Nashville, Tenn., Oct 9, 2016 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Five decades into their establishment as a college, Aquinas College in Nashville is breaking ground on campus for the first time in over forty years, making a landmark addition to their school: a new residence hall.

“We are now able to house all full-time students on campus, which allows us to draw from outside the Nashville metropolitan area,” the school’s president, Sister Mary Sarah, told CNA in an email interview. “At present we are drawing from 28 states in the US and hope to increase that number in the coming years,” she continued.

Aquinas College was established in 1961 as a two-year Catholic, liberal arts college, later changing to a four-year college in 1994. Rooted in the Dominican discipline, Aquinas College has been owned and administered by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation since its beginning. Their mission is “to serve the Church by transforming lives for the Gospel of Christ,” according to their website.

Although dorms are a staple for many colleges, Aquinas College’s residential life was non-existent before 2012, and it was essentially known as a commuter college. The Aquinas students usually rented nearby apartments, or lived at home if they were from the area. In 2012, the adjacent St. Thomas West Hospital offered Aquinas College a building called Seton Lodge and the school began to use the lodge to house men on one floor, and women on another floor. However, as the school continued to grow, so did its need for additional student housing.

“Aquinas has been planning to build residence halls on campus for many years,” Sister Sarah noted, pointing to the construction of a brand new women’s dormitory called Siena Hall. Just in time for the 2016-2017 academic year, Siena Hall was completed, and is set to be dedicated Nov. 7, the Feast of All Saints of the Order of Preachers. The women have moved into the 93-bed residence, while the men are continuing to use Seton Lodge for their housing. Siena Hall marks the first new construction on Aquinas campus in over forty years, and is the only dorm located on Aquinas property. The namesake of the building, St. Catherine of Siena, has a particular significance to the Dominican community, as St. Catherine herself was of the Dominican order.

Before 2012, Aquinas College had been successful without any on-campus dorms, but they are now able to cater to a wider audience, currently drawing students from 28 different states and abroad. The average student who attends Aquinas has traveled an average of over 500 miles. “We currently enroll 344 students with plans to expand to a population of approximately 1,000 students,” Sister Sarah noted.

In addition to the new dorm, Aquinas College is marking their year with a number of other firsts. They have added their first dining hall, which offers catered lunches and dinners, and hired five additional faculty members and three new majors: mathematics, marketing, and psychology.

Although the college has an intimate feel, with the average class size of about 11 students, Aquinas also has plans to further expand in the future, outlined in their Vision 2020: Truth and Charity strategic plan. This project is grounded in the Four Pillars of Dominican Education: prayer, study, community, and service, “which serves as the roadmap for Aquinas’ future,” Sister Sarah stated. “Since releasing the plan in 2014, many of the strategic goals have been implemented, including a study abroad program in Bracciano, Italy, five new majors, international mission trips, more vibrant student life, a House system, perpetual adoration chapel, expanded chapel space to accommodate the increased attendance at daily Mass and Siena Hall, a women’s residence hall.”