Freshmen Michelle Kelly didn’t pack up her car and drive to campus like most college freshmen. She got on a plane and travelled across the Atlantic from County Mayo in west Ireland, quite a distance from the Shenandoah Valley. Though daunting, the long distance from home did not prevent her from bravely pursuing what she describes as a “calling from God” to attend Christendom College.

Kelly first interacted with Christendom when she attended the St. Columcille Institute in the summer of 2018. The Columcille Institute is a 3-week program in Donegal, Ireland, that teaches students about Ireland’s history and Catholic roots, and prepares students for the new Evangelization. The program immerses students in Irish culture, and features many excursions to see the beautiful landscapes and historic sites of Ireland. During the Institute, Kelly was struck by the welcoming-attitude and enthusiasm of the Christendom students and professors, and the manner in which the classes were taught.

“I had never experienced classes centered on God and the truth before, and it impressed me,” says Kelly. “It opened my mind and made me want what Christendom students have the chance to do – getting to truly understand their faith and live it in fraternity with one another during their college years.”

Michelle, center left, enjoys the beaches in Donegal with fellow Columcille attendees.

Inspired by her experience with the Columcille Institute, Kelly decided to visit campus in February of 2019. She attended an open house event, sat in on classes, and stayed overnight in the residence halls. Her time on campus confirmed the already positive impression she had of Christendom, and allowed her to discern whether this was the path God wanted her to take, or whether it was an impossible dream.

For Kelly, attending Christendom is worth all the sacrifices involved with studying internationally. She feels that the intellectual formation and communal life at Christendom are truly one of a kind. She wants an education that will prepare her to stand strong in her faith, which is becoming more and more of a difficult feat in Ireland.

Despite very few resources for homeschooling families in Ireland, Kelly’s parents homeschooled Michelle and several of her siblings. But in order to earn her Leaving Certificate (the Irish equivalent of a high school diploma), Kelly had to attend public school for her final year of schooling, which had a very negative environment and almost no moral ethos. Yet, for Kelly, this experience was still valuable and confirmed her desire to pursue a Catholic education in community with other enthusiastic peers.

“I am glad that I went through the year in school, as it showed me exactly what we are up against in Ireland and how social media and peer pressure have such control over young people’s lives,” she says.

In keeping with Christendom’s mission to restore all things in Christ, Kelly sees her Christendom education as an ideal preparation to fight for the faith. While she won’t be declaring her major until after she completes all of her core classes, she is considering majoring in theology, with hopes of improving religious education in Ireland after graduation.

“The Catholic Church in Ireland is struggling due to scandals and overall loss of the faith.  I want to help in religious education or work for the dioceses in some manner as a lay helper,” says Kelly. “It was a struggle to get here, but the right path is never easy! I know it was worth it!”

Although the majority of Christendom students do come from the United States, each year, the college has a minority of students from other countries such as China, Ireland, England, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, and Kenya. All of these international students add something special to the school and help the rest of the student body better understand their respective cultures and traditions – truly showing the universality of the Catholic Church.

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