Students Grow in Faith at “Experience Christendom” Summer Program

July 23, 2008

hike“It’s easy to do what is comfortable and to crumble under peer pressure than to go against the flow,” Prof. Benjamin Akers told the high school students of Christendom College’s “Experience Christendom” Summer Program.  The program, which brought 108 students from across the United States and Europe to the Shenandoah Valley, held two different sessions, one from June 22 to 29 and the other from July 6 to July 19.

“Dead fish go with the flow,” Akers continued. “Living fish swim against the current.”

The program not only gave students an opportunity to meet fellow young Catholics who desire to grow in their faith and go against the current, but also gave them a taste of life at Christendom College. Akers, an alumnus who is also Director of Christendom’s Rome campus, taught a class in History.

“A particular theme we explore in the history class is the difference between gifts and character,” Akers said. “We look at historical examples of people who changed history in some way.

class“There is a sharp divide in history between people who have natural talents and gifts, but lack the virtue necessary to use their gifts well, and those who, in the eyes of the world, lack gifts but have a strong character. It is the latter who often make a lasting impact on history. This is an important idea to introduce to high school students because they are at a time in their life when they are beginning to make serious decisions about what kind of person they want to be,” he said.

Taught by Christendom’s own faculty, students also take classes in philosophy with Dr. John Cuddeback, literature with Dr. Patrick Keats, and theology with both Dr. Timothy O’Donnell and Arlington Priest Fr. Tom Vander Woude, a Christendom alumnus himself.

danceThe students’ schedule is busy. Packed full with daily Mass, rosary, classes in the morning, and a wide array of activities in the afternoon and evening, including swing dancing, contra dancing, canoeing, touring Washington D.C., miniature golfing, hiking, bowling, cheering at a Nationals baseball game, and playing many sports. 

“I loved how happy and fun it was yet with a serious and wonderful focus on classes,” Lucy Salazar of Wheat Ridge, Colo., said. “More importantly, God was the center of all activities.  This program has changed my life forever—for the better.”

Tommy Salmon of Galway, Ireland, agreed. He found the camp to be not only packed with fun activities but also learning. “You truly learn to understand your faith and meet the most fantastic people that have the same beliefs as you do. I feel like I’ve learned more in these two weeks than I have my whole life.”

canoeCollege President O’Donnell believes the program is an important part of Christendom’s mission “To restore all things in Christ.”

“The program is an opportunity for students to get to know the college, but, as we have seen year after year, it is also an experience that changes these students for the better. Sometimes two weeks of Christendom-living is enough to change hearts—change lives.”

Anastacio Hinojosa of San Antonio, Texas, who was attending for the second time said that the program still taught him new things and brought him closer to God. “It’s not only an opportunity to discover a school, but also an opportunity to discover yourself,” he said.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the program, according to Admissions Director Tom McFadden, is the fact that many of the rising high school seniors come to the camp expecting it to be a dull and boring time, with too much emphasis being placed on Catholicism.

class“At the beginning of the program, I tell the students that this program will be one of the best times of their lives and that it will have a deep impact on them forever,” says McFadden. “They look at me like I’m a little crazy. But following the program, I receive so many letters of thanks and emails telling me the changes the program has made in their lives. It’s actually quite funny, in a way.”

One of these was Bernadette Brock, from Virginia. “I had a very bad prejudice against Christendom College and did not want to attend the Summer Program that much.  I had a stereotype of everyone being homeschooled nerds, but everyone was totally awesome.  I had the best time of my life.”

Due to increased interest in the program, tentative plans are currently being made to have three different Experience Christendom Summer Program sessions in 2009. To read more comments or quotes from participants, of to learn more about the program, please click HERE.

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