Swilley founded college that would become University’s Atlanta campus | Mercer Legends

a painted portrait of a man in a black robe and red stoll
This portrait of Monroe F. Swilley hangs in the Swilley Library on Mercer's Atlanta campus. Photo by Matt Smith

Monroe F. Swilley Jr. served as vice president of Mercer University’s Atlanta campus for 17 years, but his impact has been felt for even longer. Here’s how he became a Mercer legend. 

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Monroe F. Swilley Jr.

Mercer connection: He was president of Atlanta Baptist College when it merged with Mercer, at which time he became vice president of the University’s new Atlanta campus. 

Years at Mercer: 1972-1989 

What he did: Swilley was 30 years old when he became pastor of Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta — a calling that he believed would be “his greatest challenge and his best opportunity to serve the Lord,” according to a biography written by his son, Monroe F. Swilley III. 

Five years later, in 1950, the Atlanta Baptist Association appointed Swilley to chair a committee studying the possibility of establishing a Baptist college in the Atlanta area. Convinced of the need, Swilley became the future college’s greatest advocate. He was instrumental in acquiring land for the college, walking many miles “as he examined and rejected more than 25 locations before he found the appropriate setting,” Mercer President Dr. R. Kirby Godsey wrote in his report to the Board of Trustees in 1989. 

Meanwhile, under Swilley’s pastoral leadership, Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church grew to become one of the largest churches in the Georgia and Southern Baptist Conventions, and church members heavily supported the fundraising campaign for the new college. 

In 1969, Atlanta Baptist College opened with Swilley, having resigned his post at the church, as president. However, the college struggled until 1972 when it merged with Mercer. Swilley was named vice president of the University’s new Atlanta campus and remained in that position until his retirement in 1989.  

Why he’s a legend: Mercer’s merging with Atlanta Baptist College established the University’s presence in Atlanta, and its growth is a tribute to Swilley’s enduring legacy. In 1983, the Monroe F. Swilley Jr. Graduate and Professional Library on Mercer’s Atlanta campus was named in his honor.

“Because of the legacy of Monroe Swilley and the founders of Atlanta Baptist College, Mercer University will always have a major educational presence in Atlanta,” Dr. Godsey wrote in his report to the trustees. 

The exterior of the Swilley library
Monroe F. Swilley Jr. Graduate and Professional Library. Photo by Paula Heller

Swilley also is remembered for his distinguished service to the denomination. While pastor at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, he served as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. He also was vice president of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and named Clergyman of the Year in 1968 by the Christian Council of Metropolitan Atlanta. 

Swilley died in 1991. 

Quotable: Swilley’s “loyalty and commitment to Mercer University have been important resources, and we as a University will always be grateful for the spirit and the substance of his leadership and support. We salute (him) for the many personal and professional contributions he has made to Mercer University.” — Mercer President Dr. R. Kirby Godsey in 1989

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.


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