Nestled in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, one of the nation’s earliest havens for Catholic immigrants, Mount St. Mary’s University is the second-oldest Catholic university in America. It was founded in 1808 by the heroic French missionary Father John DuBois and sits on land once frequented by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint and founder of the Sisters of Charity.
What is affectionately called “the Mount” includes the University, a seminary, and a shrine. The University has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,700 students from 34 different states and 14 foreign countries, and a growing number of homeschooled students. The seminary is the largest in the United States and is often referred to as the “Cradle of Bishops,” because 51 of its graduates have shepherded dioceses. The National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, an idyllic shrine for spiritual reflection located on the hill above the University, is the oldest American replica of the shrine in France.
The University’s historical Catholic identity has strengthened under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Powell, who is in the 11th year of his presidency, but has announced his retirement at the end of 2013-14. Dr. Powell has heavily emphasized the University’s mission statement, which describes four “pillars” of faith, discovery, leadership, and community. Dr. Powell and his Vice President for Mission, Monsignor Stuart Swetland, have made the University’s Catholic identity a priority and have earned support from the faculty.
Several of the Mount’s professors have made significant contributions to the Church. Msgr. Swetland leads the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of The Cardinal Newman Society that is located at the Mount.
With its variety of majors, large athletics and recreation programming, and diverse community, the Mount has the feel of a typical private university but with an earnest commitment to authentic Catholic teaching and students’ personal development. Students should not expect the degree of uniformity that can be found at some of the smaller Newman Guide
colleges. Some of the faculty and about a quarter of students are not Catholic, and many come to the Mount for secular reasons.
Tuition, room and board, and fees cost $46,158 in 2013-14. When compared to other private institutions in Maryland, the Mount’s actual cost is below the state average. The average freshman financial aid package was more than $25,000 in the 2012-13 school year, and students have the option of a three-year program in any major, which requires summer study but can save on tuition costs.
Students at the Mount can pursue more than 40 undergraduate majors, concentrations, and minors. These include the traditional liberal arts disciplines as well as preparation for careers in business, education, law, medicine, and science. An honors program is also available.
The Mount’s liberal arts core curriculum, the Veritas Program, requires a sequence of 19 courses over all four years. The common curriculum begins with the new Veritas Symposium “to initiate students into a Catholic liberal arts community;” assigned authors include C.S. Lewis, Cicero, and Jean Vanier. All students receive a solid grounding in Western civilization through a sequence of history, literature, and art courses, as well as five semesters of philosophy and theology, including a “life of virtue” course. Other requirements include courses in science, math, social science, “global encounters,” and at least a year of a foreign language.
The University’s new Institute for Leadership is also implementing a four-credit program which will help integrate students’ studies with practical experience. According to Dr. Powell, “Being Catholic is a call to leadership. Yet few colleges require it for graduation.” The Mount is now one of the few colleges to require a Leadership experience and portfolio from all undergraduate students before graduating.
Students can take a semester abroad in the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Ireland, Italy, or the United Kingdom. Summer abroad programs are offered in Austria, Costa Rica, France and Spain. Faculty members join students and usually teach courses on location.
The Mount’s speakers policy affirms the University’s responsibility to support and promote understanding of Catholic teaching, but speakers representing diverse viewpoints are welcome. Controversial topics are handled so as not to cause confusion about Catholic teaching.
The Mount has five chapels on campus, including two in residence halls. There are three Sunday Masses on campus; the 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. services are most popular for students. Morning weekday Masses are celebrated at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, and daily Masses are also offered at the seminary’s St. Bernard’s Chapel and chapels in two of the residence halls.
Confessions are available every day and by appointment. Eucharistic adoration is available at various times, and students can enjoy praise and worship music weekly.
The Campus Ministry Organization is the largest student group on campus and presents opportunities for students to serve as lectors, ushers, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, and in other capacities. There are many retreat weekends, Bible studies, prayer groups, women’s and men’s vocation discernment groups, and a peer ministry program.
Campus ministry offers numerous opportunities for fellowship and community service activities. A chapter of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) helps evangelize students.
The Division I athletic department has a unique sports team chaplain program whereby seminarians mentor the teams and help organize opportunities for prayer, team Masses, penance services, weekly face-time during practice, attendance at home games, team dinners, talks on topics such as humility and perseverance, and encouragement for athletes to attend campus ministry events.
