write.”
This news struck hard, and I am reminded of Dante’s sadness when, turning, he realized that Virgil, who had traveled with him so far, was now no longer at his side:
…né quantunque perdeo l’antica matre,
Valse a le guance nette di rugianda
Che, lagrimando, non tornasser atre. (Purgatorio, Canto XXX)
Or in Esolen’s own impassioned translation:
Nor all the world our mother Eve once lost
Could keep my cheeks that had been cleansed with dew
From darkening again with bitter tears.
Our journey must always be a combination of gain entangled with pain.
But Providence always provides, and Dr. Powers was not the only neighbor that Dr. Esolen and his family found in Warner, NH. Warner is also the home of Northeast Catholic College. With a bucolic setting, and only minutes from his house, Dr. Esolen will not have to weary himself with travel. Beginning in the Fall of 2019, he will begin teaching at NCC. As Tony wrote to me, “NCC is nearby, as you know, and if I do get sick and can’t make it there, the students can come here.” An invisible hand was clearly at work.
It is our hope and prayer that Dr. Esolen find the graces and healing he needs, and that he has many more years of blessing us all with his essays and books.
In Christo Rege,
William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D.