Aquinas College

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville lives large in the American psyche as “Music City,” the long-time center of country music and, more recently, Christian music. But this growing capital city in north central Tennessee harbors a number of other institutions that also impact the region, if not the nation. One such institution, a small and emerging gem in west Nashville five miles from downtown, is the 83-acre Aquinas College. Founded by the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Cecilia, it is an anomaly of Catholic liberal arts education in an area with a miniscule four percent Catholic population. Indeed, Nashville’s strong Protestant heritage has also earned it the title, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt.” The sisters, popularly known as the Nashville Dominicans, came to the city in 1860 at the invitation of Bishop James Whalen, O.P., who asked them to educate girls in the arts and music. Aquinas College grew out of a relationship with The Catholic University of America in the early 20th century. By 1961 it became a junior college and then a four-year college 33 years later. The sisters also operate a coed elementary-middle school and a girls’ high school on the campus grounds, which has as its focal point a large mansion, the “White House,” with administrative offices. The order, which has a special charism of education, operates 35 schools in 19 dioceses, including two schools in Australia. Nine of these schools are in the Diocese of Nashville,

quick facts
Founded: 1961 Type of institution: Small liberal arts college Setting: Urban Undergraduate enrollment: 826 (2008-09 academic year) Total cost: $16,680 tuition for 2009–10 Undergraduate majors: Eight

five key Points
1. The college is owned by faithful and dynamic Nashville Dominicans. 2. It is proudly orthodox in a heavily non-Catholic region of the country. 3. More than half the credits toward a Bachelor of Arts degree are liberal arts core requirements. 4. Best known for pre-professional programs in nursing, education and business. 5. All-commuter college with plans to build residence halls.

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Aquinas College

where the Motherhouse is located. Aquinas College is the only college owned by the 149year-old order. The sisters belong to one of the few orders of women religious enjoying phenomenal growth. Noted for their love of traditional religious life, their contemplative focus prepares them for this active education apostolate. They also are known for their Catholic faithfulness and commitment to the Magisterium. The college is on the move: enrollment doubled since 2000, and further expansion is anticipated when residential facilities are built. Currently, all students are commuters. Fifty-six percent of the 826 students study part-time. Under the leadership of Sister Mary Peter Muehlenkamp, O.P., Aquinas College has continued to promote its Catholic identity, strengthen its curriculum and expand its academic programs. The New Horizons 2015 Strategic Plan indicates that the college will grow to 1,500, provide residential facilities, expand nursing and education programs and construct several buildings, including a new chapel. What is particularly impressive about the college and its ambitious plans for growth is that currently only 30 percent of the student body is Catholic, which is up from 26 percent in the 2007-2008 academic year. This has not deterred the president from pursuing her vision of making Ex corde Ecclesiae a touchstone for the college. While the Catholic population is rising and is expected to grow exponentially with the establishment of residential life, Aquinas College currently enjoys a unique opportunity to participate in the New Evangelization by inspiring the Faith in a population that is searching for answers to life’s deepest questions. Although Catholics are a minority among students, they comprise 76 percent

of the full-time faculty. One college official told us that “all members of the theology and philosophy faculty are Catholic and take an oath of fidelity to the Magisterium. All nonCatholic faculty are Christians who support the Catholic mission of the College.” As the College raises its profile, it continues to attract Catholic instructors and staff members from across the country. Nearly 80 percent of the student body is female, a distinction from other colleges in this guide. Perhaps this figure reflects the historical commitment that the college has made to nursing and K-12 education, two careers long favored by women over men. The college envisions that in time, especially as residential life develops, the male-to-female mix of students will begin to equalize.

From the Financial Aid Office
“The goal of the Aquinas College Office of Financial Aid is to secure the best financial aid package for each student. Our dedicated staff works with each student personally to develop a customized award package tailored to meet the individual’s particular situation. “A variety of financial aid is available including federal, state, and private assistance, along with a host of merit- and need-based endowed scholarships made possible by devoted Aquinas College benefactors. “The Office of Financial Aid has helped 86 percent of Aquinas College students secure financial aid to help off-set the cost of their education. For more information, please call us at (615) 297-7545, extension 483 or e-mail our financial aid office at”


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Aquinas College

Aquinas is fully accredited by its regional body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It received its initial accreditation in 1971. For many families, one of the best things about Aquinas College is its low cost. Tuition is far below the average private college tuition in Tennessee, which is already relatively low. Undergraduate tuition was $16,680 in 2009-10; there are no residence halls, so housing costs depend on where students choose to reside.

