Belmont Abbey College

Belmont, North Carolina

Benedictine monks migrated from Pennsylvania to Gaston County in south central North Carolina in 1876 and began an education ministry that eventually became Belmont Abbey College in 1913. It first granted bachelor’s degrees in 1952 and became coed 20 years later. For most of its existence, the college was a base for quiet evangelization in the midst of the Protestant Bible Belt. Today, it is moving outward a bit more aggressively as the college grows in size and appeals to more students outside the region and increasingly the nation. The locale is compelling and offers an opportunity for Belmont Abbey to attract broader interest in a rapidly growing area. Situated in the small town of Belmont, with a population of about 9,200 people, the college is only 10 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city; the impressive urban skyline is very prominent from the campus. Charlotte’s population has nearly doubled since 1980, and it is today a major banking center and the epicenter of the booming NASCAR motor sport industry. Belmont Abbey has taken advantage of its location by, among other things, establishing a unique undergraduate concentration in motor sports management. But what distinguishes the college is a revitalized commitment to its Catholic and Benedictine roots, as evidenced by a national advertising campaign called “Got Monks?”, which began in October 2006. This has been only one of the initiatives launched by Dr.

quick facts
Founded: 1876 Type of institution: Small liberal arts college Setting: Suburban Undergraduate enrollment: 1,496 (2008–09 academic year) Undergraduate cost: $30,304 (tuition, room and board for 2009–10) Undergraduate majors: 20

five key Points
1. The presence of the Abbey ensures a strong Benedictine influence and promotes strong Catholic identity. 2. A 59-credit core curriculum provides a foundation in the liberal arts. 3. Establishing national visibility through the Envoy Institute and other programs. 4. Most students major in businessrelated fields or education. 5. Emphasis on sports as training in character and virtue.

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William Thierfelder, who became college president in 2004. Dr. Thierfelder, a sports psychologist and former college All-American high jumper and Olympian, has established his priorities as strengthening the college’s Catholic identity, emphasizing its academic credentials and promoting athletic opportunities. Some of these enhancements are embodied in an impressive strategic plan with three components: Catholic and Benedictine goals, liberal arts programs, and efforts to improve overall “excellence and virtue.” Progress has been considerable on the plan, which was launched in 2005. One result of the advertising campaign and the overall strengthening of the college is a 34 percent increase in total enrollment from fall 2006 to fall 2008. Much of this growth has occurred in the college’s adult degree program, along with an impressive 10 percent enrollment increase among traditional-aged (18- to 22-year-old) students in 2008-09 over the previous year. Although 68 percent of traditional students are from North Carolina, during this past academic year students came from 34 states and 26 countries as the college expands its appeal. One growing class of students are homeschooled; President Thierfelder and his wife homeschool their own children, and he frequently speaks to homeschooling groups. About 53 percent of the students are traditional. The college also provides evening and weekend classes in its Adult Degree Program; this is a rapidly growing group, which

included 701 students in the 2008–09 academic year. These non-traditional students, similar to the traditional ones, are most concentrated in business and education majors. The college does not have a graduate program. There are 20 majors offered, most of which are common programs. About 40 percent of traditional students major in business and related fields and another 20 percent major in education. Among the less common majors and concentrations are sports management and the motor sports management program, which includes four courses in management and marketing as well as an internship. There is a theology major. Students become acclimated to Benedictine values through a First Year Symposium and end their work with a capstone Great Books course four years later. The cost of attending Belmont Abbey is well below average private-college tuition in North Carolina. The total for tuition, room and board in 2009-10 was $30,304, and 90 percent of students receive some sort of financial aid. Belmont Abbey offers a variety of merit-based aid such as stipends for honors students, the Felix Hintemeyer Scholarship for student leadership and the Sport at the Service of the Spirit Scholarship.

Belmont Abbey College is run by the Southern Benedictine Society, which consists of The Newman Guide


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two separately incorporated entities, Belmont Abbey monastery and the college, which is located on the monastery’s property. The abbot of the monastery is always the chancellor of the college and responsible for maintaining the school’s Catholic identity. A set number of seats on the board of trustees are reserved for the monks. The “Ten Hallmarks of Benedictine Education” are prominently displayed in every classroom and throughout the campus. Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B., who has been abbot since 1999, is a former president and dean of the college. He is currently chancellor of the college and interviews all full-time college hires. The abbot, who is a theologian with a degree in patristics, has strongly and consistently supported the implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae. The abbot also is a member of the college board of trustees, which is largely a lay board including many Charlotte area businesspeople. Of the 35-member board, five are monks, one is a Sister of Mercy, one is a Christian Brother and one is the chancellor and vicar general of the Diocese of Charlotte. Dr. Thierfelder, a lifelong devout Catholic, was president of York Barbell Company before assuming the presidency of the college five years ago. He and his wife, Mary, are Benedictine oblates, lay followers of The Rule of St. Benedict and have nine children.

