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Aquinas College

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville lives large in the American psyche
as “Music City,” the long-time center of coun-
try music and, more recently, Christian mu-
sic. 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 emerg-
ing gem in west Nashville five miles from
downtown, is the 83-acre Aquinas College.
Founded by the Dominican Sisters of the Con-
gregation of Saint Cecilia, it is an anomaly of
quick facts
Catholic liberal arts education in an area with
a miniscule four percent Catholic population. Founded: 1961
Indeed, Nashville’s strong Protestant heritage Type of institution: Small liberal arts college
has also earned it the title, “The Buckle of the Setting: Urban
Bible Belt.” Undergraduate enrollment: 826 (2008-09
The sisters, popularly known as the academic year)
Total cost: $16,680 tuition for 2009–10
Nashville Dominicans, came to the city in
Undergraduate majors: Eight
1860 at the invitation of Bishop James Whalen,
O.P., who asked them to educate girls in the Five Key Points
arts and music. Aquinas College grew out of
a relationship with The Catholic University of 1. The college is owned by faithful and
America in the early 20th century. dynamic Nashville Dominicans.
By 1961 it became a junior college and 2. It is proudly orthodox in a heavily
then a four-year college 33 years later. The non-Catholic region of the country.
sisters also operate a coed elementary-middle 3. More than half the credits toward a
school and a girls’ high school on the campus Bachelor of Arts degree are liberal
grounds, which has as its focal point a large arts core requirements.
mansion, the “White House,” with adminis- 4. Best known for pre-professional
trative offices. programs in nursing, education and
The order, which has a special charism of business.
education, operates 35 schools in 19 dioceses, 5. All-commuter college with plans to
including two schools in Australia. Nine of build residence halls.
these schools are in the Diocese of Nashville,

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Aquinas College

where the Motherhouse is located. Aquinas of the full-time faculty. One college official
College is the only college owned by the 149- told us that “all members of the theology and
year-old order. philosophy faculty are Catholic and take an
The sisters belong to one of the few or- oath of fidelity to the Magisterium. All non-
ders of women religious enjoying phenome- Catholic faculty are Christians who support
nal growth. Noted for their love of traditional the Catholic mission of the College.” As the
religious life, their contemplative focus pre- College raises its profile, it continues to attract
pares them for this active education aposto- Catholic instructors and staff members from
late. They also are known for their Catholic across the country.
faithfulness and commitment to the Magiste- Nearly 80 percent of the student body is
rium. female, a distinction from other colleges in
The college is on the move: enrollment this guide. Perhaps this figure reflects the his-
doubled since 2000, and further expansion torical commitment that the college has made
is anticipated when residential facilities are to nursing and K-12 education, two careers
built. Currently, all students are commuters. long favored by women over men. The college
Fifty-six percent of the 826 students study envisions that in time, especially as residen-
part-time. tial life develops, the male-to-female mix of
Under the leadership of Sister Mary students will begin to equalize.
Peter Muehlenkamp, O.P., Aquinas College
has continued to promote its Catholic iden- From the
tity, strengthen its curriculum and expand its
academic programs. The New Horizons 2015 Financial Aid Office
Strategic Plan indicates that the college will
grow to 1,500, provide residential facilities, “The goal of the Aquinas College Office
expand nursing and education programs and of Financial Aid is to secure the best fi-
construct several buildings, including a new nancial aid package for each student.
chapel. Our dedicated staff works with each stu-
What is particularly impressive about the dent personally to develop a customized
college and its ambitious plans for growth is award package tailored to meet the indi-
that currently only 30 percent of the student vidual’s particular situation.
body is Catholic, which is up from 26 percent “A variety of financial aid is available
in the 2007-2008 academic year. This has not including federal, state, and private as-
deterred the president from pursuing her vi- sistance, along with a host of merit- and
sion of making Ex corde Ecclesiae a touchstone need-based endowed scholarships made
for the college. possible by devoted Aquinas College
While the Catholic population is rising benefactors.
and is expected to grow exponentially with
the establishment of residential life, Aquinas “The Office of Financial Aid has helped
College currently enjoys a unique opportu- 86 percent of Aquinas College students
nity to participate in the New Evangelization secure financial aid to help off-set the cost
by inspiring the Faith in a population that is of their education. For more information,
searching for answers to life’s deepest ques- please call us at (615) 297-7545, extension
tions. 483 or e-mail our financial aid office at
Although Catholics are a minority”
among students, they comprise 76 percent

