This story appears in the Winter 2017 edition of Instaurare. Subscribe today!
By Raymund P. O’Herron
On September 12, 2017, Christendom marked the fortieth anniversary of the official opening of the college, at the opening Mass celebrated by the much beloved first Bishop of Arlington, Most Rev. Thomas Welsh. Two days later, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, classes began for the 26 students who, together with their families, had risked much on this very uncertain enterprise.
This anniversary year occasions some reflections on the college’s beginning, and on its endurance. It seems well to begin with recalling some aspects of Dr. Warren Carroll’s founding vision, as most here at Christendom today will not have encountered them before.
At the very beginning of the initial Prospectus written and published by Dr. Carroll in the spring of 1976, a year and a half before the college opened, he stated the central concept underlying the task undertaken:
The only rightful purpose of education is to learn the truth and to live by it. The purpose of Catholic education is therefore to learn and live by the truth revealed by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ as preserved in our deposit of faith and authentically interpreted in the magisterium of the head of the Church Christ founded, our Holy Father, the Pope. That central body of divine truth illumines all other truth. A college dedicated to Catholic truth should never lose sight of the unity of that truth in every area of thought and life, since it all comes from the same source.
Reflecting on the collapse of authentically Catholic higher education in the Unites States and throughout the formerly Christian world, Dr. Carroll stated, “It is time for the rebuilding to begin. Christendom College is undertaken as one beginning for this God-given task of rebuilding.”
Then he posed to himself the question “Why name it Christendom?” His reply:
Simply to call attention in the most striking way to the ultimate goal of this College: to contribute to the building of a Christian society, shaped by Christian principles and truth to the fullest extent that man’s fallen nature permits, a society that publicly acknowledges Christ as King – which is the meaning of ‘Christendom.’
It was Dr. Carroll’s conviction and intent that launching Christendom College was a response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for a fostering of the role of the laity in the mission of the Church. He declared in the Prospectus:
The primary goal of Christendom College will be to develop in its students a life-long commitment to the lay apostolate, together with providing at a high level of academic quality the knowledge and skill required to fulfill that apostolic commitment, whatever their individual profession or vocation may be.
This is the vision and purpose that brought together the donors, faculty, parents, and students to begin the founding of the college. Near the end of the Prospectus, Dr. Carroll spoke for all of them:
We who dare to launch Christendom College do not do so by relying only upon ourselves. Our help is in the Name of the Lord. This enterprise is for His glory and His alone. If he wishes it to prosper, it will gain the help that is needed.
On reflection, it seems to me an astonishing thing that the college was founded by such a small and inexperienced group of teachers and supporters. None of us had any experience in college administration. It is a testament to Dr. Warren Carroll’s faith in Christ and his determination to do this work if it pleased God, coupled with his really heroic work, that the college was begun at all. We had nowhere near enough money to launch the effort; far too little even to meet the faculty salaries promised and the rent of the school we were using for a campus. Knowing that we were doing this for Our Lord, and ultimately for the salvation of souls, Dr. Carroll placed his entire trust on divine assistance, and announced the opening for the fall of 1977. It is clearly this divine assistance that accounts for the success the college has had.
In the ensuing years, growth was slow, slower than we had projected, and we faced repeated financial difficulties. In spite of differences among us about administrative policies, and secondary matters, all remained faithful to the founding vision. This unanimity of purpose was, and has been, one of our greatest strengths. Fidelity to the truth of our Catholic Faith, sound moral guidance of student life, and a vigorous and devout spiritual formation of our students have marked the college from the beginning. These things, and the myriad prayers and sacrifices for the college of so many, have been essential to its success. We are grateful, and humbled, by the many blessings granted to us by God, without Whose constant care and favor nothing would have been accomplished.
The college is now 20 times larger than it was that opening year. It has remained, by the grace of God, steadfastly true to the founding vision and purpose of Dr. Warren Carroll and the original faculty, of the Board of Trustees, and of the donors, parents, students, and friends who committed themselves to the success of this work for the Lord and His Church —a vision of a thoroughly Catholic college, committed to a liberal arts education, with the goal of sending forth lay apostles to transform the world, in accord with our founding motto, “To restore all things in Christ.”
This constancy is due in very large part to the able and faithful leadership of the three presidents the college has had, Dr. Carroll, Dr. Damian Fedoryka, and Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, all of whom have kept faith with the founding vision, and all of whom have preserved fidelity to the Catholic Faith and to the Church.
Throughout the 40 years since our opening, we have, by the grace of God, maintained an unwavering fidelity to our founding.
The college has never taken in enough revenue from tuition to meet its expenses from year to year. From the very beginning all involved were resolute about never accepting federal money in any way, for fear of the influence of secular authorities that such acceptance risked. The piper might call a tune, which we could not follow. From the day of our opening until now, the college has continually depended on God’s help in meeting its financial needs. For me, this is as it should be. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you.” So long as we remain faithful to the truth, and to the teaching of the Church, and so long as we strive to form our students into disciples of Christ and lay apostles for the Church, we may be confident that His help will never be wanting.
If I may be permitted a personal reflection. It has been a great blessing to have been part of the founding of Christendom College, and to have continued teaching here. Working most of my adult life in such an explicitly Catholic environment has been a singular gift. Both my wife, Sheila, and I have greatly benefited from the association with so many inspiring Catholics, especially among the parents of our students.
In addition, I have been privileged to teach courses of fundamental importance in the formation of our students, especially the introductory courses in Catholic Doctrine, as well as the basic philosophy courses in Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Human Nature. In the process, I have learned more than I have taught.
The docility of our students to the truth, and their exemplary conduct, in and out of the classroom, have made teaching here a joy, year after year. The excellence of our students has been another of the greatest favors the Lord has granted Christendom. It has been a blessing to serve them.
Reflecting on the “betrayal of trust” that had destroyed so much of Catholic higher education in the decade preceding our founding, Dr. Carroll concluded his Prospectus with a pledge:
With Christ the King and Immaculate Heart of Mary our wit-nesses, and with the help of God’s ever suﬃcient grace, we promise never to depart in letter or in spirit from Catholic truth as taught by the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its head the Pope; we promise total fidelity to his magisterium and his authority as head of the Church; we promise to uphold the highest Christian moral standards, for ourselves and for our students; we promise fidelity to God’s eternal law rather than subservience to any ‘changing times’; and we know and will never forget that when the Son of God comes for the Last Judgment, we will be judged in substantial part on how well we keep this pledge.
Our Lady of Fatima, patroness of the college, pray for us.