Adjacent to campus is the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, an ideal location for student prayer and reflection with a new visitor center and gallery, and nearby is the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Other spiritual opportunities, including Masses, confessions, Benediction, novenas, and Eucharistic Adoration, are available at St. Mary's Chapel on the Hill, affectionately known as the Glass Chapel.
About 85 percent of Mount students live on campus. Residence halls separate men and women by floor, and each floor has a resident advisor. Opposite-gender visitation is prohibited during late-night hours, and individual floor access is locked with check-in security desks in most buildings.
There are traditional residence halls, suite-style rooms, a variety of apartment combinations (for juniors and seniors), themed housing, separate housing for honors students, and a floor in one hall for women in science. There are also a variety of themed housing and living-learning options available for students; these include the Faith Development Community and the Leadership Community.
Many students elect to participate in the Summit Housing initiative. These students adopt as a rule of life a healthy living commitment through outdoor activities, service projects, and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
In addition to the student dining center with a plethora of food options, the Mount Café is open throughout the day, with earlier and later hours.
Opposite-gender visitors are only allowed in the residences during certain hours, and individual floor access is locked. Buildings where freshmen live also have a check-in security desk where all visitors must register.
In an effort to keep parents and families informed about activities at the Mount, the University sponsors a Mount Family Association, coordinated by Dr. Powell’s wife, Irene Quinn Powell. Its activities include a newsletter, the online Mount Family Prayer Memo, orientation, and a fall Family Fest.
The University operates a wellness center, and Gettysburg Hospital is about 15 minutes away.
Mount St. Mary’s is located just outside the small town of Emmitsburg, Maryland, which has a population of 2,400. One of the town’s landmarks is the National Fire Academy, run by the United States Fire Administration, which provides advanced firefighting training to firemen from across the United States. Serious crime and property crime are well below the national average.
Emmitsburg is one hour northwest of Baltimore and 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. Both major cities offer a large number of cultural, social, and sports opportunities. Students often take day trips on their own to these cities, and the university also offers shuttles to Baltimore and D.C. on weekends.
Three major international airports are located about one hour away: Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport. The university runs shuttles to and from campus during break times for students who need transportation.
Students can choose from more than 80 clubs, ranging from the Knights of Columbus and the Legion of Mary to an Army ROTC program. Intramural sports, Campus Ministry, the Student Government Association, and the Activities Management Program (AMP) are popular organizations on campus.
The Mount Students for Life participates in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and other activities. Nearly 300 students have attended the March in recent years. The group prays a weekly Rosary at an on-campus memorial for the unborn and at a local abortion center on Saturdays.
The Outdoor Adventures program takes advantage of the Mount's location in the Catoctin Mountains, offering weekly excursions in canoeing, caving, backpacking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and rafting.
The University has a student-run newspaper, The Mountain Echo
, which is available in print and online, and students produce a literary magazine, Lighted Corners
, and Tolle Lege
, a journal of philosophy and theology. There also is a fully functional student-operated campus radio station, WMTB 89.9 FM.
Students are actively involved in a variety of service projects through the Office of Social Justice. These include service trips during breaks and work with Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, the National Coalition for the Homeless, accessible housing organizations, shelters, and food assistance programs.
Athletics are prominent at the Mount, with one of every five undergraduates a Division I athlete. The University fields 16 intercollegiate teams in NCAA Division I that compete in the Northeast Conference. In addition, there are club sports in dance, equestrian, ice hockey, and rugby. Intramural opportunities are available in nearly two dozen sports, from bocce and dodge ball to volleyball and inner tube water polo.
Campus ministry sponsors a group called Allies for students with homosexual inclinations and others who care about them. The group “strives to promote and live the Christian call to healthy relationships, compassion, chastity, and justice,” according to the University.
Campus Activities hosts more than 140 entertainment events each year, both on and off campus, such as dances, comedians, and live bands. Many of these events are hosted in the newly renovated Club 1808 on campus.
The Bottom Line
Mount St. Mary’s University is a small private university offering a vibrant athletics, student life, and outdoor recreation program, numerous majors, and a solid common curriculum (the Veritas Program) rooted in the Catholic liberal arts tradition. Students have numerous opportunities to grow socially and spiritually.
“Students who’ll thrive at the Mount would be those who are willing to be active and part of a small community,” said Michael Post,vice president for enrollment management. “They have to know that they’ll recognize every face and be recognized. Their professors will ask about them if they’re missing from class.”
Given the University’s idyllic setting and deep heritage, its strengthened embrace of Catholic education, a solid core curriculum, and vibrant student life, the Mount is deservedly getting more attention from families nationwide.