As you all likely know, Southern Catholic College, located in Dawsonville, Georgia, was purchased this summer by the Legion of Christ. The school had been in grave financial crisis and was incapable of continuing on without some external support. There were a number of options available, but for their own reasons the Board and the president turned to the Legion, at a time in which the latter is in the midst of its own struggles, strife, and need for reform. It was perhaps not the best move that could have been made, but what has happened has happened and there is no going back.
What was a good move, or at least appears a good move for the time being, however, was the appointment of Fr. Shawn Aaron, LC, as the new president. Unlike his predecessor, of whom the students saw little, Fr. Aaron is front and center and visible every day in a dozen ways. He regularly stays into the evening, meets with students constantly, and genuinely listens to other’s opinions, rather than waiting for his turn to speak. Despite his lack of experience in this position, he appears to be very intelligent and invested, and is doing his best to discern well the true nature of the Catholic university. At present he is also effectively functioning as the chaplain, as that role has not yet been filled. The sacrifice and dedication he is currently making is hard to put into words.
Aside from the constant presence of Fr. Aaron, however, the Legion has not made a gigantic impact. Through organizations such as ReGAIN, horror stories about the Legion coming into schools with bulldozers and a giant broom are all too familiar; but that has not happened here, and on the whole—despite the need for a little bit of bulldozing and a lot of sweeping—is a good thing, because if an intelligent assessment is made, we will preserve the good while the bad is eradicated. To a certain extent I had hope, and I know others had hope, that heads would be (figuratively) rolling within a matter of days after the Legion presence was established—an unrealistic expectation. And while I do still hope that change does not take too long, for those that have eyes to see and a head to think should be able to see it without much difficulty, patience for the sake of thorough consideration is not too much to ask. In the meanwhile, small changes do provide some satisfaction, and large, immediate changes might seem suffocating. Legion priests from the Atlanta area have been assisting with Confession and Mass, and one member of Integer works on campus as the head of fundraising; aside from that, things go on much as they have before.
The Legion of Christ has, in many ways and for many years, proceeded in a number of endeavors without prudence. This has given them a bad reputation: and frankly it has been deserved in a large percentage of the cases. But there are nonetheless very holy and intelligent priests in the order, who are coming to terms with the flaws in the operative manners of the order, who seem eager for reform. Southern Catholic College is a great opportunity for that reform, for both the order and the school.
I am not really sure anymore how to talk about the way that news spreads at Southern Catholic College. I want to say that the college announced its new president yesterday… but there was no announcement, only an invitation to meet him over coffee.
The few students who were still in the Atlanta area received emails a few days ago inviting them to meet with some of the school’s new leaders so that they (the students) might offer their suggestions and insights into the way in which the school’s mode of leadership could be improved. This genuinely sounded like an excellent opportunity for the students to voice some of their concerns about the damage done to the school over the past four years, and promised to offer an opportunity for the new Legionary leaders to learn from the school’s past mistakes as they have been observed from the students’ perspective. When all of the students arrived on Tuesday morning for the meeting, they were given the news that a surprise guest would be arriving shortly; and that guest would be none other than the school’s new president, Fr. Shawn Aaron. This was the first that any of those gathered had heard of the new president, and seems to be the only way in which the announcement has been made so far: to a clump of students in a Starbucks.1
The meeting was uneventful and little was said. A few students made suggestions about the ways in which the school could improve and then the topic quickly turned to the practical elements of advertising. For the remainder of the meeting, students were asked for their reactions to a handful of promotional materials and slogans, and then Fr. Aaron closed with a prayer.
Although this intense focus on the business aspect of Southern Catholic’s new advertising department did cost the students their opportunity to express all of their worries over the negative turns that the school has taken over the course of its four years, it also afforded those present a unique glimpse into the character of the college’s new leadership. Particularly, it became clear that they want to be very careful not to step on any toes. As one example of this attitude, Integer members responsible for Southern Catholic’s advertising repeatedly made the point that they don’t want to be too strong in their use of Catholic themes in advertising media for the fear of scaring off people who might not be attracted by strong Catholicism. For instance, the phrase “Live Catholic” seems to be replacing the school’s old tagline “Prepare For An Extraordinary Life,” which actually seems to constitute an improvement as far as portraying ourselves as a Catholic school is concerned, but is still a bit vague.
