Freshman year is a time of transition for many incoming students at Christendom College, as they leave home to embark on their first year of classes, new friendships, and extracurricular activities at the college. For rising sophomore Mary Katherine Mooney, freshman year was full of new opportunities and incredible life changes, giving her a keen appreciation for what the college has already given her, and an excitement for what is to come.
Here is her story:
“The summer before my junior year of high school, I packed my bags and set out for a week that would plant a life-changing seed. I stepped foot on Christendom’s campus for the Experience Christendom Summer Program, which turned out to easily be one of the best weeks of my life. At the time, my sister, Grace, was looking forward to starting her years at Christendom as a rising freshman in August. As I prepped for my week at Christendom, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to just follow her. I needed to make my own college decision. Sure, Christendom might be the place for me, but I needed to figure that out on my own. Nevertheless, I was nearly positive that I would enjoy the program; I love meeting new people and exploring new places and environments and was (believe it or not) a little excited to try out some classes.
The week was incredible to say the least. The barn dance at college president Dr. Timothy O’Donnell’s house was unforgettable; the talent show brought the shiest out of their shells; and the Italian/Swing Dance night was filled with laughs and genuine dread of leaving.
I could hardly believe it when it was over and everyone was giving goodbye hugs and exchanging phone numbers. I chattered all the way home with stories of the week, but I distinctly remember telling my mom: “That was the best week of my life, but I’m not sure if I’ll go to Christendom.” I’m not really sure how I came to that conclusion. Philosophy professor Dr. John Cuddeback had caused me to fall in love with philosophy, a group Skype session was already being planned, and I couldn’t wait to go through my bundle of pictures from that week. Yet, somehow, I wasn’t convinced that Christendom was the place for me.
August rolled around and my only sister, who doubled as a role model and best friend, headed off to Christendom. I remember searching for her face in the weekly Chronicler and staying up until 3:00 am the night she came home for fall break as she told story after story. I listened, wondering whether I too might one day tell stories of Christendom. As time rolled by, I still kept in touch with lots of camp friends, many of whom were seniors making their final college choices. Many of the ones that I had become closest to headed off to other schools, and I questioned whether or not I would do the same.
I visited Grace a few times during her freshman and sophomore year. The campus felt very different from camp, as everyone followed the ebb and flow of a regular class schedule along with extracurriculars and campus jobs. There was one visit that was particularly unforgettable, which involved helping Grace backstage as she stage managed one of Christendom’s plays, The Moonstone. I think it was this experience that finally gave me a taste of Christendom life outside of the summer program. I joked with the back stage crew, helped with set changes, took endless pictures during one of the showings, and celebrated with the cast and crew during the traditional iHop cast party. I started to feel at home. I started to realize that I didn’t want to leave Christendom and if I chose to go to school there, I wouldn’t have to.
During January of my senior year, I participated in the annual Padre Pio Full-Tuition Scholarship Competition and felt more at home at Christendom than ever. I was familiar with the campus, had met many of the professors, and experienced life in the residence halls first-hand. It was during one of the many talks, which the faculty and staff gave to the competitors on the value of a liberal arts education, that I finally decided to go to Christendom. I knew it was right. I had already found a love for the campus life and I knew that I wanted to go to a college where education was valued more than anything else. I wanted to go to a school where professors would go to daily Mass and eat lunch with me. I wanted to go to a school that held high ideals and great opportunities. I remember realizing, “This is it. I’m going to Christendom.”
August rolled around and it was my turn to head off to college. After setting up my residence hall room with my parents, I settled down for Orientation Weekend, where I met the people who are now my best friends. From late night volleyball, to chatting with my roommates, to way over-studying for my first Latin quiz, I slowly settled into Christendom life. First semester flew by. Looking back, I can see that adjusting to college life definitely took longer than I thought it would. Suddenly, my life was in my hands.
Opportunities were everywhere, from leading the Halloween Haunted Trail, to wiffleball intramurals, to becoming part of the yearbook committee. I had to learn to balance study time with the tug to hang out with friends. I experienced the challenge of classes in ways that I had never experienced before and sang songs around bonfires with friends who would be praying beside me in Mass the next day.
Christmas break approached before I knew it, and I parted from friends for what seemed like a daunting amount of time. Going home and being with my family was extremely eye-opening. I saw how Christendom was already making my interests become clearer, and during that month at home I realized how much better I knew myself.
During break, an email was sent out from Christendom’s Marketing Office, looking to hire a new Marking Office Reporter for the Chronicler. The words “photography” and “journalism” caught my eye and I realized that I might have an opportunity to find my nook at Christendom. Having taken photography classes with a photography school and having done portraits for friends and family, I felt a draw in this direction — maybe this was a hobby that could be something a little bit more. A few days after sending in my application and portfolio, I was offered the position and became part of Christendom’s Marketing Office; the Chronicler in which I had once searched for Grace’s face is now partially created by me.
Freshman year at Christendom has brought about changes, realizations, and benefits – some of which I hoped for and others which I hadn’t expected. Looking back, I can think of ten distinct takeaways from my first year:
- The classes have brought about a maturity and confidence that is entirely new to me. The communication and writings skills I have attained through them have already been helping me with getting a summer job, looking for internships, and getting accepted to Christendom’s three-week Ireland summer program, the St. Columcille Institute.
- I have learned time management skills, as well as the importance of a strong work ethic — both of which are necessary for any career.
- Through my job with the Marketing Office, I have a much clearer view of what I might like to do after graduating, and have honed practical skills that will help me in this area.
- My Christendom friends are the truest that I have ever had. We’ve studied, worked, and laughed together through classes, setting up for events, and dances.
- The opportunity to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic over spring break allowed me to get to know professors and students in a new light and to gain a new perspective on life, which should be lived outside of worries and to-do lists.
- The single-sex dorms allowed for friendships with dozens of girls, which blossomed from 2:00 am chats about life to Saturday mornings of coffee and writing papers in bed with roommates.
- One-on-one time with professors at Christendom is unmatchable. It’s a unique privilege to be able to talk over breakfast in St. Lawrence Commons with some of the wisest men and women you will ever meet, or to go to their houses for bonfires, s’mores, and short stories, or to get advice for everything from your next paper topic to true friendship.
- Playing intramural sports is another benefit of Christendom’s small size, and it provided many of the highlights of freshman year — particularly first semester — and gave me the opportunity to befriend upperclassmen.
- The location of the school is something that I absolutely love, and really makes it feel like home. From Saturday afternoons of swimming in the Shenandoah River to endless snowball fights and sledding contests when hit with two feet of snow, Christendom’s location is more than ideal.
- Overall, and most importantly, my spiritual life has thrived from the witness of professors, faculty, and other students who are daily witnesses of what it means to be Catholic.
I wouldn’t trade my time at Christendom for anything. The college has become a second home, and I think this past year just may have been the most formative year of my life. As I watched fellow Crusaders walk the stage for graduation, snapping photos of the graduates receiving diplomas, I couldn’t help smiling. I can’t wait to see what the next three years have in store. I can’t wait to see the person I’ll have become when I’m handed my diploma. Summer has never been bittersweet before, but I find myself counting down the days until I get to return to the campus that has been a place of opportunities and memories. I wouldn’t want to spend my next three years anywhere else.”