Public Identity
The various statements issued by the college emphasize its Catholic identity and, impressively, emphasize routes to salvation. In its mission statement, for example, it is noted: “Faculty and staff seek to make students aware that a relationship exists between human culture and the message of salvation. Thus, the mission of Aquinas College is to bring this message of salvation to bear on ethical, social, political, religious and cultural issues.” This theme is reinforced in discussing various programs and even the goals of the library, which provides “services that illuminate the importance of the message of salvation for moral development, intellectual achievement and personal growth.” Such explicit, across-the-board commentary on the link between education and salvation is rare and welcome. By all accounts, Sister Mary Peter reinforces the institution’s Catholic mission by maintaining a full-time chaplaincy and an ongoing faculty development program where Catholic teachings are discussed monthly. Sister Mary Peter said of Pope Benedict’s speech to Catholic educators in April 2008, which she attended: “As I continue to reflect on Pope Benedict’s words and their application to Aquinas College, I invite the entire Aquinas community—faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters—to join me in exploring ways 67

The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Cecilia owns and governs the college—a rarity, as most colleges established by religious orders have turned part- or full-ownership over to lay boards of trustees. The Congregation has always had a strong commitment to the college as it provides an opportunity for the realization of the Dominican charism—to contemplate and to give the fruits of contemplation to others. It is fidelity to this founding charism which has enabled the sisters to establish a unique educational legacy. Sister Mary Peter Muehlenkamp, O.P., (she doesn’t typically use her last name) was installed as the college’s 10th president in September 2008. The daughter of a judge, she was a practicing attorney before entering religious life in 1996. She later earned her teaching degree at Aquinas College.

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Aquinas College

that the wisdom of Benedict XVI can be integrated into the life of the College.” Also, in April 2009, Sister Mary Peter urged the Aquinas community—both in writing and by visiting classrooms—to oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to rescind the conscience-protection clause for healthcare workers. No doubt this was of particular concern in the nursing program. The presence of the Dominican sisters underscores the college’s Catholic identity as does its modest speakers programs, which include a semi-annual Aquinas Lecture and a Dominican Campus Lecture series. There also

is a campus Holy Spirit Mass in the fall and a St. Thomas Aquinas Mass in the spring. The commencement speaker in May 2008 was Father Gabriel O’Donnell, O.P., vice president at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Among former students at Aquinas College is Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville. He attended the then-junior college in the mid-1960s before moving on to the seminary. He also has taught moral theology at the college and is a strong supporter of the Congregation and the college.

Message from the President
Dear Parents and Prospective Students: The “Springtime of the Faith” promoted by Pope John Paul II is taking root, and a growing segment of young people are responding. They are seeking institutions where faith and reason are in harmony, where a life of virtue is encouraged, and where career skills and a liberal arts education combine to provide a foundation for success in the most complete sense of the word. For 150 years the Dominican Sisters in Nashville, Tennessee, have been true to a tradition that began in 1206 with the personal holiness of Saint Dominic. The order he founded out of love for the Church and zeal for souls is as relevant today as it was in Dominic’s time. In response to the growing interest in faithful Catholic education, Aquinas College has plans for expansion that will begin with the building of a 550-seat campus chapel and will follow with other academic buildings and the addition of residence halls. Until the dormitories are built, the College will continue to assist non-local students to find living accommodations in the area. We look forward with enthusiasm to this work that God has begun and the opportunity that He has given us to transform lives and culture through truth and charity. God bless you,

Sister Mary Peter, O.P.


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Aquinas College

The Dominican Sisters state that their mission in Catholic education is “to provide students with the freedom of a liberal arts education so that with the development of skills and a strong academic foundation they may fulfill their God-given vocation.” The college tries to integrate the teachings of the Church into all of its programs. According to one administrator, “The school is working to do a better job emphasizing what theology and philosophy have to say about other disciplines.” While graduation requirements vary slightly from discipline to discipline, the Bachelor of Arts curriculum is indicative. Here students take slightly more than half of their total credit hours, 65, in a core that runs the gamut of the traditional liberal arts curriculum. Three specific philosophy courses are required, and students can select from a range of theology courses to satisfy a two-course requirement. Two foreign language courses and one computer course also are mandated. Best known for professionally oriented programs in nursing, education and business, Aquinas College continues to expand its liberal arts offerings with majors in theology, history, English and liberal arts. More majors are anticipated, and this comes at a time when many colleges are migrating from the liberal arts into more career-oriented programs. Minors are available in theology, philosophy, history, English and psychology. Aquinas also offers associate degrees in nursing and liberal arts and provides an opThe Newman Guide

tion for older, working students to continue their education through its adult studies program, which offers four degrees on two campuses: an Associate of Business Management, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, a Bachelor of Science in Management of Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. All of the theology and ethics faculty have received the mandatum—in fact, they “jumped at the opportunity,” according to one college official. At the most recent ceremony, the mandatum was received by six professors from Bishop Choby at the St. Thomas Aquinas Feast Day Mass on January 29, 2009. Moral theology courses are reported to be especially good. In the business program, support for a free-market economy is complemented by a desire for “Christian moral constraints.” Students in the popular nursing program are taught about the Church’s teachings in this important area. As the director of the associate degree in nursing program told us, “We give students the tools to help their patients make the right moral decisions.” The nursing department has had guest speakers who reinforce the moral nature of the curriculum. Among these have been Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., a dean and nursing professor at Spalding University, and Sister Renee Mirkes, O.S.F., head of the moral and ethics department at Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska. Ten sisters teach at Aquinas. They and their lay counterparts, Catholic and nonCatholic, “uphold the teachings of the Mag-