Not much can be said for the particular way in which Fr. Aaron will lead the school, simply for the fact that he said very little in the meeting and there is virtually no information available about him on the internet (except for this biographical video). His willingness to meet with students and hear their concerns, however, seems to suggest that he is open to learning from the school’s many past mistakes. Hopefully, this willingness will continue.
Fr. Aaron is scheduled to become a permanent fixture around campus on the 12th of August, and will be assuming his office very soon thereafter.
1 The announcement was also made a few hours later before many members of the faculty and staff; still, the degree of informality remains the same.
Editor’s note: Another update from our anonymous and knowing Southern Catholic friend.
Today Southern Catholic College officially announced that which was reported here some days ago, namely that the deal with the Legion of Christ has been finalized. The announcement was both posted on the website and emailed to the students. In its entirety:
We are excited to announce Southern Catholic College and the Legion of Christ have reached an agreement on a formal alliance. The Legion has informed the College that the alliance will be finalized later this week. In the next few days, there will be an official press release, and the details will be sent to students, alumni, parents, faculty and the new students who will be our incoming fall class.
Updates will also be made to our website and we plan to implement an aggressive promotional campaign in the next few weeks in anticipation of the beginning of classes on Tuesday, September 8th.
Please keep the Board of Trustees and Administration in your prayers this week as they work as stewards of the Southern Catholic College mission.
Sounding like something Leia Organa might say, this formal alliance should put some needed energy into the ostensibly flagging school. If nothing else, the website has sorely needed updates and activity for as long as it has existed, and the promotional campaigns of the school have gotten smaller and, as was once pointed out, less poignant as time has gone on. As I said before, they offer a hope that the trend of poor administration will be reversed.
Editors Note: This article was guest-written by a person with intimate knowledge of the proceedings at Southern Catholic College.
A quick Google search of any combination of the words “Legion of Christ” and “Southern Catholic College” will yield only a few press releases from April of this year, the month in which the Legion of Christ and Southern Catholic College signed their memorandum of understanding, a document in which the Legion officially declared its intention to purchase the small college, and would lead one to believe that there have been no developments in the relationship which has been growing between the two institutions for the past year or so. Even a search of either organization’s own website produces the same results.
Despite the reticence of either party to publicly announce the details of their collaboration and their mutual calmness and quietness about the subject, the fact of the matter is that the past week has been a whirlwind of worry and speculation for those of us involved in the school but who are nonetheless out of the loop; those of us without any way of knowing whether or not the Legion would rescue the school from the financial woe that had befallen it, or if Southern Catholic would be doomed to disappear into the academic ether and leave the nearly 300 people who make up its student body, teaching, and administrative staff without a place to return to in the fall. But, this week of tumult came to an end yesterday when the long-awaited “word from Rome” came in and brought with it the announcement that Southern Catholic College has officially become a Legion institution.
Jerry Combee, Southern Catholic’s vice-president of academic affairs, sent an email out to members of the school’s teaching staff yesterday with the official announcement, but other than that, the decision has not been communicated to the outside world.
This final countdown began roughly two weeks ago on Tuesday, June 30th, the date by which the Legion said that it would be able to produce its decision on whether or not it would in fact buy Southern Catholic. This was then delayed until the following Thursday, but no announcement was made on Thursday either.
After this second failure of the legion to return to the school with a decision, Jeremiah Ashcroft, Southern Catholic’s president, approached legion representatives on Tuesday of last week, insisting on an answer. They told him only that they saw no reason why Rome would rule against the collaboration and that, despite this optimism, they could offer no guarantees. But this was the only news that left their office, and those of us awaiting their answer still didn’t know whether we could expect one in a matter of days, weeks or even longer. But, as it happened, it would only take three days.
In retrospect it all seemed to happen so fast, but as short of a time span as it may seem, those roughly ten days went by with agonizing slowness for those of us whose degrees, occupations, and livelihoods depended on the presevation of the school. But this was really nothing that we werent used to, as being left in the dark on major decisions which immanently effect us is something which Southern Catholic students and professors have grown accustomed to, and is almost one of our most concretely established traditions.
I can not say much more that is not mere speculation at this point, but I can say that, despite my personal distaste for the Legionaries of Christ, I for one welcome our new leaders; it seems that they do at least bring some form of promise to the school (finances aside). That is, they offer the hope that the conservatism and Catholicity which is so prevalent in the student body and amongst the professors, might finally be met by those who lead it. They offer to falsify what was once a keen observation made by a good friend of mine, that “Southern Catholic is not a great school because of its administration, but in spite of it.”