Pilgrimage to Penfield
Mercer University was established at Penfield, Georgia, in 1833 by Baptists in Georgia. The institution relocated to Macon in 1871 and expanded in 1972 when Atlanta Baptist College merged with the University, creating what is now the Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus. Hundreds of students – including the freshman class – celebrate Mercer’s heritage with a pilgrimage each fall to the place where Mercer was born, the Penfield campus in rural Greene County. There, they find the original university chapel, the foundation of the first University academic building and a cemetery with the gravesites of Jesse Mercer as well as a number of University presidents, trustees and institutional leaders. Pilgrimage activities include a picnic, fireworks, student presentations and historical re-enactments on the grounds of the original campus.
Christmas Tree Lighting
This holiday tradition, hosted by the Student Government Association, annually draws more than 500 students as well as faculty, staff and their families to Willingham Hall or the grounds outside it. The Mercer Singers lead the audience in carols, the University Minister offers a Christmas meditation, and a faculty member entertains the audience with a traditional Christmas reading. The event concludes with the lighting of the Mercer Christmas tree and the serving of cookies and hot chocolate.
Founders’ Day began in 1891, 20 years after the University moved from Penfield to Macon, as a celebration centered on Jesse Mercer’s birthday. Mercer’s two competing literary societies, Phi Delta and Ciceronian, each brought in a speaker to honor the heritage of Mercer and its founder. Founders' Day remained a significant annual event for Mercer for the next 40 to 50 years and had different formats, ranging from political events attended by state governors to all-day historic celebrations. Interest began to fade in the 1950s, and the event had been removed from the University calendar by the late 1960s. The Student Government Association revived Founders’ Day in the mid-1990s. Now, a prominent Mercerian is invited back to the University each year to share how Mercer has influenced their life.