by Daria Purdy ’19
Assistant News Editor
Last Friday, members of the Providence College community gathered in front of the Ruane Center for the Humanities to celebrate the life and work of Reverend Paul van K. Thomson, the first director of the Liberal Arts Honors Program. The walkway between Harkins Hall and Phillips Memorial Library was named Thomson Way in memory of Thomson, at the request of benefactors Dr. Charles Goetz ’61 and Judith Goetz.
The dedication ceremony was attended by over 70 alumni, faculty, and students, including many members of Thomson’s family. According to Dr. Stephen Lynch, director of the Honors Program, the choice of a walkway as a dedication to Thomson “was meant as a metaphor, to symbolize Thomson showing the way.”
During the dedication, Lynch, along with President Father Brian Shanley, O.P. ’80, spoke about the impact that Thomson had on the College. Fr. Shanley also blessed the walkway. Charles and Judith Goetz were unable to attend the ceremony, but remarks from Goetz concerning Thomson were read by his classmate Jack Partridge ’61.
Kathleen Baer ’79, assistant vice president for engagement, who planned the event, said, “The late Fr. Thomson was considered one of the giant figures in the history of Providence College.” Thomson was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1940. After serving in World War II, Thomson moved to Rhode Island, converted to Catholicism, and began to teach English and religious studies at Providence College. Thomson was the first leader of the Liberal Arts Honors Program. As Baer described, “This program has had a tremendous impact on the College and its students, and it continues stronger than ever, thanks to the foundation created by Fr. Thomson and his colleagues.”
Fr. Thomson also served as academic vice president of the college from 1965 to 1982. As an administrator, he helped guide the school through many changes, such as the acceptance of women into the College and the implementation of the Development of Western Civilization program.
Goetz ’61 earned a degree in economics and was one of the members of the first group of honors students at PC. He went on to earn a doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia, and later taught at the University of Virginia law school.
Goetz described the profound impact that Fr. Thomson had on his life as an undergraduate student. He said, “In freshman Honors English, I was thunderstruck to see the abundance of Thomson’s joy and enthusiasm in the exercise of his professorial duties.” Goetz says that it was Thomson who inspired him to pursue a profession in the world of academia.
Beyond his personal experience, Goetz described the profound impact Thomson had on the college as a whole. Goetz says, “Thomson had a vision about academics that eventually permeated and transformed Providence College.” In both his roles as a founder of the honors program, and as an administrator, Thomson, in the words of Goetz, “revamped and restructured the academic institutions of Providence College.”
Lynch also commented on Thomson’s impact, saying that in Thomson’s time PC “was a tiny college, but he saw it could compete with the best colleges in the country, and I think that it turns out he was right about that.”
Baer summed up the event, saying Goetz’s choice to name Thomson Way “is symbolic in its recognition of Rev. Thomson’s profound impact as both a treasured faculty member and a visionary academic leader during a transformative period in the College’s—and our nation’s—history.”
Immediately following the ceremony was the annual Liberal Arts Honors Convocation Dinner, attended by around 160 students, 15 faculty members, and 30 alumni. During the dinner, alumna Laurie Malia D.O. ’07 talked about how Providence College prepared her for her career in the medical field. The Rodney Delasanta Essay Award, given to the best first-year essay in the Honors Civ program, went to John Murphy ’20, while Nick Ogrinc ’19 was given the Thomson Award for Excellence in Honors Development of Western Civilization. The Thomson award, like the newly named walkway, honors Father Paul Thomson as a visionary and a transformer of academics at Providence College.