DeMatha alumnus named president of University of Dallas, to be inducted into high school's hall of fame
Sep 6, 2019
US & World
As a high school boy at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland in the late 1970s, Thomas Hibbs had no idea that more than 40 years later, he’d be named the president of a Catholic college in Texas and also inducted into the DeMatha Hall of Fame all within a few months.
“It’s not something I ever imagined,” he said.
After being named president of the University of Dallas earlier this year, Hibbs will be inducted in the DeMatha Hall of Fame later this fall. He credits the beginning of his love for education and the faith to DeMatha, where he said, the mentors and the classes “opened up the possibilities” for him.
“It’s a place that I’m enormously grateful for, because I think it takes 13 and 14-year-old boys… and gets them on the road to becoming men,” Hibbs said.
Growing up, Hibbs was a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Hyattsville and while at DeMatha in high school, he said he was particularly impacted by some of his teachers.
“I wasn’t a great student, and I wasn’t very serious about my faith,” he said. “Particularly the literature classes I found challenging and interesting.”
After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Maryland and started as a business major, quickly finding, however, that he enjoyed the smaller humanities classes, he said. Encountering some atheist professors pushed Hibbs to think about his own personal beliefs.
“The fact that I was encountering really smart people who weren’t believing in God really shook me up,” he said. “I started really thinking a lot about what I believed.”
Hibbs began to spend time in spiritual direction with Father Tom Wells, who was the pastor at St. Mark’s at the time.
“I got to know him and he pointed me intellectually to Catholic authors and mentored me,” Hibbs said.
He said that the foundation he received at DeMatha and the continuation of formation through spiritual direction had a great impact on his life.
“It really was the combination of the intellectual education at DeMatha and the spiritual mentoring from Father Wells that really set me on the path of thinking about taking my faith seriously and (to) an intellectual calling as well, to writing and teaching,” Hibbs said. “I knew by the end of my sophomore year at the University of Maryland that I wanted to study Catholic theology and philosophy and be a teacher. The question was as a lay person or as a priest.”
At the end of his sophomore year at the University of Maryland, Hibbs decided to leave and enter the seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington, which then sent him to Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas.
“I only stayed in the seminary for one year, but I continued my education with both my bachelor’s and master’s at the University of Dallas,” Hibbs said.
Hibbs then went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana for his master’s and doctorate in medieval studies. He has taught and served in administrative roles at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California; Boston College and Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
He began his new role as president at the University of Dallas on July 1. The Catholic, liberal arts university enrolls 1,400 undergraduate students each year and while run independently, has always remained close to the Archdiocese of Dallas, Hibbs said. The university has a significant religious presence, with Cisterian monks, Dominican monks and Nashville Dominican sisters all on campus. One highlight of the University of Dallas experience, he continued, is an immersive Rome semester program, where students engage in Western tradition firsthand, through both Catholic and classical authors in classes and visiting the roots of tradition in person.
“My experience here (at the University of Dallas) is also like my experience at DeMatha,” Hibbs said. “There are smart people doing great work in a completely unpretentious way, which allows people to work together and develop deep friendships around important things. Those friendships are the most important things.”
In October, Hibbs will be added to the ranks of the DeMatha Hall of Fame as a distinguished alumnus.
“Tom is one of the genuinely great Catholic public intellectuals,” Dan McMahon, principal at DeMatha, said. “Not only is he a scholar...but a brilliant teacher who makes ideas come alive for all different ranges of people.”
McMahon, who said he has known Hibbs for the past 45 years, has crossed paths with him repeatedly throughout the Catholic education world, and has even taught using some of Hibbs’s books in his classes.
“I’m super excited for the University of Dallas because they have a great leader, scholar, and teacher who is now heading their university,” McMahon said. “Tom is the whole package.”
Trinitarian Father James Day, president of DeMatha, was Hibbs’ guidance counselor when Hibbs was a student at DeMatha.
“Even back then he had a quality about him that was very insightful and very committed to the Catholic way of life,” Father Day said. “We had many conversations, he was a regular student, but there was always that aspect about him.”
Father Day said Hibbs was and continues to be a clear thinker, able to engage in good dialogue. Following Hibbs’s path throughout the years, the priest said when he sees his accomplishments, he isn’t surprised.
“There’s no surprise there,” Father Day continued. “I saw the beginning of these gifts back when he was in high school.”
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