Students at a Catholic college in Dawsonville returned from spring break Monday to begin packing to say goodbye for the semester.
In an April 7 e-mail to students, staff and faculty, the Rev. Shawn Aaron announced Southern Catholic College would be ending the semester on April 15 instead of May 13 due to a lack of funding.
"Words cannot express how profoundly sorrowful I am at this situation," wrote Aaron, who was named president of the college last fall.
Students will receive full credit for the semester, according to Jim Fair, communications director for the Legion of Christ, which forged a partnership with Southern Catholic in 2009 in an effort to pull the struggling college out of financial peril.
Aaron, who was installed by the Legion of Christ, said officials met at the end of March with potential benefactors in an attempt to keep the college open through the end of the semester.
"I am grateful to the benefactor for even considering our petition for support," Aaron wrote. "Unfortunately, it was not to be."
Students, faculty and staff were caught by surprise when they received the e-mail, according to a spokesman who answered the phone at the college.
"We’re all still digesting it," he said.
So is the community.
Dawson County Commissioner Gary Pichin said the closing is an unexpected blow.
"This group, the Legion of Christ, operates a whole bunch of universities around the world, so I was thinking this thing would be really funded and someday we would have all the advantages that a college brings to a community," Pichon said. "This is really bad news for the community."
Pichon compared the college closing to "some of the other things that we have missed over the life of the county."
"We missed the railroad and the benefit of having rail come through here," he said. "We did get [Ga.] 400, which is a great blessing to us, but we don't have a hospital ... and all the stuff that would cluster around one."
The college sits on 100 acres about five miles north of Dawsonville on property adjacent to the now defunct Gold Creek Gold Club.
Herb Burnsed, who lives in the Gold Creek subdivision, said the news was another blow for homeowners, following the closing of the golf course and club, which fell into foreclosure last year.
"I know at one point there was a developer looking at the clubhouse and wanting to do something with the resort area where the school is," Burnsed said. "But if the college goes into foreclosure or bankruptcy, it could play out in court for years."
The school held an assembly Monday morning to provide details regarding the closure to students, faculty and staff.
A request to attend the assembly was denied.
It is not clear if the college is closing for the semester or permanently.
Repeated calls to Aaron were not returned.
Admission officers from several Catholic universities from across the country as well as Young Harris College in North Georgia were on campus Monday meeting with students wishing to transfer, according to the college.
A private, four-year, co-educational liberal arts college, Southern Catholic opened in 2005 as the state’s first and only Catholic, residential college.
Last May, 46 students from across the country and some international students made up the college’s inaugural graduating class.
There are currently about 240 students enrolled at the college, which employs about 24 full- and part-time faculty members and has about 25 support staff.