This story originally appeared in the Summer ’19 issue of Instaurare Magazine.
Eighteen. That is the combined number of children the Hepler and McMahon families have sent to Christendom over the past 22 years. At Christendom’s 40th Commencement, each family saw its youngest, and last, child cross the stage at graduation and earn their diploma. The moment marked the end of an era and the culmination of years of mutually shared trust, passion, and confidence in the value of a Christendom education. Each family now leaves a legacy that will last for the rest of Christendom, all thanks to simple visits that both families made in 1997.
For parents Wayne and Patty Hepler of Cranberry, Pa., seeing their youngest—twins Catherine and Clare—graduate marked the ninth and tenth times they had seen such a moment occur. Starting in 1997 with their daughter Anna, the Heplers have sent 10 of their children to the college. That number—10—is a new school record for the most children of the same family to graduate.
Having 10 children is unheard of in today’s world, let alone having that number graduate from the same college. Catholic families are different, however, not just in size but in desire for a faithful education for their children. That desire is what drew the Heplers and their children to Christendom in the first place.
The 10 Hepler alumni have each gone on to different careers following graduation. From carpentry to construction, from business management to the political realm, they are working in jobs that are spread across the United States. And yet, no matter where they are, they are united by the education they received at Christendom that changed their lives and the legacy of their entire family, forever.
“Being familiar with Christendom since a child, visiting the campus for graduations and seeing and listening to siblings about how the college has changed and developed in the past 20 years has been a unique experience,” says Clare Hepler. “I’ve had input and advice from my siblings about classes, professors, campus life, and more. It has also given us common ground, something we can all relate to and talk about. Being part of a large family that went to Christendom has been a great experience.”
Clare’s twin, Catherine, agrees, and believes that the college’s authentic Catholicism and liberal arts education has transformed her family for the better. “Our family is all in on Christendom because of the authentic Catholic education one receives, and because Christendom provides a good environment for one to grow intellectually and spiritually as a young Catholic and discern one’s vocation,” says Catherine.
The Heplers have become benefactors of the college over the years as well, ensuring that the school that educated 10 of their children continues on for generations to come. That level of confidence and trust in an educational institution is hard to find. As Wayne and Patty watched their twins cross the stage, they knew that their confidence and trust had truly paid off in the end.
1997 to 2019—an incredible span of years, and an incredible span of graduates. That year, 1997, was significant for the McMahon family, as well. Friends of Chris and Patricia had a daughter attend the college in 1997, and the McMahons decided to make a visit to the college for the first time that year. After first hearing about the school in the 1980s, it was exciting to finally set foot on the campus—especially with their children quickly becoming college-aged.
Living in Binghamton, N.Y., they sent their first child, Kate, to the school in 1998, and several years later the McMahons moved to Front Royal and built a house across the street from the college, making them feel like a true part of the Christendom community. As child after child chose Christendom and walked across the street to study, learn, and grow, their appreciation for the college only deepened.
“Our children chose Christendom with our enthusiastic approval, because of the balance we found there—a balance between the spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical,” says Chris McMahon. “From the Sacramental life, to great peers, to the professors and staff , we were so thrilled.”
After that visit in 1997, could the McMahon’s have envisioned eight of their children graduating from the college? Gemma, their youngest, certainly could not at the time—she was not even born yet. But now, after graduating from Christendom, she sees why it was so important for her family to be so intimately tied to the school.
“My parents asked each of us to seriously consider Christendom for furthering our education,” Gemma says. “As the eighth child to attend Christendom, the decision was not hard, although I will say I was not just following my siblings’ footsteps—it was very much my own decision. I had grown up seeing the good influence Christendom had on my siblings and the friendships they had formed. I am proud to be part of this community of thriving Catholic individuals, ready to bring Christ to those we encounter throughout our lives.”
With eight children now graduated from Christendom, the McMahons are finished sending children to college, just like the Heplers. That realization is a bittersweet one, but Chris and Patricia are grateful for all that Christendom has given to their family.
“My heart is filled with joy, peace, and especially gratitude to God, to the faculty and staff, and also to the board members for all their efforts,” says Chris.
For over two decades—more than half of the history of the college—Christendom featured a member of the Hepler and McMahon families as part of the student body. And although these two great Christendom families have no more children to send to the college, their grandchildren will continue the legacy that began in 1997. One of Wayne and Patty Hepler’s grandchildren, Eleanor Kolesar, just finished her sophomore year, while another, Margaret, will be a member of this year’s incoming freshman class.
“I have often thought of it through the perspective of my parents, that two people doing their best to raise their children and give them the best education possible, have been able to make an immense impact on the Christendom community, but also countless other people through their many kids,” concludes Gemma. “Since 1998 we have had at least one McMahon at school. For the first time this fall, in 21 years, there won’t be any McMahons at Christendom. In a word, that is simply unique. But I think that it points to the success of a Christendom education. To be part of a ‘Christendom family’ has been for me something to be proud of, and to be the last, or the ‘end of an era’ has been a unique privilege. And I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my siblings and attend such an amazing school.”