For 50 years, Christendom College’s Graduate School has provided orthodox theological education, helping students to come to a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith. This institution has educated religious and lay people, prepared candidates for the diaconate, and has been an invaluable resource to anyone who wishes to explain and defend the Catholic faith, especially in educational apostolates. In this way, the Christendom Graduate School has greatly contributed to the renewal of Catholic education, both in the U.S. and across the globe.
From its very founding, the Graduate School has been boldly and proudly committed to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Msgr. Eugene Kevane, founder of the institution–originally called the Notre Dame Pontifical Catechetical Institute–established the school in response to the harmful ideas that took root in Catholic higher education during the late 1960s. At this time, especially after the release of Humanae Vitae, the Church’s Magisterium was viewed by some intellectual elites as retrograde and oppressive. Assuming a dichotomy between freedom and fidelity, many religious and lay leaders in Catholic education chose to align themselves with the distorted notion of academic freedom instead of remaining faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.
One such leader was Father Charles Curran, who taught at the Catholic University of America (CUA), and insisted on challenging the teachings of the Magisterium in the classroom, especially regarding the Church’s teachings on sexuality. In 1966, when news broke that Curran’s contract would not be renewed at CUA, a protest was staged that shut down CUA and resulted in a turnover of its leadership. Faculty and students demanded the reinstatement and promotion of Curran, and urged that CUA evolve into a more progressive and mainstream institution, aligned with the current values of the secular academy. Concern for Catholic identity and fidelity seemingly was dead.
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But Msgr. Kevane, who at the time was the Dean of the School of Education at CUA, boldly opposed Curran’s position. Kevane argued that adherence to the Catholic faith is not opposed to free-thinking, but rather, fidelity to the teaching of the Church fosters the successful pursuit of truth. Msgr. Kevane was a vocal dissenter to the dissenters, and he ended up paying the price. For Msgr. Kevane, there was no defense of academic freedom. About six months after the university coup, it was not Curran who lost his office, but Msgr. Kevane.
Still faithful to his mission, Msgr. Kevane did not give up on Catholic higher education. In the wake of his removal from the deanship at CUA, Msgr. Kevane founded the Notre Dame Pontifical Catechetical Institute (NDI). In collaboration with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, Ohio, NDI opened its doors in 1969. Msgr. Kevane truly was a trail blazer in reforming Catholic education. Among the new schools committed to the Magisterium and founded in the wake of the dissent crisis in higher education, NDI was the first.
Through the years, NDI remained faithful to the Magisterium while vastly growing its scope. Originally located in Middleburg, Virginia, it moved in 1994 to Arlington, Virginia. Finally, with a shared vision for Catholic higher education, in February 1997, the NDI merged with Christendom College, to become the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, with Fr. William Saunders serving as its dean. Since this merger, the outreach of the Graduate School has grown significantly.
Through the years, the Graduate School has had many renowned faculty members, including Jordan Aumann, OP; William Most; Servant of God John Hardon, SJ; Robert Bradley, SJ; William E. May, and Bertrand de Margerie, SJ.
In 2006, under the direction of then-dean Dr. Kristin P. Burns, the Graduate School joined with the Institute on Religious Life to host the Vita Consecrata Institute on the college’s Front Royal campus. In 2009, the school launched its online MA program, which has enabled students across the globe to access this transformative education. Further, over the last decade, the Graduate School has played an integral role in educating the men in the Diocese of Arlington’s permanent diaconate formation program, and has developed a Master Catechist program for the Diocese of Arlington, which certifies those who currently work in or wish to enter an educational ministry.
Under the direction of current dean Dr. R.J. Matava, the Graduate School is now engaging in an effort to reach Catholic students who are studying outside the sphere of Catholic higher education. A new initiative called “Christendom@” is for students at public universities who wish to pursue Catholic intellectual formation but cannot take relevant courses at their university. Students take online courses for credit that introduce the Catholic intellectual tradition.
The Christendom@ initiative was launched with the inaugural course, Early Christian Literature, with students at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center, Purdue University in fall 2018. This academic year, a second course called Introduction to the Bible is being offered, and additional courses will be added in coming semesters.
In the Graduate School’s 50 years, the institution has prepared students to better understand and defend the faith, manifesting the fruits of the education in diverse ways. Graduates of the program have brought their theological wisdom to educational apostolates, back to their religious orders, or out into the world.
Alumna Vanessa Cowart converted to Catholicism and decided that attending the Christendom Graduate School would be the perfect way to be immersed in the Catholic intellectual tradition and to come to a deep understanding of the Faith.
“I feared I would wash out within a week because of my limited knowledge,” remarks Cowart. “But thanks to the dedicated professors, their patience, their commitment to teaching, their orthodoxy, I graduated a strong orthodox Catholic committed to the Faith of our Fathers.”
Since graduating, Cowart teaches at a Catholic high school where she is able to incorporate her knowledge of theology into her teaching. She is also now the RCIA Director at St. Cecilia in Kennett, Missouri. In these positions, she is able to provide orthodox faith formation to parishioners and catechumens.
The Christendom College Magazine, entitled Instaurare, is published 3 times a year and mailed free of charge to alumni, families, prospective students, donors, and friends. Subscribe now at www.christendom.edu/news/instaurare-magazine.