66 The Newman Guide
Aquinas College

Aquinas is fully accredited by its region- Public Identity
al body, the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools. It received its initial accredita- The various statements issued by the college
tion in 1971. emphasize its Catholic identity and, impres-
For many families, one of the best things sively, emphasize routes to salvation.
about Aquinas College is its low cost. Tuition In its mission statement, for example, it
is far below the average private college tu- is noted: “Faculty and staff seek to make stu-
ition in Tennessee, dents aware that
which is already a relationship ex-
relatively low. Un- ists between hu-
dergraduate tu- man culture and
ition was $16,680 in the message of
2009-10; there are salvation. Thus,
no residence halls, the mission of
so housing costs Aquinas Col-
depend on where lege is to bring
students choose to this message of
reside. salvation to bear
on ethical, so-
Governance cial, political, re-
ligious and cul-
The Dominican tural issues.”
Sisters of the Con- This theme
gregation of Saint is reinforced in
Cecilia owns and discussing vari-
governs the college—a rarity, as most colleges ous programs
established by religious orders have turned and even the goals of the library, which pro-
part- or full-ownership over to lay boards of vides “services that illuminate the importance
trustees. of the message of salvation for moral develop-
The Congregation has always had a ment, intellectual achievement and personal
strong commitment to the college as it pro- growth.” Such explicit, across-the-board com-
vides an opportunity for the realization of mentary on the link between education and
the Dominican charism—to contemplate and salvation is rare and welcome.
to give the fruits of contemplation to others. By all accounts, Sister Mary Peter rein-
It is fidelity to this founding charism which forces the institution’s Catholic mission by
has enabled the sisters to establish a unique maintaining a full-time chaplaincy and an
educational legacy. ongoing faculty development program where
Sister Mary Peter Muehlenkamp, O.P., Catholic teachings are discussed monthly.
(she doesn’t typically use her last name) was Sister Mary Peter said of Pope Benedict’s
installed as the college’s 10th president in speech to Catholic educators in April 2008,
September 2008. The daughter of a judge, she which she attended: “As I continue to reflect
was a practicing attorney before entering reli- on Pope Benedict’s words and their applica-
gious life in 1996. She later earned her teach- tion to Aquinas College, I invite the entire
ing degree at Aquinas College. Aquinas community—faculty, staff, alumni,
and supporters—to join me in exploring ways

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Aquinas College

that the wisdom of Benedict XVI can be inte- is a campus Holy Spirit Mass in the fall and a
grated into the life of the College.” St. Thomas Aquinas Mass in the spring.
Also, in April 2009, Sister Mary Peter The commencement speaker in May
urged the Aquinas community—both in writ- 2008 was Father Gabriel O’Donnell, O.P., vice
ing and by visiting classrooms—to oppose president at the Dominican House of Studies
the Obama administration’s efforts to rescind in Washington, D.C.
the conscience-protection clause for health- Among former students at Aquinas Col-
care workers. No doubt this was of particular lege is Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of
concern in the nursing program. Nashville. He attended the then-junior col-
The presence of the Dominican sisters lege in the mid-1960s before moving on to the
underscores the college’s Catholic identity as seminary. He also has taught moral theology
does its modest speakers programs, which in- at the college and is a strong supporter of the
clude a semi-annual Aquinas Lecture and a Congregation and the college.
Dominican Campus Lecture series. There also

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 fol-
low 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

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.

68 The Newman Guide
Aquinas College

Academics tion for older, working students to continue
their education through its adult studies pro-
The Dominican Sisters state that their mission gram, which offers four degrees on two cam-
in Catholic education is “to provide students puses: an Associate of Business Management,
with the freedom of a liberal arts education a Bachelor of Science in Business Administra-
so that with the development of skills and a tion, a Bachelor of Science in Management of
strong academic foundation they may fulfill Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Sci-
their God-given vo- ence in Nursing.
cation.” All of the theol-
The college ogy and ethics fac-
tries to integrate ulty have received
the teachings of the the mandatum—in
Church into all of its fact, they “jumped
programs. According at the opportunity,”
to one administrator, according to one
“The school is work- college official. At
ing to do a better job the most recent cer-
emphasizing what emony, the manda-
theology and philoso- tum was received by
phy have to say about six professors from
other disciplines.” Bishop Choby at the
While gradu- St. Thomas Aquinas
ation requirements vary slightly from dis- Feast Day Mass on January 29, 2009. Moral
cipline to discipline, the Bachelor of Arts theology courses are reported to be especially
curriculum is indicative. Here students take good.
slightly more than half of their total credit In the business program, support for a
hours, 65, in a core that runs the gamut of free-market economy is complemented by a
the traditional liberal arts curriculum. Three desire for “Christian moral constraints.” Stu-
specific philosophy courses are required, and dents in the popular nursing program are
students can select from a range of theology taught about the Church’s teachings in this
courses to satisfy a two-course requirement. important area. As the director of the associ-
Two foreign language courses and one com- ate degree in nursing program told us, “We
puter course also are mandated. give students the tools to help their patients
Best known for professionally oriented make the right moral decisions.”
programs in nursing, education and busi- The nursing department has had guest
ness, Aquinas College continues to expand its speakers who reinforce the moral nature
liberal arts offerings with majors in theology, of the curriculum. Among these have been
history, English and liberal arts. More majors Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., a dean and
are anticipated, and this comes at a time when nursing professor at Spalding University, and
many colleges are migrating from the liberal Sister Renee Mirkes, O.S.F., head of the moral
arts into more career-oriented programs. Mi- and ethics department at Pope Paul VI Insti-
nors are available in theology, philosophy, tute in Omaha, Nebraska.
history, English and psychology. Ten sisters teach at Aquinas. They and
Aquinas also offers associate degrees in their lay counterparts, Catholic and non-
nursing and liberal arts and provides an op- Catholic, “uphold the teachings of the Mag-

