A Brief History of Aquinas College

Rooted in Catholic heritage, Aquinas College has a history founded on Dominican Tradition. Owned and administered by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, the history of the College actually began its remote preparation with the establishment of the Saint Cecilia Congregation in 1860 at the request of Nashville’s second bishop, James Whelan, O.P.

Since 1860, the Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation have served in the apostolate of teaching. In order to provide professional preparation for the Sisters, the Congregation established Saint Cecilia Normal School in 1928. In 1929, the St. Cecilia Normal School became the first institution of its kind to be affiliated with The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. 

In 1961, Aquinas Junior College was opened, and assumed the purpose of the Normal School. Two significant milestones in the institution’s history occurred at this point: the College was moved from Saint Cecilia Motherhouse to its present location on a beautiful 83 acre campus, and it was opened to the public. The first students in the fall of 1961 included 50 nurses from neighboring St. Thomas Hospital, 13 sisters, and five lay women. In 1962, Aquinas Junior College became co-educational.

In 1971, the College was granted accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award the Associate Degree. In 1994 Aquinas Junior College changed its status to a four-year college when approval was given to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Teacher Education). Along with educating the young sisters of the Congregation, the College has provided area schools with lay teachers who have been prepared with a strong foundation professionally and spiritually. In 2012, Aquinas College received approval to offer graduate studies with Master’s degrees in Education and Nursing Education.

Since its founding in 1961, the College has been alert to both the permanent and the changing needs of the Nashville community. Sensitivity to those needs and to the needs of the Church led to the establishment of the degrees that Aquinas offers. Today, Aquinas College has grown to level three institution excelling in the education of future teachers.

Aquinas College recognizes that its identity and mission spring from Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church).

Timeline of Aquinas College

1860 Dominican Sisters of the of St. Cecilia Congregation was founded at the request of Bishop James Whelan, O.P.
1923 The property on which Aquinas College presently sits was purchased by Mother Scholastica Breen.
1928 Saint Cecilia Normal School began at the Motherhouse.
1929 Saint Cecilia Normal School was affiliated with the Catholic University of America.
1961 Saint Cecilia Normal School was replaced with Aquinas Junior College.
• The College moved from the Motherhouse to its present location.
• The College was opened to the public for the first time.
• The Congregation’s Prioress General, Mother Joan of Arc Mayo, acted as the College’s first President.
• Sister Dominica Goebel was appointed Academic Dean. She continued to be assigned to the College until her retirement in 1989.
• The first 68 students registered included 50 nurses from neighboring St. Thomas Hospital, 13 sisters, and five lay women.
1962 Aquinas became co-educational with the enrollment of its first male students.
1964 Sister Noreen McDowell became President of Aquinas Junior College.
• Sister Noreen worked to obtain accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
• A building campaign was launched to provide the College with a library and assembly hall.
1967 Sister Henry Suso Fletcher was appointed President of the College.
• Sister Henry Suso strove to make Aquinas more known in, and of better service to the Nashville community.
• Theology and Philosophy courses began to be taught.
• Certificate courses were provided for parish religious education instructors.
1968 The Law Enforcement Program was begun, offering an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. This program was seen as no longer in keeping with the needs of the community and the mission of the College, and eliminated in 1992.
1970 At the recommendation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the College received a charter from the State of Tennessee and the Aquinas Board of Directors was formed.
1971 Aquinas received full accreditation from SACS to award the Associate Degree.
1972 An athletic field was designed and built on campus, with the first official baseball game played in March of 1974.
1976 The Aquinas Center was completed, providing the College with a physical education building for its inter-collegiate basketball team and other intramural activities.The Aquinas College Annual Benefit Dinner was begun.
1983 Aquinas began its Associate of Science in Nursing program.
1993 The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges granted Aquinas candidacy to award the Bachelor of Arts degree.
1994 Aquinas Junior College became a four-year college, changing its name to Aquinas College and offering a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (Teacher Education).
1996 The College began offering a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to allow RNs with two- year degrees to complete their bachelor degree.
1999 The Bachelor of Business Administration degree was added.
2001 Aquinas began its Adult Studies program to provide both Associate and Bachelor Degrees to working adults.Classes began to be offered at additional sites in the Nashville area.The intercollegiate athletic program was eliminated.
2002 Sister Thomas Aquinas Halbmaier, O.P. was named President of Aquinas College.
2004 The library was moved to its new home in the recently renovated Aquinas Center.
2006 The Board of Directors of Aquinas College approved New Horizons 2015 Strategic Plan to provide the vision for the College in the coming years.
2008 Sister Mary Peter Muehlenkamp, O.P. was named President of Aquinas College. The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College included Aquinas College as one of the top 21 Catholic colleges in the nation.
2011 Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P. was named President of Aquinas College.
2012 Aquinas College introduced both Residential Life and graduate studies.
2017 Aquinas College announced a reconfiguration to take effect in the fall of 2017, so that its future focus would be that of preparing teachers to serve the Church in its mission of education.
2017 Sister Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P. was named President of Aquinas College.