Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Southern Catholic Awards Degrees To First Graduates

By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published June 4, 2009

Michelle Lea Bivins, a 23-year-old Owensboro, Ky., native, is looking toward the future after graduating from Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville.

Bivins was one of 43 seniors who participated in the college’s first commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 16, at St. Luke Church in Dahlonega.

The milestone event was celebrated by family, friends, faculty and staff of the small, close-knit college community, the only residential Catholic college in Georgia and one which stresses faithfulness to Catholic doctrine.

“There are very few authentically Catholic higher institutions in the United States,” Bivins said about her new alma mater.

“You can receive a college degree from any college, but there are few colleges that will provide you with a deeper spirituality, a well-rounded liberal arts education and a Catholic education that is faithful to the magisterium of the church,” Bivins said.

Bivins, who double-majored in history and sacred theology with minors in English and philosophy, recently accepted a position teaching 9- to 12-year-olds at Maximilian Montessori Academy in Owensboro.

She is excited about her new opportunity and about moving on to the “real world,” but she says she is not planning too far ahead because she wants to leave room for God’s plan for her life, a valuable lesson she realized during her time at SCC.

“I am planning on teaching and waiting for God to tell me what to do next,” Bivins said. “I have learned that God’s plans usually are not the same as my plans so I have decided not to plan and just to wait. I am fully confident that he will let me know what to do with my life. I just pray that I will have the faith to accept his will.”

The commencement speaker was Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, whose support was instrumental in the founding of the college. He spoke to the class about just how important faith in God’s will is.

“Faith is the beginning of all our dreams, for who can dream with assurance but the one who believes, the one who dreams from his heart,” the archbishop told the crowd of nearly 450.

“Our faith is not owed to anything made by man, but to a miracle wrought by God. … There is no more powerful source for dreams, for visions, than belief in this one supreme thought: that Christ will return one day, to raise us from the dead, so that for eternity, we will live with him in the peaceable kingdom,” Archbishop Donoghue said.

The archbishop also spoke to the importance of the graduates’ role in society, pointing out the responsibility they have as Catholics in the public forum.

Anne Marie Sutherland, who hails from Applegate, Mich., took this to heart since she plans to pursue a career in public service.

“Archbishop-emeritus Donoghue gave a very moving and relevant commencement address which highlighted the duty of citizenship and active participation in government and politics as Catholics,” she said.

“Being that I am pursuing a career in public service, the speech was exceptionally meaningful and motivating for me personally. Our graduating class is entering the adult world at a time of great turbulence and unrest in our nation and taking an active role in the direction of the country is certainly a duty we possess, both as Americans and Catholics,” she added.

Sutherland, the oldest of nine, double-majored in history and philosophy with a minor in sacred theology, and plans to complete an internship in the office of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss before working for Republican 2010 campaigns for state and federal offices.

As the students received their degrees, Carol Evanco, the vice president of student affairs, reflected on the diverse community, which includes students from 26 states.

“It has proven to be a truly unique journey for each student,” she said. “Southern Catholic is a small but very caring community—students celebrate each others’ joys and comfort one another in sorrow. At SCC, each student is truly a special, unique individual, and our students express this in many ways.”

The college awarded honorary doctorates at commencement to Archbishop Donoghue, John Crilly, a member of the SCC board of trustees since 2005, and Edward Schroeder, the chairman of the board.

The commencement ceremony was a bittersweet moment for graduates, but those interviewed said they have a lifetime of memories to cherish and they don’t regret their decision to attend the Dawsonville college.

“Southern Catholic College fulfilled my dream of a Catholic education. Not only did I receive a truly Catholic history education, the integrated curriculum encouraged and inspired me to double major in sacred theology and further my Catholic education more than I ever planned,” said Bivins.

To be the first class to graduate meant a lot, Sutherland said.

“The experience of being in the inaugural class allowed me to work with other classmates to present a strong vision of Catholic higher education and to seek opportunities in which to build this vision into a reality at SCC,” she said.

“These opportunities brought upon us a responsibility to leave an institution strong enough to sustain many years of Catholic higher education for future students that will follow in our footsteps.”

Sutherland echoed a sentiment voiced by Archbishop Donoghue.

“It has been my privilege to have been a supporter of Southern Catholic College since its conception,” the archbishop said. “The establishment and the continuing life of the college has not been without great challenge, and I suspect there will be further challenges. But what you, the graduates, represent, is our best witness to the vital importance, and the necessary future of Southern Catholic College.”

Southern Catholic College was founded in 2000 by Thomas J. Clements, who with other Catholic laity envisioned an institution that would attract Catholics and students of other faiths from the Southeast and across the nation. The first class entered in 2005. Dr. Jeremiah J. Ashcroft currently serves as president of the institution.

In April of this year, Southern Catholic announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Legionaries of Christ religious congregation that could lead to the college becoming a Legion institution.