Warren H. Carroll, Founding and First President of Christendom College and Chairman of its History Department for its first twenty-five years, died on Sunday, July 17. Aged 79, he received last rites prior to his death in his home. Carroll was in a weakened condition having suffered several strokes in the last several years and was recovering from pneumonia. Cardiopulmonary failure was the official cause of death.
A native of Maine, Carroll was a summa cum laude history graduate of Bates College, achieved an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, and attended law school in 1962-64. Between 1955 and 1961 he served two years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, and worked as an assistant command historian for the Second Air Force, Strategic Air Command. In 1967-70 he was a member of the California State Senate staff, and in 1970-72 worked as a staff member for the U.S. Congress.
A convert to Catholicism, Carroll saw what was wrong in modern education a long time before he saw what was right about Christianity. He maintained that the people teaching in the university did not care whether truth existed or not, and it didn’t matter to them. But to him, it mattered a great deal. In 1968, precisely when “everyone” was leaving, Carroll converted to the Catholic Church under the influence of his wife, Anne.
In 1973, he joined the staff of Triumph, a monthly Catholic journal of opinion founded by L. Brent Bozell. When Triumph and its summer program came to an end, Carroll determined to perpetuate its vision by founding a college. In September, 1977, Christendom College opened its doors in Triangle, Virginia, from which it has since moved to its permanent location in Front Royal, Virginia. Carroll founded Christendom as a co-educational liberal arts undergraduate college in response to the Second Vatican Council’s call for the formation of lay apostles. He served as the College’s president from its opening until 1985 and then as the chairman of its History Department until his retirement in 2002.
Before his retirement, Carroll was one of the few teachers that every student had in common. For most, the memories of hearing Carroll’s interpretation and telling of history during History of Western Civilization I and II are unforgettable. There were the heroes: Constantine, Pelayo, Isabel of Spain, Athanasius, Don Juan of Austria, Our Lady of Fatima, Philip II, and Charlemagne; and the villains: Thomas Cranmer, Luther, Cecil, Lenin, Rasputin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Queen Elizabeth I, Pope Alexander VI, Arius, Theodora, and Justinian.
His explanations of the historic D-Day invasions; the complications of Watergate and the Vietnam War; the Battle of Lepanto; the Crusades; the Inquisition; Henry II kneeling for three days in the snow before Gregory VII; the story of Charles the Fat and Charles the Bald; the missionary work of Matteo Ricci; the great theological battle over “homoousios vs homoiousios;” and the Robber Council of Ephesus could never be surpassed. And then there are the memorable phrases: “History can be summed up in five words: Truth exists. The Incarnation happened,” “You can never bribe a pope,” and “One man can make a difference.”
During his teaching days, Carroll had also taught Classical History, History of Ireland, History of Britain, American History, American History, History of Hispanic Peoples, Causes and Effects of the French Revolution, Causes and Effects of the Communist Revolution, and History and Theology of Pope John Paul II.
His love of teaching history naturally spilled over into writing history: 1917: Red Banners White Mantle, Isabel of Spain, Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution,The Last Crusade, and The Guillotine and the Cross.
Carroll is also known for his major work, the multi-volume History of Christendom. Five volumes have been published to date; together they present a narrative account of European and Catholic history from antiquity through the year 1815. The series is noteworthy for its frank Catholic understanding of crucial historical events, from the Crusades to the French Revolution.
Carroll received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Christendom College in 1999 Additionally, he was awarded the college’s “Pro Deo et Patria Medal for Distinguished Service to God and Country,” and was the inaugural recipient of Christendom’s “Queen Isabel Catholic Vision of History Award,” both in 2007.
It is through his teaching enterprise at Christendom College that Carroll was able to reveal and develop his extraordinary skills as a Catholic historian, teacher, and author. He has won a well-deserved reputation as one of the foremost Catholic historians of our time, perhaps the greatest of the 20th Century.
Carroll leaves behind his wife Anne, and his adopted children and grandchildren – the 2640 alumni of Christendom College, which includes 300 alumna-to-alumnus marriages (with 1000s of children), 63 priests, and 43 religious sisters and brothers.
Additionally, Carroll is survived by his sister, Sally Watson of South Berwick, Maine; his niece, Carolyn Jones of South Berwick; and his nephew James Watson of Virginia.
Eternal rest grant unto Dr. Warren Carroll, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
A Note from the Founder on the Occasion of the College’s 25th Anniversary in 2002
“Through the Providence of God, Who obviously wanted it to grow and flourish, Christendom College has passed through its first quarter century.
Twenty-five years ago, Christendom College had only a teaching faculty of five—Raymund O’Herron and William Marshner, who are still with us; Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, who founded our Press; Dr. Kristin Popik Burns, now with our Notre Dame Graduate School; and myself, now retired. We also had three generous donors, whose gifts of five thousand dollars apiece got us started: Regina Graham of Baltimore, who could remember the great Cardinal Gibbons, and died several years ago at the age of past one hundred; James Mooney of Cleveland, Ohio, and Clearwater, Florida, whose heroic, ever-loyal widow could not be with us this evening; and Dr. Edgar Hull of Louisiana and Mississippi, now also gone to his reward. We had no campus, just a rented parish building near Quantico, Virginia, and only 26 students. I had said I would open the College with 25, and God gave me just one more than that.
On our first day in operation, I learned for the first time that the parish we were renting our building from expected us to pay up front for the entire tank full of heating oil to heat the building for the whole winter. So on my desk as president that morning was a bill for four thousand dollars for heating oil, which we had no funds to pay.
God never allows a project of which He approves to fail for lack of money. He will never be outdone in generosity. In that very day’s mail came a scrawled and crumpled check for $3,500 from a bachelor professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota whom I had met just once in my life, who gave every year half his income to charity. He had selected us as his beneficiary for that year, 1977—and for several years thereafter. His name is George Bridgman. Ray O’Herron once told me that he could not believe George Bridgman is human and does not have angel’s wings. In the end, George Bridgman gave us over $30,000. For many years he was our largest single contributor—a man with little money at his disposal. Christendom College would not exist without George Bridgman—and God.
Why did God want Christendom College to grow and flourish? Because Christendom College is educating and preparing young men and women who will bring what our great and holy Pope John Paul II calls “the new springtime of the Church.” In the face of scandals and despair, believe in that new springtime! It is coming and nothing can stop it! For proof, look at our history. Our graduates will be leading the new springtime.
Since that September day twenty-five years ago, we have seen growing up in this country other new colleges and universities dedicated to the same goal as Christendom College—to provide a 100 per cent Catholic liberal arts education for the makers of the new springtime. Look at Thomas Aquinas College in California and Magdalen College in New Hampshire, which started just before we did—and now, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; Ave Maria University and Law School of Michigan (and Naples, Florida, in the future), Campion College in California; and all the leaders of the Catholic Church who have honored this occasion with their presence and names. In less than five years, God willing, there will be replicas of Christendom College, inspired by our example and by our graduates, in two more continents: Australia and Europe, turning out graduates committed to the same mission as ours.
Pray for the speedy canonization of our great advocate and spiritual patron, who spoke at Christendom College’s first Commencement and was responsible for inspiring much that we have been able to do: Father John Hardon, S.J., true son of St. Ignatius, whom I am convinced is now in Heaven with the God he loved so completely and served so well, still praying for Christendom College.”