Early Days

Prior to 1952, Catholic students who attended the University of Georgia held regular meetings at the local parish church, St. Joseph on Prince Avenue.  In 1952, Bishop Francis Hyland of Atlanta purchased the Patmon estate at 1344 South Lumpkin Street that was near the University campus.  He helped Benedictine priest, Fr. Francis Clougherty, osb, to remodel the old brick house into a student center, with some boys who lived upstairs helping to provide the maintenance work.

Franciscan Friars Come to UGA

The ministry of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province began at the Catholic Center in September 1957, with the arrival of Fr. Cronan Kelly, ofm as Chaplain of the Newman Club of the University of Georgia.  The Franciscans were invited to take over the Newman Club by Bishop Francis Hyland.

After serving the students for four years, Fr. Kelly was followed in 1961 by Fr. T.T. McNulty, ofm, who served for one year before moving to Atlanta to serve the students of Georgia Tech and Emory.  Fr. Christian Malone, ofm, came to Athens in 1962 and was the Chaplain when Atlanta Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan approved plans to build a new Catholic Chapel and Center on the property.

Building Project Begins

On March 10, 1966, Archbishop Hallinan, Fr. Christian Malone, ofm, Coach Vince Dooley and a host of others were on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Chapel and Center.  Funding for the building project was raised through a capital campaign of the Archdiocese of North Georgia with donations from the Franciscan Friars and Mr. & Mrs. Hughes Spalding of Atlanta.  The Spaldings were family members of Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, for whom the Chapel was named.  Bishop Spalding was a 19th century pioneer bishop of the US and a strong advocate for higher education.

Dedication of the Chapel and Center

The dedication of the Newman Center and Spalding Chapel was held on February 12, 1967.  After a blessing of the Center, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Bernardin of Atlanta (later an American Cardinal of the Catholic Church and Archbishop of Chicago), Archbishop Francis Hyland of Atlanta and University of Georgia President O.C. Aderhold gave a few remarks.

Following the dedication at the Center, the Chapel was blessed by Archbishop Hallinan.  Bishop Bernardin, Fr. Malone (chaplain), Fr. John Mulroy, Fr. Walter Donovan (later Monsignor Donovan, for whom the local high school is named), Fr. Cronan Kelly (former chaplain) and Fr. Finian F. Kerwin, Provincial of the Franciscan Fathers of Holy Name Province in New York, concelebrated Mass.  Thus the commitment of the Franciscan Friars to the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia was confirmed by the dedication of the new Chapel and Center in 1967.

Our Story Continues

After 62 years of spiritual direction and leadership by Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province at the Catholic Center at UGA, our center transitioned to Archdiocesan priests in July 2020. We were first joined by Fr. Fred Wendel and Fr. Brian McNavish. Fr. Fred retired in June of 2022, and Fr. Brian became Director of the Catholic Center. Fr. Michael Bremer would then join our community to serve as the Assistant Director. The Catholic Center at UGA currently serves a vibrant community with over 800 community members and over 500 students. We look forward to seeing our mission and community continue to grow.