120th Anniversary of the Opening of Marist on October 2, 1901
October 2 marks the 120th anniversary when, then Marist College, opened its doors and admitted the first students in 1901.
The intention to build a school in Atlanta was there from the very beginning when the Marists first came to Savannah, Georgia. Marist Father Gunn, in a letter dated January 6, 1901, wrote in response to a question from Bishop Keiley, who asked if the Marists would be willing “to undertake such a work in this city (building a school in Atlanta).” Father Gunn said, “one of the chief reasons for our being in Atlanta at all was to teach no less than to preach, that your predecessor understood that a college would be started and conducted by us, as soon as we could possibly manage.” Fr. Gunn envisioned that it would become one of the best schools in the state.
Ground was broken for Marist College on June 7, 1901. The original building was a large, three-story redbrick schoolhouse. It was completed by the end of September 1901, and the school opened its doors on October 2. Additional buildings and the parade ground would come later.
The first student body totaled 32 students. By 1904, enrollment had increased to 125 young men. Originally, the vision of Marist College included a four-year college program. Only one college diploma was awarded in 1911. After 1911, the school focused on secondary education and has remained so since then.
From its very beginning, Marist School did not limit its admissions to Catholics. “It is for the boys of Atlanta,” said Fr. Gunn, “irrespective of religious restrictions. It was built by Catholics; it will have Catholic teachers, but the doors will never be closed against a good boy who wants to study.” Fr. Gunn adamantly insisted on the policy of open enrollment, meaning the school would be Catholic and open to students of all faiths. He already was championing the importance of having a diverse student population long before diversity became a focus of contemporary discussions. Therein lies the seeds of Marist’s current policy of reserving approximately 25% of its seating capacity for students other than Catholic. To my knowledge, this distinguishes us from other comparable Catholic schools. In 1976, girls were admitted to Marist School that, by then, had moved to its present campus on Ashford Dunwoody Road in 1962. In that same year, Catholic schools began to integrate, and Marist welcomed African American students into its ranks.
For the past 120 years, Marist has been faithful to the original vision of Fr. Gunn, who was the first president of Marist College from 1901–1911. He went on to become the Bishop of Natchez from 1911–1924. His vision that Marist would be one of the best schools in the state of Georgia continues to drive and shape the future whose foundation was laid when its doors first opened on October 2, 1901.
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3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE Atlanta, GA 30319-1899 (770) 457-7201