A new addition to The Newman Guide, Holy Spirit College was founded in 2005 to offer dual credit to the students of Atlanta’s Holy Spirit Preparatory School. But the College is quickly developing its own identity and reputation, just in time to fill the regional void left by nearby Southern Catholic College, which closed its doors in 2010.
Holy Spirit has much going for it: a great location in an archdiocese with a rapidly growing Catholic population, a well-designed liberal arts curriculum, and an achievable growth plan. The College is housed on the 34-acre campus of Holy Spirit Catholic parish, in a wealthy neighborhood on the border of north Atlanta and Sandy Springs. The College shares some facilities with the parish and upper school, but it has its own offices, library, chapel, classrooms, and student lounge.
It is also Catholic throughout. Holy Spirit describes itself as an “authentic Catholic” college, clearly distinguishing itself from the
nonsense in much of Catholic higher education.
“Theology is interwoven throughout the program,” says Provost Del Kiernan-Lewis. “Because it’s integrated, we want to ensure that we are true to the Magisterium, Scripture, and the teachings of the Church.”
That goes for all of the liberal arts courses. According to President Gareth Genner, “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, mentoring, and influencing students beyond the curriculum.”
What the College doesn’t have is a large number of students—the tiny start-up had just 19 undergraduates in the 2011-2012 academic year. Its graduate theology programs are also bringing in students, and the College looks to grow to 200 undergraduate and graduate students over the next decade. Holy Spirit also does not have a typical campus—resident students live in nearby apartments—but the arrangement seems to work for the College’s current size.
The advantage of such a small school, says 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.
Holy Spirit is governed by an independent board of trustees and has strong roots in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The nine-member board includes Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who serves as College rector; Monsignor Edward Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish and College chancellor; and Father Paul Burke, chair of the College’s theology faculty. President Genner is a native of Great Britain where he studied law and canon law, and he was a consultant in educational management before founding the School and College.
The College had pursued accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education, but because of AALE’s disputes with the U.S. Department of Education, Holy Spirit withdrew from the AALE and is seeking accreditation from the Southern regional agency, which is in progress.
The 64-credit core curriculum includes the following courses: three history, two Latin, four theology, two philosophy, two literature, two environmental science, one math, a one-credit physical education requirement, and non-credit courses in iconography and Gregorian chant. All students are also required to take a course in Catholic catechetics and a course in rhetoric.
Instead of the usual bachelor of arts degree, Holy Spirit offers a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in the tradition of Oxford University. The College says the degree is particularly suited for serious students planning to continue on to graduate studies.
Students can concentrate in philosophy or theology. But the College also has an agreement with Ave Maria University in Florida, allowing students to transfer their core curriculum credits to Ave Maria and take advantage of a wider array of majors. HSC students also have the option of finishing their B.Phil. (doable in three years) and moving on to compete a Bachelor of Arts at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (possible with one more year of study).
Theology students who are discerning religious life are eligible for a Vocation Scholarship. In exchange for signing a non-binding letter of intent to pursue post-graduate studies in a seminary or to enter religious life, students can receive a 50 percent tuition scholarship. An additional 25 percent of tuition is advanced as a non-interest bearing loan that is cancelled when a student enters the seminary or religious life.
Holy Spirit College offers study abroad programs each summer, alternating between Rome and Oxford University. The Oxford and Rome programs are offered in partnership with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire.
Because students are able to carry a 20-credit load and can take study abroad classes over the summer, it is possible to complete a
degree within three years.
The College offers a mix of the modern and the Old World. On the one hand, every student is provided an iPad that is pre-loaded with research applications by the College librarian. Wireless access is available throughout the campus, and the College’s two classrooms include Smartboards, which faculty routinely utilize for their lectures.
On the other hand, the College borrows some traditions from European education. The professors, for example, wear teaching robes while in class. The academic calendar is typical for American colleges, but the semesters are labeled Michaelmas and Easter instead of fall and spring.
