At the Sign of the Southern Crucifix
A Catholic college grows in the Bible Belt.
On 100 scenic acres in the town of Dawsonville, Ga., about 50 miles north of Atlanta, the first Catholic college in Georgia opened its classroom doors Sept. 8 to 72 students from 15 states.
By this humble beginning, Southern Catholic College joins a small but growing list of lay-run Catholic institutions that adhere consciously to the Church's magisterium and seek to form students to be apostles in the modern world.
In keeping with Pope John Paul II's document on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Southern Catholic requires all theology instructors to receive a mandatum from the local bishop.
Archbishop John Donoghue, who retired as head of the Atlanta Archdiocese last December, has supported the college since its planning phase; he celebrated Mass for the opening of the academic year.
The inaugural class is a self-selected group that is committed to the faith and excited about entering the ground floor of a new venture.
“I was looking for a Catholic college, but not one that just says it's Catholic,” says freshman Michelle Bivins, 18, from Owensboro, Ky. “At Southern Catholic, they are really in line with the teaching of the Holy Father, and that means a lot to me. And it's exciting to be here as the first class of a new college. I know I'm supposed to be here.”
A Catholic perspective is designed to inform not only theology classes, but history, philosophy, literature, math, science, the arts and all of campus life, through a Catholic Integrated Core Curriculum.
The curriculum is based on the fact that the Catholic faith offers a consistent and enriching view of God and the world that helps men and women form just and true relationships with one another, and leads them toward eternal life with God.
The foundational document of the curriculum is John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, which shows the necessary relationship between faith and reason, which are both oriented toward the one truth in God.
On this campus, there is no purported conflict between the dictates of the faith and academic freedom.
Helping to develop this consistent Catholic atmosphere is Kelly Bowring, a theology professor who holds the unusual position of dean of spiritual mission. He formerly taught at Ave Maria College in Ann Arbor, Mich. His book The Faithful Exposition of Sacred Doctrine is being published this fall by Alba House.
Quoting from Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Bowring told the Register in an e-mail that, as dean, he is “responsible for assuring, or at least advocating, that ‘Catholicism becomes vitally present and operative’ on every level of the college’ … and assists in uniting the two pillars of Catholic academics — faith and reason — at the heart of the college, and serving to guarantee ‘the distinctive Catholic character of the institution.’”
Toward this end, Bowring began the academic year with “The Two Hearts Lecture Series,” on how students can come closer to Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He told the Register: “The dean of spiritual mission assists in fostering active prayer and adoration of wisdom incarnate — Jesus Christ — and devotion to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom.”
This integration of faith and learning attracted 18-year-old Anthony Almeter, who grew up in Dearing, Ga., about a three-hour drive from campus.
“The Catholic faith is very important to me, and I wanted to be a part of a brand-new school that is going to have a consistent Catholic atmosphere,” he says. “Something was just calling me to be here.”
Southern Catholic College began as the vision of Thomas Clements, a software manufacturer, who sold his company in 1999. With a number of like-minded Catholic businessmen he formed a board, which is now headed by Edward Schroeder, retired international president of United Parcel Service, which is based in Atlanta.
Also on the board are Nicholas Bain, vice president of UPS. Three years ago they hired Jeremiah Ashcroft, who was president of East Georgia College at the time, to serve as the founding president and sit on the board.
In capital campaigns, the school raised $15 million, and eventually bought a former golf resort for a campus. It includes nine villas with 74 dorm rooms, along with former conference centers that have been set up to house have classrooms, a library, a cafeteria and administrative and faculty offices.
The only newly built building on campus is the chapel, where daily Mass is offered.
The 72 students all begin this academic year as freshmen. A new freshman class will be added each year until all four years of the program are filled and the first class graduates in 2009. As the student population grows, more dorms, classrooms and other facilities will be built.
“After four years, we are looking to have 400-500 students,” Ashcroft says. “We want to continue to grow to about 3,000 students. We have plenty of room to build out on the 100 acres.”
Tuition is $16,500 and room and board is $6,800 for a total bill of $23,300 for students living on campus. About 72% of students have some sort of financial aid, the president said.
Ashcroft, who is 60, said that the college is designed to respond to Vatican II's call for greater lay participation in the Church and the world.
“Most people in my generation, myself included, have been comfortable letting all the work and responsibility fall on the hierarchy,” he says. “But educating the next generation of Catholics is just what the laity should be involved in. Southern Catholic College is a step forward in this project.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.
Southern Catholic College
330 Southern Catholic Drive
Dawsonville, GA 30534
- October 9-15, 2005