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Aquinas College

isterium in order to show students how these annual “Cemetery of the Innocents,” where
teachings touch on all parts of their lives,” ac- crosses representing aborted children have
cording to one Aquinas administrator. been erected. In February 2009, campus min-
The college makes an effort to ease istry supported a postcard campaign against
the challenge of the first year for students the pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act.
through its Aquinas College Cares about Ev- Campus ministry also organizes Bible
ery Student’s Success (ACCESS) program. It study groups, hosts social activities, conducts
is a required program of mentoring, tutoring inquiry sessions for non-Catholics and plans
and advising for first-year and other new stu- retreats for student leaders.
dents. The college hosts a “Teens with Christ”
weekend retreat for 8th-through-10th grad-
ers. It is a project of the Dominican Sisters and
Spiritual Life the diocese. Bishop Choby celebrates Masses
at the retreat, and participants hear talks on
The 50-seat St. Jude’s Chapel is the center of
chastity, vocations and other topics.
the campus’ spiritual life. The college is eager
to get underway with construction plans (ap-
proved in late 2008) that include a 550-seat St. Student Activities
Dominic Chapel, the centerpiece of the cam-
pus development project. There is a Student Activities Board that
With the addition of a reported “top sponsors speakers and other events. There
notch” full-time chaplain, more activities are about ten organizations that include
have resulted. There groups for student
is now a daily Mass nurses and prospec-
which is “traditional tive teachers, Aqui-
in every instance” nas Singers, a busi-
and varies from ver- ness fraternity, and
nacular Masses to classics club.
some with portions The Frassati So-
in Latin. ciety—named after
The chapel is Blessed Pier Giorgio
open 13-and-a-half- Frassati, an early 20th-
hours a day, allow- century Dominican
ing for a variety of tertiary—encourages
spiritual programs, students to conform
including twice- their lives accord-
weekly Adoration ing to the Beatitudes.
of the Blessed Sacrament; twice-weekly con- There also is a weekly student discussion
fessions and twice-yearly penance services; group that is similar to the popular “Theol-
weekly Rosary and an annual living Rosary; ogy on Tap” programs around the country.
and Lenten Stations of the Cross. We were The college, which once successfully
told that the sisters and faculty encourage competed on an intercollegiate basis as part of
students to visit the chapel. the National Junior College Athletic Associa-
The campus ministry is involved in tion, currently does not field athletic teams.
various pro-life and social justice activities. One faculty member told us, “This is a
Students pray at abortion clinics and at an commuter college, so the social opportuni-

70 The Newman Guide
Aquinas College

ties are somewhat different; however, Aqui- Also known as the “Athens of the South,”
nas College students are actively involved in the city offers many cultural, social and enter-
Catholic young adult groups throughout the tainment opportunities. There is, of course,
area.” the venerable Grand Ole Opry, with its Sat-
urday night performances, but there are also
National Football League (Tennessee Titans)
Residential Life and National Hockey
League (Nashville Pred-
Some of the social dy-
ators) teams to follow.
namics of the college are
Nashville is a trans-
expected to change when
portation hub, which
residential facilities are
includes the Nashville
built. It is our under-
International Airport, a
standing that the build-
hub for Southwest Air-
ing of the first residential
lines and host to other
hall within the next few
major carriers. Three
years is at the top of the
major national high-
college’s strategic plan.
ways, Interstates 24, 40
According to Sister
and 65, serve the city.
Mary Peter, such expan-
sion will allow the college
to attract Catholics from The Bottom Line
other parts of the country. Once residential
life is established, the college envisions a vir- Aquinas College is a small college with a
tuous-living model with single-sex dormito- proud local tradition, particularly in areas
ries. such as nursing and teaching. With several
Students have access to the medical ser- promising initiatives underway, it is poised
vices and health club at St. Thomas Hospital, to expand its curriculum and attract students
which is next to the college. The Daughters of from well beyond the Nashville area.
Charity started the facility in 1898, and it is The fact that the city and state are so
now a comprehensive, 541-bed hospital. overwhelmingly Protestant does not deter
the college from living its Catholic identity.
Aquinas College embraces Ex corde Ecclesiae,
The Community making it a cause for celebration in a chang-
ing South.
Nashville is one of the most vibrant cities of
This is a college worth considering both
the upper South. Its population is 620,000 peo-
for students in Tennessee and increasingly for
ple and growing fast. In addition to historical
those around the nation who are looking for
ties to the country music industry, Nashville
the careful attention and dynamic spirit that
has a big health care sector, including serving
the Dominican sisters provide to faithful edu-
as the home of the behemoth Hospital Corpo-
ration of America.

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