Aquinas College

isterium in order to show students how these teachings touch on all parts of their lives,” according to one Aquinas administrator. The college makes an effort to ease the challenge of the first year for students through its Aquinas College Cares about Every Student’s Success (ACCESS) program. It is a required program of mentoring, tutoring and advising for first-year and other new students.

Spiritual Life
The 50-seat St. Jude’s Chapel is the center of the campus’ spiritual life. The college is eager to get underway with construction plans (approved in late 2008) that include a 550-seat St. Dominic Chapel, the centerpiece of the campus development project. With the addition of a reported “top notch” full-time chaplain, more activities have resulted. There is now a daily Mass which is “traditional in every instance” and varies from vernacular Masses to some with portions in Latin. The chapel is open 13-and-a-halfhours a day, allowing for a variety of spiritual programs, including twiceweekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; twice-weekly confessions and twice-yearly penance services; weekly Rosary and an annual living Rosary; and Lenten Stations of the Cross. We were told that the sisters and faculty encourage students to visit the chapel. The campus ministry is involved in various pro-life and social justice activities. Students pray at abortion clinics and at an 70

annual “Cemetery of the Innocents,” where crosses representing aborted children have been erected. In February 2009, campus ministry supported a postcard campaign against the pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act. Campus ministry also organizes Bible study groups, hosts social activities, conducts inquiry sessions for non-Catholics and plans retreats for student leaders. The college hosts a “Teens with Christ” weekend retreat for 8th-through-10th graders. It is a project of the Dominican Sisters and the diocese. Bishop Choby celebrates Masses at the retreat, and participants hear talks on chastity, vocations and other topics.

Student Activities
There is a Student Activities Board that sponsors speakers and other events. There are about ten organizations that include groups for student nurses and prospective teachers, Aquinas Singers, a business fraternity, and classics club. The Frassati Society—named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, an early 20thcentury Dominican tertiary—encourages students to conform their lives according to the Beatitudes. There also is a weekly student discussion group that is similar to the popular “Theology on Tap” programs around the country. The college, which once successfully competed on an intercollegiate basis as part of the National Junior College Athletic Association, currently does not field athletic teams. One faculty member told us, “This is a commuter college, so the social opportuniThe Newman Guide

Aquinas College

ties are somewhat different; however, Aquinas College students are actively involved in Catholic young adult groups throughout the area.”

Residential Life
Some of the social dynamics of the college are expected to change when residential facilities are built. It is our understanding that the building of the first residential hall within the next few years is at the top of the college’s strategic plan. According to Sister Mary Peter, such expansion will allow the college to attract Catholics from other parts of the country. Once residential life is established, the college envisions a virtuous-living model with single-sex dormitories. Students have access to the medical services and health club at St. Thomas Hospital, which is next to the college. The Daughters of Charity started the facility in 1898, and it is now a comprehensive, 541-bed hospital.

Also known as the “Athens of the South,” the city offers many cultural, social and entertainment opportunities. There is, of course, the venerable Grand Ole Opry, with its Saturday night performances, but there are also National Football League (Tennessee Titans) and National Hockey League (Nashville Predators) teams to follow. Nashville is a transportation hub, which includes the Nashville International Airport, a hub for Southwest Airlines and host to other major carriers. Three major national highways, Interstates 24, 40 and 65, serve the city.

The Bottom Line
Aquinas College is a small college with a proud local tradition, particularly in areas such as nursing and teaching. With several promising initiatives underway, it is poised to expand its curriculum and attract students from well beyond the Nashville area. The fact that the city and state are so overwhelmingly Protestant does not deter the college from living its Catholic identity. Aquinas College embraces Ex corde Ecclesiae, making it a cause for celebration in a changing South. This is a college worth considering both for students in Tennessee and increasingly for those around the nation who are looking for the careful attention and dynamic spirit that the Dominican sisters provide to faithful education.

The Community
Nashville is one of the most vibrant cities of the upper South. Its population is 620,000 people and growing fast. In addition to historical ties to the country music industry, Nashville has a big health care sector, including serving as the home of the behemoth Hospital Corporation of America.

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