From the Financial Aid Office
“At Belmont Abbey College, we work with you and your family to provide practical solutions that will enable you to obtain an authentically Catholic higher education in an affordable way. “In coming to a college begun by Benedictine monks—a group founded by St. Benedict 1,500 years ago—you would become part of a long tradition of learning and holiness. “We have many scholarship opportunities that will help to make attending college possible for you. If you are strong academically, you may want to apply for an Honors Fellowship. If you are interested in becoming a Catholic leader, you may be eligible for a Hintemeyer award. If you are talented in drama, you are a ‘natural’ for our John Oetegen Excellence in Theatre Scholarship. If you are athletically gifted, you may be eligible for an athletic grant. “We also offer many other generous merit packages. More than 90 percent of our students receive financial aid. “Please visit our website: and check our Financial Aid and Scholarship section to see what awards you are eligible for. We look forward to welcoming you to our beautiful campus!” This commitment is reflected in various college documents, including the mission and vision statements. A new mission statement adopted by the board of trustees in 2007 states: “Our mission is to educate students in the liberal arts and sciences so that in all things God may be glorified.” 85

Public Identity
At the heart of Belmont Abbey College is its Benedictine identity, sustained by 18 monks at the Abbey. There is an atmosphere steeped in the Rule of St. Benedict and the values that it reflects. According to Abbot Placid in a spring 2007 interview in the college’s alumni magazine, Crossroads, the Benedictine heritage “ensures that the educational approach established and maintained here reflects the Catholic intellectual tradition.” The Newman Guide

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The vision statement begins with: “Belmont Abbey College finds its center in Jesus Christ. By [H]is light, we grasp the true image and likeness of God which every human person is called to live out.” The college embraced Ex corde Ecclesiae when it was issued in 1990, according to one theology faculty member. And at a March 2007 faculty retreat there was a discussion of the document and how Catholic teachings on the relationship between faith and reason apply to colleges. A college staff member told us that such objectives were diligently followed in a “quiet, Benedictine way, but now we are moving outward.” By all accounts, President Thierfelder has had a big impact in helping reshape the college into a more visibly Catholic institution that is increasingly drawing national attention. There are a number of ways in which the Catholic presence on campus is being strengthened. One is through faculty hiring, a matter of some importance since Catholics numbered just “over 50 percent” of the faculty in 2007, according to one senior staff member. The same staff member told us, “In addition to the president, all the vice presidents are Catholic. All the job postings stress the Catholic mission.” In 2007 Dr. Anne Carson Daly was appointed vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. A specialist in Victorian and modern literature, she has taught at Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame and George-

town, and has spoken and published on literature and religion, as well as on many other topics. Dr. Daly has been involved in the hiring of 10 new full-time faculty members, many of whom, she told us, “are adding to the intellectual and spiritual strengths of our school and contributing to the college’s Catholic identity.” Among the new faculty members are a classicist, a bioethicist and a theologian. One of these professors, Dr. Gerald Malsbary, a former teacher of classics at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, serves as the full-time director for the required First-Year Symposium. Dr. Daly said, “With his help, we have strengthened the program—increasing the focus on the liberal arts, the Catholic intellectual tradition, the life of St. Benedict and The Rule of St. Benedict.” Among other recent developments which emphasize the college’s Catholic identity was the solemn dedication of the St. Joseph Adoration Chapel in November 2008. Ground was broken two years earlier on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte participated. We are told that the chapel, designed to accommodate approximately 40 people, is “in constant use.” It is the first of several building projects the college is undertaking. Dr. Thierfelder has stressed the importance of the chapel. In an article in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic News & Herald,


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he said, “I wanted this to be the first thing that we broke ground on because I thought that it communicated, more powerfully than I possibly could, what we actually value and what we think is at the core and root of Belmont Abbey College.” Another significant new Catholic association for the college is the recently established Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College. Expanding from its origin as Envoy magazine, a Catholic evangelization publication, the institute focuses on the spiritual needs of youth and helps with the faith formation of Belmont

