When I was a student (1993-1997) at Thomas More College in NH, the nearby Magdalen college had an unpleasant reputation.  Some students did well and were happy there, but many were bitter and frustrated:  academics were not as high a priority as the tight control the administration exerted over every aspect of student life.

But last year, the college changed its name from Magdalen to the College of Saint Mary Magdalen, and its new president, George Harne, has promised meaningful reform to the school’s curriculum and student life.  In an interview with the Register from April, Harne said,

This year we renewed and expanded our liberal arts program built on the study and discussion of the Great Books. We will continue this intellectual renewal in the coming years.

We have also sought to renew our approach to student life and our Catholic community. We believe that freedom and the respect for human dignity must be the foundation of any student life and community that is truly Catholic. All of us at the college — the faculty, staff and students — are called to follow Christ without reservation.

My sister, Abigail Tardiff, has children of college age, so she asked some specific questions of Tim Van Damm, Vice president of Advancement and Admissions at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen.

Please note that I have not done any direct research into the college—I am merely passing along this information because the choices for good, Catholic colleges are few are far between.  If the old Magdalen has truly changed, then this is good news indeed!  I was especially impressed with how candid and specific the new administration is in acknowledging the mistakes of the past.

Does the College schedule the students’ study times?

The College does not schedule any student study times.  If students want to form an individual study group that is encouraged but there are no required study time (as there were in years gone by).

Is attendance at Mass (daily or Sunday) or rosary mandatory?

No Mass or Rosary attendance is required.  The only exception to this is when it comes to students singing in the choir.  All of our students are members of the College choir (which sings on Sundays) and there is a rotation of different groups who sing from week to week.  If it’s their turn to sing then they would be expected to be there but if they were traveling or had a valid excuse, exceptions are made.  We would like nothing more than 100% attendance at daily Mass and Mass on Sundays but we want our students to be there out of love for the Lord and of their own choice, not because they are being forced to attend.

Does the College forbid or discourage dating?

The College does not forbid or discourage dating.  In short, if students can’t learn to date in a healthy, chaste way, in line with the Catholic Faith in an environment like Magdalen, where are they going to learn to do so?  In the past dating was forbidden which led to a culture of sneaking around and dishonesty.  We work hard to create a culture of transparency and truth.  If students are acting inappropriately or we learn that a sexual relationship has developed the residence staff will work with not humiliate those students but talk to them privately and encourage them to work at a life of chastity and purity.

Is there any period of time, including orientation, in which the students are not allowed to be in contact with their parents?

There is absolutely no period of time in which students are not allowed to be in contact with their parents.  We have absolutely nothing to hide and to discourage students from contacting their parents is not in any way in line with who we are.  I’ve heard that this was the case in the past and I know if I had a son or daughter in College and I got a notice like that it would absolutely raise red flags.

Does the College promote community life by discouraging friendships that seem too exclusive?

The College does not promote community life by discouraging exclusive friendships.  This way of “community life” was manufactured and ineffective.  If we see students acting in uncharitable ways towards other students i.e. actively ganging up on one of the weaker students, that would be addressed but to tear apart friendships is at best not a healthy practice and at worst very destructive to the development of that person and not respecting their human freedom.

Are events such as dances mandatory?

No social events are mandatory.  We encourage students to attend but absolutely no social event is mandatory.  For that matter, even the talks from visiting priests, student plays, visiting lectures are not mandatory (though encouraged).

Are there restrictions on when the students may leave campus, and does the College monitor them in any way when they are off-campus?

The only restriction on students when leaving campus is that they have to sign out and sign back in.  This is not so that we can monitor them but as a safety precaution.  We’re in a rural area and there have been instances in the past where students have gotten lost in the woods, etc. So, we ask that when students go off campus they sign out.  We do have a curfew as well.  So students are not to be off campus past the curfew. Obviously this does not apply if they’ve told their Dean of Men or Women that they’re going away for the weekend or something of the like.  As for monitoring, we don’t monitor but if we did find that a student was drinking underage, doing drugs, etc. we would address the issue but we’re not sending anyone out to look after them.