Over 75 years ago, the Sisters of St. Anne made a generous commitment to educating the whole person, setting down roots in the heart of central Massachusetts and starting a new college. Today, we continue to honor that original commitment, by “welcoming a broader spectrum of young people into the conversations about ideas, issues, enduring questions they might find only at a liberal arts college.” These words, taken from a 2022 essay by Robert Fried, hold up a mirror for our students, alumni, faculty, staff and trustees. They remind us of the strategic decision to safeguard the value of the liberal arts at Anna Maria: ‘The College prepares students to adapt to future challenges with creativity and innovation, by integrating a liberal arts education with personal development and professional achievement.’ Walk through the classrooms, library, performance and creative spaces, student center and campus ministry, as well as the many volunteer and internship sites, and you will be inspired by the fruits of this commitment. 

Especially in this day and age, such a commitment brings out the radical nature of a college education built on the liberal arts. In his 2021 book Rescuing Socrates, Roosevelt Montás makes a strong argument that general education programs play an important leveling function in our society, preparing all students for “civic life and social agency” (p. 34). Our world needs young adults from across all sectors of society to be engaged in their communities today and to become effective and compassionate citizens and professionals of tomorrow. At Anna Maria, this leveling function is expressly carried out through the Sr. Doris Gagnon General Education program. Undergraduate students take courses across multiple core categories, learning about philosophy and theology, language and culture, writing, science, history, society, and global dynamics. Such a broad and formative education, focused on the whole person, is sorely needed today. 

Fried encourages colleges to “turn our attention to making liberal education desirable, achievable, and affordable to students from underserved communities whose goals include high quality employment in their field and the option to remain within their communities to build lives as fully engaged citizens.” This focus on the local community shapes our educational mission, and expands the minds and hearts of Anna Maria students. As we carry on the example of those early Sisters who made a home in Paxton, students are encouraged to set down roots in their local community while also contemplating the universal values and experiences that we all share, such as building new friendships and maturing in family relationships, engaging in reflection about the world we inhabit and our moral responsibility to others, and growing in the life-long pursuit of truth.   

Fried invites us to understand a college “as a ‘village commons,’ partnering with area towns and cities to seek solutions to local problems, and national problems with local impact.” The educational programs, internships and community partnerships at Anna Maria exemplify what Fried is describing. Eighty-five percent of our nearly 1,500 students come from Greater Worcester and New England, and nearly 80% of Anna Maria students remain in the region to work immediately upon graduation. The College has built enduring and beneficial partnerships with the Worcester Diocese, Paxton Fire Department, the Worcester County Jail, Abby’s House, Girls Inc., the Worcester Art Museum, UMass Memorial and AdCare, among many others. Truly this reflects our mission as a College: ‘As a Catholic institution inspired by the ideals of the Sisters of St. Anne, Anna Maria College educates students to become individuals who will transform their world as ethical leaders and community-oriented professionals.’ 

“Liberal arts? What’s wrong with ‘conservative arts’?” (Perspective, AAC&U, 18 February 2022) by Robert Fried, Ed.D. 

Written by Marc Tumeinski, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Theology & Program Director of Graduate Theology