Abbey students. Institute director Patrick Madrid led an advent reflection on campus in 2008, and the college sponsored the first Envoy Institute Conference. In October 2009 Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., will be honored as “Envoy of the Year.” As part of its commitment to pro-life Catholic principles, the college is helping develop the Room At The Inn, a facility for pregnant and unwed mothers which will be located on land that is adjacent to the campus. This Charlotte-based Catholic apostolate pro-

Message from the President
Dear Parents and Prospective Students: We are glad you are interested in joining our community—with roots in North Carolina that go back more than 133 years. In coming to a college begun by Benedictine monks, you would be part of a long tradition of learning and holiness that I hope you will make your own. For centuries, the Benedictines have been creating vibrant, holy, communities of learning. We hope that you will help us to create such a community here. Much of this work has already been done by the monks, the faculty, and the students of this College, but much remains to be done—by you! The banners around our campus proclaim our commitment to Excellence and Virtue. I urge you to make that commitment your own. If you do, you will be happy and holy. You will become wise. You will be productive. You will be loved, and you will radiate joy. In the Gospels we read that the early Christians were instantly recognizable because of the way they loved each other. Let us try to be that kind of community so that, in the words of our school’s motto, “in all things God may be glorified.” Sincerely in Christ,

Dr. William K. Thierfelder

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vides educational opportunities, support and health care for these women. And additional outreach is evidenced by The Catholic Shoppe, a book and supply center opened on campus in 2006, and which offers study courses to students and the surrounding community. These new initiatives and programs supplement others, in particular the Bradley Institute for the Study of Christian Culture, which was established in 1996 in honor of former college president Father John Bradley, O.S.B. Dr. Robert Preston, another former college president and student of Father Bradley’s, is director of the Institute. According to the college, the Institute “supports the mission of the college by fostering an understanding of the Catholic Intellectual Heritage and by advancing the truth of Christian thought and an appreciation of their unique impact upon the development of Western culture.” In December 2006 the Vatican designated the Institute as a Seat of Catholic Culture. The Institute has monthly speakers and attracts students and others from the Belmont area. Among recent speakers were theologian and author Michael Novak, Father Joseph Koterski, S.J., of Fordham University and Dr. Robert Preston, who delivered a lecture in April 2009 titled “Goodbye Rome: Hello, American Catholic Church.” Speakers in other lecture series include Dr. Ralph McInerny, the professor emeritus of philosophy, at Notre Dame and Archbishop Michael Miller, C.S.B., Archbishop of Van-

couver, British Columbia. Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh and Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, were honored at the 2008 commencement. Interestingly, Belmont Abbey does not have outside speakers at their commencement ceremony. Rather, as Ken Davison, the vice president of college relations, told us, “the Baccalaureate Mass is the focus and highlight of commencement. The homilist, therefore, is the ‘speaker’ and is so honored. Since it’s a Mass, the homilist must be a priest or bishop and approved by the abbot.” The 2008 homilist was Bishop Burbidge. And the 2009 homilist was Archbishop Miller who, along with Catholic writer Michael Novak, received an honorary degree. As a physical example of the college’s public identity there is a lovely Lourdes Grotto, which was dedicated in 1891 and has been given special status as a Pilgrimage Shrine. In addition to ongoing visits, there is a program of prayer each May. The grotto complements the impressive Abbey Basilica and the monastery, both of which are close by on campus.

Belmont Abbey is proud of its core curriculum, emphasizing that it reflects the Catholic and Benedictine tradition. “But,” one faculty interviewee said, “since up to 45 percent of the student body is not Catholic, the courses are not labeled Catholic—though they operate from a baseline Catholic perspective.” The Newman Guide


