By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published May 27, 2010
Smiling brighter than their parents’ flashing cameras, Southern Catholic College graduates in cap and gown, marching to “Pomp and Circumstance,” evoked the catch-in-the-throat moment of joy.
Almost like uncorking champagne, they seemed ready to pop with vitality and an eagerness to show the world what years of family life, education, prayer and seasoning has produced in them.
As they marched in a May 14 ceremony at Holy Spirit Church, their joy overshadowed the fact that their five-year-old college in Dawsonville is closed and may not reopen.
Commencement speaker Father Brian Higgins offered them a way to look at the bittersweet moment.
“I feel bad the school has closed. I feel bad for those who have lost their jobs,” said the priest, who was chaplain at the college from 2007 to 2009.
He added, “I don’t feel bad for you.”
“She is open. She is alive. She lives, she breathes in all of you,” Father Higgins said.
“I never want you to forget all that Southern Catholic expects from you now and in the future. … I am very proud of you.”
He said that in all they gained during four years of college, he also hoped they lost some things.
“I hope that you have lost the attraction to the dangerous moral relativism of our times … that you have lost the belief that you have all the answers … that you are self-sufficient.”
“I hope that you lost the notion that being Catholic is something you did and gained the realization that you are Catholic.”
“Be holy. Never stop seeking the truth. Go out into the world and tell them. Tell them you are graduates of Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, Georgia, and make that mean something because now Southern Catholic College lives in you,” he concluded.
The Class of 2010 stood up and cheered.
Forty-six students were awarded degrees, including the late Kevin M. Sinnott, an Irish student and member of the senior class, who accidently drowned in a lake near the campus last September. Members of his family were there to accept his degree in philosophy and history.
Nicholas D. Bain, vice chairman of the college board of trustees, welcomed the gathering of graduates and their families, while philosophy professor Dr. Herbert Hartmann presented the class at degree conferral. Also taking part in commencement were Father Theodore Book and Father Paul Burke, archdiocesan priests who taught sacred theology at the college, and college president Father Shawn Aaron, a Legionary of Christ priest.
Seniors Tom Clements Jr. and Joanna Kreiner were the class speakers. It is the second graduating class of Southern Catholic College, which opened in the fall of 2005 through the efforts of a number of North Georgia Catholic business people and professionals who wanted to establish the first residential Catholic college in Georgia and one with an emphasis on orthodoxy.
Clements, a North Georgia student whose father helped to start Southern Catholic, said the college was the place where he finally got his feet under him for good, including quitting alcohol use.
Academically, the sacred theology student said he was “able to grow and gain a deeper understanding and have an even greater love of my faith.”
The whole college experience “changed my mind and it changed my heart and then it changed my whole life,” he said.
“I know many of us pray the school will reopen in the fall,” Clements said. “If Southern Catholic College only existed for five years, I say, praise God, it’s worth it, because it has done so much just for the small group of people here.”
“I pray that you all may succeed in life, not only in a secular sense, but in living your vocation and becoming saints,” he said.
Kreiner, a summa cum laude graduate in philosophy and English from Marlette, Mich., said the college’s board of trustees, faculty and staff “put everything they had into this project.”
“Today is a day for gratitude that we have been able to experience this sort of generosity in the church,” she said.
Whatever graduates of the college do in the future, she said, “we are going to do as Catholics.”
At the baccalaureate Mass just before commencement, Father Aaron advised the graduates to “protect your prayer life. Protect your friends. Stay very close to the sacraments. Love one another as He has loved you and when you know something is the right thing to do—go do it. … It’s as simple as that. Go and bear fruit.”