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ATLANTA — If it’s true that when a door closes, a window is opened, then Atlanta’s Holy Spirit College is the window to Southern Catholic College’s closed door. While Holy Spirit College has actually existed since 2005, it formally opened for undergraduate students this fall with an inaugural class of five students. It’s not only the country’s smallest Catholic college, but also its newest.
As Georgia’s only Catholic college, it hopes to fill the void left when Southern Catholic College closed last year. The college, which is part of Holy Spirit Catholic Church and upper school campus, offers a bachelor’s of philosophy degree with majors in theology, philosophy and Catholic education.
Located on 34 acres in a wealthy neighborhood on the northern border between Atlanta and the suburb of Sandy Springs, the college has its own classrooms, offices, library, chapel and study lounge, which are provided by Holy Spirit Church. Originally, the college was founded to offer dual credit courses in the liberal arts to students enrolled at Holy Spirit Preparatory School. Approximately 140 students have taken advantage of the dual-credit option. The college is pre-accredited through the American Academy for Liberal Education.
The college expects additional students for its spring semester. “I’d like to see an eventual undergraduate program of about 200 students,” said Gareth Genner, president of the college. Msgr. Edward Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Church and former vicar general for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, serves as chancellor.
Entire Faculty Has Mandatum
“We think ‘authentically Catholic’ in everything we do,” said the school’s provost, Jamie Arthur. “It’s the foundation that the school is built upon.”
Whereas only Catholic theology professors typically seek the mandatum at a Catholic college or university, at Holy Spirit College, the entire faculty of 18 seeks it.
The text of the mandatum, which is stipulated by canon law, reads: “I hereby declare my role and responsibility as a teacher of a theological discipline within the full communion of the Church. As a teacher of a theological discipline, therefore, I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”
At the convocation Mass at the beginning of the school year, Archbishop Wilton Gregory presented all of the faculty with the mandatum.
Having the entire faculty receive the mandatum is unusual, but it is in keeping with what Holy Spirit College is trying to do.
“Theology is interwoven throughout the program,” said Arthur. “Because it’s integrated, we want to ensure that we are true to the magisterium, Scripture and the teachings of the Church.”
President Genner explained: “At Holy Spirit, it’s not just an English professor standing in front lecturing. A professor is teaching from the great Catholic works, interacting with students at High Table [the college’s twice-monthly formal dinner with students and faculty], mentoring and influencing students beyond the curriculum. We regard every single professor as a teacher of theology.”
“We have an unequivocal commitment to teaching the truths of the faith,” said Genner. “Students attracted to that will find a community that supports them.”
The college borrows some of its traditions from European education. Professors, for example, wear teaching robes while in class — something truly distinctive about Holy Spirit.
“There are times when teachers are not peers in dialogue, but an instructor,” said Genner. “The robe signifies a demarcation.”
Size Isn’t Everything
The school’s size is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
The advantage of such a small school, said Genner, is that “you can create faculty and student relationships that are closer than you could achieve elsewhere.” Every student has a faculty mentor who is required to have dinner with them monthly on campus.
Students, such as freshman Thomas Moorhouse, said that while there are fewer opportunities for social activities, the school has been purposeful about providing opportunities for the current class to bond together.
The students began the year with a retreat. On Mondays, there is a supper study group. On Tuesday evenings, students are free to participate in a Bible study supper group. Wednesdays are reserved for parish fellowship dinners or cookouts as well as intramural pick-up basketball or tennis. On alternating Thursdays, students are required to attend Formal Hall (the other name for High Table). The other Thursdays are often reserved for a social outing, such as dinner and a visit to an art exhibit, attending a baseball game, or participating in laser tag or bowling. Three public lectures are held each semester. Fridays are open for cultural or sporting events, alternating with pizza and movie nights. The college is also partnering with the Aquinas Center at nearby Emory University to make additional activities, events and lectures available to students.
Partnering With Ave Maria
As part of their education, each student is provided with an iPad, preloaded with research applications by the college librarian.
The college has a rapidly expanding library. In response to the school’s request for book donations, it received more than 3,000 volumes, making it necessary to move the campus library to a larger space within the parish building complex.
The college also has an agreement with Ave Maria University, whereby students who would like to start their education at Holy Spirit, but desire to major in a subject area not offered by Holy Spirit, are able to transfer to Ave Maria and have the core curriculum coursework transfer. Holy Spirit has adopted Ave Maria’s core-curriculum requirements, with one notable exception.
One unique component to Holy Spirit College is its Environmental Energy Center. The school’s environmental courses serve as its science lab class requirement. Therefore, Holy Spirit’s environmental science courses fulfill Ave Maria’s core natural science requirement. Holy Spirit uses the environmental science courses to teach about stewardship of the Earth from a Catholic perspective. The classes incorporate an interdisciplinary approach, combining theology and philosophy with the sciences. As part of the environmental science course, students choose and implement their own project.
In addition, the college is also creating a Master of Theology program, which will offer a master’s in theology and a master’s in theological studies. Because of demand locally, administrators believe that the M.A. program will grow faster than the undergraduate program.
“With a Catholic population of 800,000 in the state, a huge market exists,” said Msgr. Dillon.
The school’s evident commitment to an authentic Catholic education, coupled with a strong academic curriculum, makes Holy Spirit a promising school for those seeking a high level of individualized attention in one of the school’s three majors. Holy Spirit College is likely to do nothing but grow.
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.
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