“Pursuing the life of the mind is the most joyful thing there is and everything that comes with that should be joyful as well … The spirit of the whole place should be a celebration.”
— Peter V. Sampo, February 2020
Today, with great sadness, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts mourns the death of its founding president, Peter V. Sampo.
In 1973, Dr. Sampo founded Magdalen College with two of his students, Mr. John Meehan and Mr. Francis Boucher. This founding was born from the desire to renew Catholic liberal education, drawing on the teachings and example of Cardinal Newman, the models of the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the charge given by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council for the laity to undertake their proper work in the world. Serving as the first president, Sampo laid the foundation for students to pursue a liberal learning that is both fitting for the free person and conducive to true freedom. Equally important was Sampo’s desire that liberal education serve to cultivate a virtuous citizenry, which the nation’s founders understood to be necessary for the success of the American experiment. This was encapsulated in the way that he began each class and each speech: “Good afternoon, my fellow Americans.”
After founding and building several other institutions over the decades, Sampo returned to Magdalen College in 2011 to serve as both a full-time professor and President Emeritus. At that time, with Dr. Mary Mumbach and their colleagues, they contributed to a renewal of the college’s curriculum and ethos that was consistent with its founding.
Speaking of Sampo’s legacy, Magdalen College president Dr. George Harne observed: “Peter Sampo was simply one of the greatest men I have ever known. As a teacher, founder, leader, and scholar he embodied the heroic virtues that should inspire us all. No personal sacrifice was ever too great for him to make in the service of Catholic liberal education, his students, and his colleagues. His love for his students animated every dimension of his life. He loved the life of learning and sought to share its joys with all his students. He decisively shaped liberal education for generations to come. I have a acquired a lifetime of wisdom from the nine years we worked together. I only wish we had had more time.”
Dr. Peter Sampo received his bachelor’s degree in political science at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His master’s and Ph.D. were obtained at the University of Notre Dame. He taught at St. Anselm College, where he founded the Department of Political Science; St. Francis College, where he was academic dean; Cardinal Newman College; Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, which he co-founded with Dr. Mary Mumbach; and at Magdalen College. While at Magdalen, he designed a summer program for high school students that has served as a model for similar programs at other colleges.
Dr. Sampo also served his country as a member of US Navy for four years in the early 1950s, excelling and achieving First Class Petty Officer in three years.
As a scholar, Dr. Sampo published on St. Thomas More and Niccolò Machiavelli. His scholarly interests were religion and politics, international relations, political theory, and liberal education’s continuity and relevance. He was the recipient of many awards, including the Governor’s Council of New Hampshire Award, the New England Board of Higher Education Award, the Russel Kirk Paideia Prize presented by CiRCE, and the Notre Dame Exemplary Alumnus Award. He gave numerous speeches across the country on the topic of Catholic higher education.
In 2011, Dr. Sampo returned to Magdalen College where he taught full-time, founded the politics major, guided curricular developments—including the creation of the integrated Humanities sequence—and infused his love of learning throughout the college’s common life. During the last nine years he inspired students and colleagues alike. Just this spring semester, Dr. Sampo was active, teaching his courses online, advising senior theses and Junior Projects, serving on the Instruction Committee, and participating in discussions with the board of trustees as the President Emeritus.
In the fall of 2019, Dr. Sampo recorded a commencement address he had given the previous May, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Magdalen College. In February of 2020, he recorded a conversation with president Harne concerning the renewal of Catholic liberal education. These recordings are available here. Dr. Sampo’s brief statement on paideia as the animating principle of collegiate life is also available on the college’s website.
The college’s chaplain, Fr. Roger Boucher, was able to administer last rites to Dr. Sampo and will be offering Masses for the repose of his soul. As soon as information about a public wake and funeral Mass becomes available, it will be announced here.
Students and friends are encouraged to share their remembrances of Dr. Sampo in the comments section below.