Located on the parish grounds, Holy Spirit offers numerous opportunities for the sacraments. Daily Masses are offered in the parish’s St. Mary’s Chapel and in St. Joseph’s Oratory, where students may also participate in morning prayer. Weekend Masses are celebrated in the parish church. At the conclusion of Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. Mass, a faculty-hosted Fellowship Lunch is offered for the College students.
All of the Masses are Ordinary Form, but students preferring the Extraordinary Form have opportunities to go to a local parish during the academic year.
Five priests serve the parish and schools, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available on Friday mornings. Eucharistic adoration is offered on first Fridays and regularly in St. Joseph’s Oratory. In addition, the Eucharist is present in tabernacles not only in the Oratory, but also in the parish Church and in St. Mary’s Chapel. Optional monthly overnight and weekend retreats are available through the parish.
Holy Spirit Parish is one of Atlanta’s largest, comprised of more than 1,300 families, 4,000 parishioners, and 125 ministries.
Residence halls are not available on campus. Rather, students reside in the Madison Vinings Ridge apartment complex about four miles from campus. Life Teen missionaries are also housed there.
The secure gated community is faculty proctored, and male students live in a separate building from female students. Each apartment houses two students.
In addition to quiet hours, the College maintains a visitation policy. No inter-visitation is allowed in apartment bedrooms. However, students can invite each other for dinner parties or study sessions in common areas before midnight on Sunday through Thursday and before 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Students say that they enjoy the independence of apartment living. The complex offers access to pools, tennis courts, a cardio fitness theater, a jogging trail, and a picnic area with gas grills.
Students of age can drink alcohol in their apartment, but not in the presence of anyone who is underage. Unique policies prohibit gambling, and the campus is gum-free. The College has general expectations in terms of modesty and appropriate clothing, and formal wear is required during High Table Formal Hall dinners.
The College’s meal plan is complimentary, with breakfast and lunch offered on days when classes are in session.
The suburban community consists of luxury homes and mansions on Atlanta’s northern edge. Across from the Madison Vinings Ridge apartment complex are the Galleria Specialty and Cumberland Malls for shopping, banking, and entertainment. The College is within 15 minutes of downtown Atlanta, an exciting and rapidly growing city with the nation’s third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies and museums, concert halls, restaurants, sporting events, and all of the amenities of city life.
Not surprisingly, students tell us that the College’s small size is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Students enjoy a great deal of individual attention from faculty, but there are fewer social opportunities than might be available on other campuses, especially athletics.
The College does provide for evening and weekend social activities, including a supper study group on Mondays and a Bible Study supper group on Tuesdays. 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, a formal dinner with faculty and administration. Other Thursdays are often reserved for social outings, such as dinner and a visit to an art exhibit, attending a baseball game, laser tag, or bowling. Fridays are open for cultural or sporting events, alternating with pizza and movie nights.
The College also partners with the Aquinas Center at nearby Emory University to provide additional activities, events, and lectures.
The College has a relationship with Solidarity School and Mission, a Hispanic outreach program to help those who cannot make it to Church. Students assist Moda Real, a virtue and modesty program for the Hispanic mission that culminates in an annual modest fashion show. Students can also participate in social service projects with Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity.
A friends mentoring program partners College students with lower school students who have learning disabilities or are otherwise struggling.
The College has plans for organized tennis, basketball, track and field, soccer, and golf when the student body gets a bit larger. There are parish and metro league teams in football and softball, and students with prior experience can volunteer as assistant coaches for the upper and lower schools.
The Bottom Line
Although Holy Spirit is a small start-up college, it has much to offer with its unique combination of parish life and proximity to Atlanta.
Most important for Catholic families, it provides a rigorous and thoroughly Catholic education, culminating in the unique bachelor of philosophy degree. The articulation agreements with Ave Maria University and Thomas More College ensure that students have a variety of options for majors.
As Georgia’s only Catholic college, Holy Spirit is likely to enjoy much success. Utilizing shared parish and school facilities allows the College to leverage existing space without all of the costs typically associated with beginning a college.
Holy Spirit’s commitment to an authentic Catholic education, coupled with a generous financial aid package, makes it an excellent option—especially for students seeking a high level of individualized attention in the concentration areas of theology and philosophy.