Small Catholic college moves to historic Fort Worth building

Posted Friday, Sep. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The historic Our Lady of Victory College and convent is getting a new lease on life thanks to a small Catholic college.

Fisher More College, formerly the College of St. Thomas More, moved to the Our Lady of Victory building on Fort Worth’s south side in late June. It financed the move by selling property next to TCU that it had occupied for 32 years.

TCU bought the Fisher More campus, scattered in a residential area along Lubbock Avenue, for an undisclosed price, said Michael King, 52, president of the college since August 2010.

All 11 buildings, including a chapel, have been demolished. A TCU spokesman said the property will be used for student parking.

Students began fall classes at Our Lady of Victory last week. The school, in the 3300 block of Hemphill Street, has a lease-purchase agreement with a group that owns the Victory Arts Center, which took over the site and sold loft apartments there after the nuns moved to a new building, King said.

“We have complete use of the building, and documents are in place to finalize the sale in two years,” King said.

The 2012 valuation of the Our Lady of Victory property was $2,133,889, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.

The six-story Gothic Revival red brick building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was once the motherhouse of the western section of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.

“It’s perfect for our college,” King said.

Fisher More has 42 students — twice last year’s number — King said. After the move, it has room for more, with housing available for 120.

The Our Lady of Victory building, opened in 1909, has been an elementary school, a high school and a college, as well as a convent. The high school shifted to Nolan Catholic High School in the 1960s. Its junior college became part of the then-new University of Dallas in Irving in 1958.

Fisher More’s move across town is more than a geographic change, King said. “It’s almost like a new beginning, almost like starting a new college,” he said.

King succeeded James Patrick, who founded the college in 1981.

In May 2012, the liberal arts school incorporated St. John Fisher into its name. Fisher, like St. Thomas More, was beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for opposing the king’s divorce and refusing to recognize King Henry as head of the Church of England.

Not a typical college

Spiritual life permeates each class day on the new Fisher More campus.

Students head to chapel at 7:30 a.m. to attend Latin Mass. They pray the rosary just before lunch. They return to chapel after lunch to sing the Angelus, centered on the story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her that she would conceive a child. Vespers are in the late afternoon, and a final worship service in the chapel takes place at 9 p.m.

A sign for Fisher More College in front of the Our Lady of Victory building bears the Latin inscription Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, meaning, “As we worship, so we believe, so we live.”

The chapel looks modern since the altar, pews, stained glass and statuary were removed after the nuns vacated the building. King hopes to replace the chapel items in the future.

A principal goal of the expanded college, King said, is to make a highly traditional Catholic education affordable so students won’t go into debt. Tuition, books, housing, meals and other expenses are set at $10,000 a year, with scholarships available.

The website says, “We make no attempt to rival the entertainments, trappings and distractions of typical schools and colleges.”

Modest dress is required of all students. Women are told not to wear tight clothing. Male and female students are housed in separate wings, and no visitations are permitted between wings. Dating is not recommended for freshmen and sophomores. Female students cover their heads during worship, and men and women sit separately.

‘It’s like a family’

On a recent day, students gathered in the refectory and prayed before lunch, standing and facing a small figure of Jesus on the cross.

Mary Kilman, 19, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said she loves living in a building where she both prays and studies.

“It’s great living under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament,” she said. “Everyone is really close and there’s a lot of charity and joy here. It’s like a family. I wanted a school that was solidly Catholic and had classical studies. Somehow, by the Holy Spirit, I ended up here even though I had never heard of Fisher More.”

The Latin Mass is emphasized. After the changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Latin Mass was virtually replaced by Masses celebrated in the language of the participants.

“The Latin Mass is making a comeback,” King said, partly based on a 2007 statement by Pope Benedict XVI sanctioning the Latin Mass as a legitimate liturgy and saying it had never been banned. “It was our liturgy for 1,500 years, and we think it orders the mind and the soul toward God.”

All the Latin Masses are open to the pubic, including a 10 a.m. service each Sunday.

The college is accredited to offer Bachelor of Arts degrees by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Its core curriculum requires classic texts by Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and others, but students can choose concentrations in literature, philosophy, history, theology, the classics or finance and economics.

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