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Incoming freshman Finnbarr O’Reilly’s path to Christendom has been nothing short of remarkable. A highly accomplished Irish dancer, O’Reilly is the 11th member of his family, including both his parents, to attend the college. While that number alone is impressive, it is O’Reilly’s journey of the past year — one that saw him go through almost eight months of chemotherapy to beat cancer — that is even more inspiring.

O’Reilly hails from Front Royal, Virginia, and has lived in Christendom’s shadow most of his life. His parents, Frank and Angelique O’Reilly, were among some of the first alumni of the college and settled nearby after graduation, so far sending 8 of their 14 children to their alma mater. Additionally, O’Reilly’s grandfather, neuroscientist Dr. Sean O’Reilly, was one of the college’s founding board members and a science professor at the college in the early years.

“Christendom has always been on my college radar because so many of my relatives and friends have attended and recommended the great liberal arts education it offers,” says O’Reilly. “The liberal arts have always appealed to me because I believe that everyone can benefit, no matter what career they plan on pursing, in learning to fully think and to fully understand. Because I grew up so near to Christendom and because both my parents, along with many of my siblings, were students, I never fully appreciated it; I always took it for granted and did not have much of a desire to attend. As I get older, however, I have come to see what an amazing place Christendom really is. That on top of having a world-class education, Christendom is a place where Christ is truly present.”

As he grew older, O’Reilly also continued to grow in his Irish dancing abilities. Training at the Boyle School of Irish Dance in the Northern Virginia area, O’Reilly competed in the World Irish Dance Championship, placing in the top ten, and in the North American Irish Dance Championship, placing third.

Just as he was ascending, O’Reilly ran into a snag — he started experiencing shooting pain that would sometimes keep him awake at night. With the All-Ireland Irish Dance Competition in Killarney approaching, O’Reilly planned on not competing, but his brother was going so he went as well. Upon returning from Killarney, O’Reilly finally went to a doctor to get checked out and an MRI revealed a horrible truth: he had Ewings Sarcoma, a rare and typically deadly form of bone cancer.

This revelation would be enough to derail any person, especially at the age of 17. O’Reilly, however, kept his eyes firmly forward on one goal: beating cancer and returning to normal life. He underwent almost eight months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation therapy, all while continuing his homeschool studies. He even added college courses to his workload, studying at Lord Fairfax Community College and passing each of his classes with a 4.0. He continued dancing as much as he could as well, inspiring everyone around him. By the end of his therapy, O’Reilly was given the opportunity to compete in the Irish World Championship in 2019, since he was unable to compete in 2018 — an incredible feat, and a testament to his perseverance, faith, and will.

Fully recovered from cancer, O’Reilly set his sights on college and decided to attend his parents’ alma mater. When he arrives this fall, O’Reilly, who will be joining his older twin brothers James and Joe, hopes to contribute to the college through academics, sports (especially soccer), clubs, and possibly theater. He especially wants to help with homeless outreach — a cause near to his heart — and through participating in the college’s spring break mission trips. That alone shows O’Reilly’s true character: after fighting so hard for his own life, he wants to make life better for others as well.

“From my time at Christendom I hope to gain a college degree, but also a clearer understanding of the path Christ has set before me,” says O’Reilly. “I hope to gain great friendships and amazing memories, and I hope to gain a wonderful education and a better understanding of God’s kingdom through the lessons of the teachers.”

Cancer could not beat O’Reilly at the age of 17. Now, the next chapter of his amazing story is beginning, with further accomplishments yet to come.

This story was partially adapted from a story in the Arlington Catholic Herald.

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