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What this means is that of the required 120 credit hours, 59 are in the core curriculum. There are 12 credits in “Foundational Skills,” including writing, critical thinking and mathematics. An additional 41 credits are required in seven broad disciplines in the traditional liberal arts. Within these categories there is considerable choice. In philosophy, students need to take a survey ethics course (“Philosophy 250”) and can choose ancient and medieval philosophy or modern and contemporary philosophy. There is, thus, a six-credit philosophy requirement. There are six credits required in theology, which are comprised of one course on themes from the Old and New Testaments and another on Christian Theology which emphasizes the Catholic and Benedictine intellectual traditions. Theology faculty members have received or applied for the mandatum, as is required by college policy. But, one faculty member said, “The college provides a learning experience that gives students an introduction into an ethical and moral view of the world shaped by a Catholic philosophy that avoids the left and right extremes.” Given the influence of Abbot Placid, the leadership of Dr. Thierfelder and the launching of a number of strong Catholic initiatives, it could reasonably be expected that the Catholic content of the curriculum will be enhanced in the near future. Such strengthening is at least implicit in the current strategic plan. We also were heartened to learn about the crafting of a interdisciplinary minor in

Catholic studies. For most students, Belmont Abbey provides a small environment to develop marketable skills. About 50 percent of students major in business-related concentrations, which is not surprising given the array of offerings. These include business management, international business, sports management and motor sports management; the college received the North Carolina Motorsports Four Year Education Program Award in February 2009. A new entrepreneurship program is being launched in the fall of 2009. Known as Abbey Ventures, it will help prepare students who are interested in starting their own companies or becoming venture capitalists. There also is a Centre for Global Commerce. The education department, known as the Sister Christine Beck Department of Education—named to commemorate the work of one of the Sisters of Mercy—accounts for about 23 percent of the college’s majors. In 2007 a new Honors Institute began with an emphasis on Great Books. This competitive, 15-course program replaced a less-defined honors program that featured only nine courses. Honors Institute students have the opportunity to attend an array of extracurricular lectures and programs, and are eligible for grants, including full tuition remission. Scholarships, including those that attract Catholic students, are an impressive part of the current Belmont Abbey outreach program. The Felix Hintemeyer Scholarship, named after a former prior and vicar general

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of the Benedictine order, encourages student leadership. There is also the Sport at the Service of the Spirit Scholarship, an initiative of Dr. Thierfelder. There is a modest study-abroad program. The college does not operate or participate in an overseas campus but allows students to take part in several overseas programs offered by the School for Field Studies.

Spiritual Life
The spiritual life at Belmont Abbey is centered at the basilica, which is officially known as Abbey Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. The beautiful 19th-century Gothic structure, which seats about 300, served as a cathedral for 69 years and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. There are three Masses per weekend at the basilica, one on Saturday morning and two on Sunday, including a 7 p.m. student Mass, which draws about 200. Daily Mass is at 5 p.m. Students also can participate in the Divine Office prayers of Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers throughout the week, and students participate daily with the monks. The Mass is said in the vernacular. On Sunday, there is organ music but weekday Masses have a capella singing. The Divine Office is recited in recto tono chant. Vespers are sung each day. The monks are active in campus ministry. Confessions are held seven days a week. The new St. Joseph Chapel is always open and there is an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament 16 hours a day. There also are days of 90

recollection and “fasting opportunities.” Students must perform community service each semester, and this program is administered through the residence life office. Among the options available are working with maternity homes such as Room at the Inn or crisis pregnancy centers, helping needy and homeless people in the area, teaching religion to young people at local parishes and mentoring and coaching at local schools. One professor said, “The campus ministry emphasizes the life issues as taught by the Catholic Church—not just abortion but also issues such as war.” Some students have engaged in war protests. There also is a contingent that participates in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. In 2009, more than 100 students, faculty and staff made the 800-mile roundtrip. President Thierfelder was among them. Other campus ministry projects include Homelessness Awareness Week and a Habitat for Humanity program. Students also participate in alternative spring break programs that have included trips to the Dominican Republic, Honduras and the U.S.-Mexican border. Faith enrichment is enhanced by guest speakers, some of whom have been mentioned. Among others has been Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute, who gave a two-day program, “The Gift Series: Introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” in April 2009. An expert on the Shroud of Turin participated in a Lenten Day of Reflection the previous month. Some of the campus ministry programs appeal to non-Catholic students but, accord-

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ing to one faculty member, “Because the school is in the Bible Belt, it has no specific ministry to non-Catholics—recognizing that the area offers an array of opportunities for Protestant students.”

