The Founding, the Building, and The Glory of Christendom College
May 13, 2002
by Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D., Founding and First President of Christendom College
Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, is the child of Triumph magazine and the Society for the Christian Commonwealth, founded and led from 1966 to 1976 by L. Brent Bozell, Jr. Though none of the prime movers of Triumph were directly involved in the establishment of the College, their inspiration gave it form and purpose. The years of Triumph's publication were the years when Christendom diedwhen the revolutionary spirit of the late sixties made so sharp a break with the past that the concept of Western Christian civilization became no more than a distant memory. The very word "Christendom" dropped out of the language. Though most Americans still called themselves Christians, most could no longer define what a Christian was.
The purpose and goal of Christendom College is not only to provide a fully and truly Catholic liberal arts education of the highest quality and to maintain the idea of Christendom, but also to show how Christendom works in action, even when confined to a small campus and its surrounding community of Catholic faithful. Through these twenty-five years since we first opened our doors we have been able to do that, thanks to God's unfailing protection and help.
The initial decision and plan to establish a college bearing the hallowed name of Christendom, with all its teaching based on the Catholic view of the universe, providing a liberal arts education equal in quality to any in the country, was mine alone. However, while the founding idea was mine, not a single serious step toward its realization could have been taken without the hundreds of faithful men and women who provided our initial financing, our founding faculty, and our first students, and who helped find and prepare our first rented quarters and then our permanent campus. Their generosity and dedication are the real story of Christendom College.
During 1976, I went from one parish in our diocese of Arlington to another, encouraged by the verbal support our great Bishop Welsh had given me. Meetings would be announced in the parish bulletin. Usually a few people came. But sometimes nobody came; I stood in an empty room. The only financial support from anyone in the hierarchy of the Church was a few hundred dollars from the late Cardinal Wrightwith instructions for me to tell nobody he had given it. I had been told that $200,000 in "front money" would be necessary to open a college, however small. When we opened in September, 1977, we had $50,000. By the spring of that year we had a Board of Directors : Dr. Sean O'Reilly, Dr. Onalee McGraw (both Triumph readers), founding faculty member Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, my wife, Ann, and I.
In the course of 1977 we had learned that the small parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, a town in our diocese adjoining Quantico Marine Base, had a building (which had formerly been used as an elementary school) for us to occupy. At this same time, we had to recruit students. I decided we must have 25 students in order to open. When the reckoning was in on opening day, after the last-minute surprise decisions by students both to come and not to come, we had 26.
In our second year the enrollment at Christendom College rose from 26 to 39, and our two-year lease with St. Francis of Assisi Parish was expiring. We began actively searching for a permanent campus. In the midst of our search we discovered that a magnificent site of 72 acres overlooking the Shenandoah River, where the AFL-CIO labor union had set up a center for teaching prospective union organizers from Latin America, was for sale. By an extraordinary coincidence Triumph had held its very last program there before ceasing publication. This site had exactly the facilities Christendom needed at that stage of its development. That land is our campus today.
By 1985 Christendom College had grown to the point where its president clearly should be spending the greater part of his time in fundraising and administration, with little time to spare for research and writing. Since I do my best work as a writer and teacher, I decided the time had come to step down as president of Christendom College, yielding to one who had more of the special abilities a college president needs. My successor was Dr. Damian Fedoryka, a strong and dedicated Catholic with a wide range of experience and ten children who have served and are serving the College in many ways. Dr. Fedoryka was our president for seven years, until 1992. He put us in touch with the splendid heritage of the Catholics of Eastern Europe who gave us Pope John Paul II. During the greater part of this period the College continued to grow.
In the spring of 1992 a Christendom College group led by Dr. Timothy O'Donnell went to Rome and unexpectedly, at the last moment, was received by the Holy Father in a private audience. The Vicar of Christ smiled upon us. He knew who we were and what we had done. It was the supreme moment of my life when, after Dr. O'Donnell introduced me to him as the founder of Christendom College, he told me: "You have done a great work for the Church."
From our sixteenth to twenty-fifth year, Dr. O'Donnell has been president. Under his extraordinary leadership enrollment has surged to 330 and the campus too has physically grown. An exciting sign of God's blessings upon the College is the 1997 merger with the Notre Dame Institute, resulting in the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College offering our first Master's degree program.
A new generation of faculty has been hired, including a number of alumni, to carry on far into the twenty-first century the high quality of liberal arts education which has marked Christendom College from the beginning. Soon there will be a new generation of students as well; with already five alumni children enrolled at the College
Christendom has not been restored, and only God knows how much time must pass before it can be and will be. But Christendom College is here to stay, God willing. Through twenty-five years it has survived every danger both external and internal, and been justified above all by the responsive gratitude of its students and the special impact made by their knowledge and devotion and delight in their Faith and all that it means, wherever they go and whatever they do. For Christendom College, twenty-five years is only a beginning.
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