Holy Spirit College was founded in 2005 to offer dual credit to the students of Atlanta’s Holy Spirit Preparatory School. But the College quickly moved from that role to develop its own specific mission.
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 peaceful neighborhood on the border of north Atlanta and Sandy Springs. It 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. Theology is interwoven throughout the program—and it’s true to the Magisterium, Scripture, and the teachings of the Church.
That goes for all of the liberal arts courses. According to Chancellor 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 yet have is a large number of students—the tiny start-up has just 5 undergraduates, with one new college student in the 2012-2013 academic year. It no longer offers College-sponsored housing, at least until the enrollment increases.
But Holy Spirit is moving full-steam ahead for 2013-14, welcoming new undergraduates even while its graduate theology programs continue to bring in students. The College looks to grow to 200 undergraduate and graduate students over the next decade. Students should anticipate very small class sizes and a highly personalized education in the next few years—much different from the typical college experience.
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 president; and Father Paul Burke, chair of the College’s theology faculty. Monsignor Dillon has a doctorate in canon law from The Catholic University of America, and he studied for the priesthood at Carlow College, the oldest Catholic college in Ireland.
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 complete a Bachelor of Arts at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (possible with one more year of study).
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.
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.
Five priests serve the parish and schools, including Fr. Nicholas Azar, the chaplain. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available daily on request. Eucharistic adoration is offered on first Fridays from morning through the night. There is a mandatory retreat each semester, and optional 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 from the College. Rather, students reside at home or in the local area near to the campus.
The campus is gum-free. The College has general expectations in terms of modesty and appropriate clothing, and formal wear is required during more formal events, such as Mass, matriculation, and graduation.
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. Nearby to campus 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 occasional social activities and clubs, varying by agreement between the chaplain and the students, with a mandatory social evening every week. The College partners with the Aquinas Center at nearby Emory University to provide additional activities, events, and lectures.
It also has a relationship with Solidarity School and Mission, a Hispanic outreach program to help those who cannot make it to Church. Students have assisted 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.
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 makes it an excellent option—especially for students seeking a high level of individualized attention in the concentration areas of theology and philosophy. College President Msgr. Dillon says, “The most fundamental role of the College is service to the Church, in particular preparing the leaders of the future – not bishops, priests, and religious, but lay people who are thoroughly grounded in Catholic teaching and know how to fulfill their true vocation as articulated by the Second Vatican Council and the focus on the New Evangelization.”