Student Activities
Students have access to about 30 recognized student groups, which run the gamut from quilting and chess clubs to Crusaders for Life and the Student Government Association. There is a monthly student-run newspaper, the Crusader, and a literary magazine, Agora. Three sororities and two fraternities also are available. There are no clubs that are at variance with Catholic teachings. Some students take advantage of religiousoriented groups known as households. Presently, there are two such households: Brothers in Christ, Sons of Mary Household for men and the Faithful Daughters Household for Women. One especially prominent campus organization is the Abbey Players, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2008-2009. Recent productions have included Little Women: The Musical and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. In addition to the Abbey Players’ six performances each academic year, students can enjoy concerts sponsored by the Arts at the Abbey series while earning “cultural events credits.” The college requires all students to attend five cultural events each semester.

Also, student performers can minor in theatre arts and are eligible for the Father John Oetgen, O.S.B., Excellence in Theatre Scholarship. For others, there is an active intramural sports program that includes the typical sports as well as offerings such as volleyball and billiards. Students also are able to use the facilities of the R. L. Stowe, Jr., Family YMCA in Belmont, which is about five minutes from the campus. BAC fields 11 men’s and nine women’s sports team that compete in NCAA Division II through the 12-team Conference Carolinas. In the fall 2009, four new sports will begin competition, including men’s and women’s track and field, as well as men’s and women’s tennis, which is being revived after a four-year absence. In 2007, the college hired veteran athletic director Richard Dull from Cal State-Northridge, promoted the assistant men’s basketball coach to the top spot and signed a women’s professional basketball assistant coach to coach the women’s basketball team. Among recent successes was the men’s basketball which achieved a 20-9 record in 2008-2009; this was their best record in six years. honored lacrosse coach Shaun Williamson as NCAA Division II Coach of the Year in 2008. Dr. Thierfelder, who had a long career in sports, has been working to upgrade the sports program. But his approach is not the

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common win-at-all cost mentality. Instead, he believes in using sports to form young men and women. One administrator called him “one of the nation’s leaders in the campaign to make sports a training ground for character and virtue,” who “tirelessly emphasizes the importance of virtue in sport for our studentathletes and for our coaches.”

Residential Life
Campus housing accommodates about 625 students in three residence halls with singlesex suites and apartments. Overnight opposite-sex visitation in rooms is prohibited, but we understand it is not closely policed. There is no curfew. Chastity is encouraged both through policy and by resident staff. To address student drinking, the Student Life Office has launched a quarterly Alcohol Education Seminar. Students who run afoul of alcohol rules are required to attend the seminar in lieu of being assessed a fine. In 2007, there were 50 campus liquor law violations that rose to the level of disciplinary action. The campus is relatively safe. Students have access to a health center where routine medical issues are addressed by a nurse practitioner and others. The 435bed Gaston Memorial Hospital is located in Gastonia, about 15 miles west of the campus. Charlotte offers a variety of medical facilities.

Evangelist Billy Graham was born in Charlotte 90 years ago—when the population of Charlotte and its county, Mecklenburg, was only about 12,000—and evangelical and Protestant influences in this southwest section of North Carolina remain strong. But with its rapid growth and prosperity, the Charlotte area is now a diverse mix and offers what you would expect of the nation’s 20th largest city. Belmont Abbey students are able to take advantage of the city’s many social, cultural and sports opportunities. The Charlotte Douglas International Airport is about 10 minutes from Belmont. It is a major hub for U.S. Airways and hosts many major carriers. The area also is easily accessible by road through Interstates 85 and 77.

The Bottom Line
Belmont Abbey continues to be on the move. After providing a liberal arts education to students, often Protestants, in the region for more than a century, the college is repositioning itself. With impressive marketing skills and the Catholic commitment of a dynamic president, Belmont Abbey continues on a campaign to make itself a national institution with a stronger Catholic presence. Some of the enhancements are subtle, such as broadening its outreach to the community, while others are more substantial as evidenced by a revitalized curriculum, new faculty and an Honors Institute. The college also has been nimble in taking advantage of regional partnerships, including one that supports a motor sports management program. Undergirding its expansion and new strategic thinking has been the presence of the Benedictine monks and the Abbey. Most of the key ingredients are in place to help move this small liberal arts college to the next level of national prominence. For that reason, it is worth serious consideration from Catholic students. The Newman Guide

The Community
Belmont is a small town that is about 15 minutes from Charlotte, a major urban center. Charlotte, which has a population of 672,000, is the home of the nation’s first and third largest banks, Bank of America and Wachovia, now a part of Wells Fargo. NASCAR, part of a major sports entertainment industry, looms large in the area’s economy.


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