Over 100 friends and benefactors joined the faculty and staff of Christendom College and its Notre Dame Graduate School (NDGS) to celebrate the Patronal Feast of the Graduate School on March 9, 2003. The actual feast day of the Graduate School is March 25th. Reverend William P. Saunders presented the keynote address at the gala event which was held at the Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington, Virginia.

Fr. Saunders is the former Dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, and Pastor of the two-year old Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Before entering the seminary, he earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1984, Fr. Saunders graduated from St. Charles Seminary with a Master of Arts in Sacred Theology, summa cum laude, and was ordained to the Holy priesthood on May 12, 1984. During his priesthood, Fr. Saunders pursued studies at Catholic University, receiving a Doctor of Philosophy in Education Administration in 1992.

During his talk, Fr. Saunders, who is well-known for his weekly column in the Arlington Catholic HERALD and for his book, Straight Answers, spoke about the ten years he has given to the Graduate School of Christendom.

“When [the late] Bishop Keating asked me to take over as president of the then-Notre Dame Institute (NDI) in May 1992, I remember him telling me that it would take very little of my time, only around one or two hours a week. So I agreed to do it. But it wasn’t until later that I found out that the Institute had no money and that I would be responsible for finding a new location for the Institute!”

But that didn’t stop Fr. Saunders from doing all that he could to make NDI a viable catechetical institute. In fact, after becoming president of the Institute in 1992, Fr. Saunders searched out some friends and acquaintances and rallied their support for the institution. For Fr. Saunders, the main objectives that he had in mind for NDI were finding a suitable campus and obtaining accreditation.

By the grace of God, and through the financial support of many friends, the NDI was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 1994. Just a year earlier, Fr. Saunders had found an empty convent in Alexandria, Virginia, which was deemed an excellent and financially affordable location for the Institute.

In 1997, when NDI merged with Christendom College in Front Royal and became the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College (NDGS), Fr. Saunders’ title changed from president of NDI to dean of the NDGS.

Previously, Father Saunders had met Christendom president Timothy O’Donnell and knew that Christendom would benefit from a graduate program. With the help of Msgr. Michael Wrenn, who was chair of the NDI board of directors and was a member of the Christendom board, the merger of the two institutions went through.

Before the merger, Father Saunders met with Bishop Keating and brought him a check for $40,000, as the final payment of the large debt the graduate school owed to the diocese. “Bishop Keating said to me, ‘Bill, I didn’t think you’d be able to do this,'” Father Saunders recalled. “I said, ‘‘Why didn’t you tell me this in the beginning?'”

After reminiscing about the history of the NDGS, Fr. Saunders then talked about the great need that the world has of NDGS and its graduates. He spoke of all the immorality that seems to be part of today’s culture: abortion, stem-cell research, in vitro fertilization, contraception, and cloning. He believes that it is due in a large part to the ignorance of the Catholic faithful that these types of immoral behaviors have become a part of our society.

“When America is supposedly 80% Christian, with 20% of those Christians being Catholics, there should be more opposition given to these topics. But many people are uneducated in the Truth; uneducated in the teachings of Catholic philosophy and theology. Because of this, the graduates of the Notre Dame Graduate School are much needed today,” said Fr. Saunders.

NDGS graduates are making a difference in society today, said Fr. Saunders. Many of the graduates have gone on to parish work as Directors of Religious Education, some even reaching the highest level, working as Directors of Catechetics for various dioceses. Others have joined the priesthood and religious life, while some have gone on to work as religion teachers at Catholic schools.

“The Catholic church needs a faithful graduate program like the one offered at the Notre Dame Graduate School. The Catholic church needs our graduates,” concluded Fr. Saunders.

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