Senior Owen Kennedy has faced many challenges on rugby fields and basketball courts over the past four years. Tough opponents, six am workouts, the balance of school and athletic demands — the list goes on. But his greatest challenge may have come before he even started college, when he faced an issue many Catholic high schoolers can relate to: where could he both learn and also thrive as a Catholic? School after school failed to meet those criteria. Finally, after praying for guidance, he found what he was looking for at Christendom, where he has been able to study mathematics, win a National Championship in rugby, grow in virtue, and impact the school for the better.
Kennedy hails from Mount Vision, New York, a small town where Kennedy literally towered over most people around him growing up. At 6’8, Kennedy’s height, athletic talent, drive, and character set him apart from his peers, especially at Cooperstown Central School where he attended high school. As the end of high school neared, Kennedy began thinking hard about college and initially wavered between attending an engineering school or West Point.
While going through the discernment process, Kennedy decided to also attend Christendom’s Best Week Ever high school summer program, which was his first exposure to the school. While it initially was not at the top of his list, Kennedy applied by the early application deadline and was accepted as well. Kennedy applied to multiple schools but struggled to decide what would be his best option. Ultimately, he turned to his faith to guide him to the right decision.
“That spring, I prayed a lot for guidance and sure enough, doors kept closing, cutting down my options,” recalls Kennedy. “I kept eliminating schools for one reason or another and eventually Christendom College was the only one left on my list. Although homeschooled through eighth grade, I think my public high school experience left me disenchanted with purely secular education. I was attracted by the idea of studying philosophy and theology.”
Not only did Kennedy decide Christendom was the right school for him, but the school also decided Kennedy was worthy of one of the college’s biggest athletic honors: the Thomas S. Vander Woude Athletic Scholarship. Named for the late former athletic coach who sacrificed his life for his son, the scholarship gave Kennedy that extra incentive to succeed when he arrived at Christendom and live up to the great man’s legacy.
“I never had the privilege of knowing Mr. Vander Woude, but I know some of his family and they continue to impress me…I couldn’t ask for a better example of love than Mr. Vander Woude’s,” says Kennedy.
After a successful basketball career in high school, including being named Player of the Year in his senior year, Kennedy planned to continue playing the sport at Christendom but quickly discovered another sport he wanted to learn: rugby. The college’s rugby program had been hugely successful in recent years, including winning a National Championship in 2017, and Kennedy wanted to bring his size to the team and see if he could succeed.
Taking on one sport is difficult enough within a packed academic schedule. From the beginning, Kennedy decided to take on two, which would even overlap for a few months out of the academic year. What would seem daunting for some was just another challenge for Kennedy and helped him grow in discipline and virtue — both of which flowed into his academic life as well.
“Learning the Truth and living the Faith isn’t always easy — in fact, most of the time it’s really hard, but at Christendom there is a very good support structure for both learning and living,” says Kennedy. “I think it is easier to do as a student-athlete. It has required me to manage my time well and has helped me the most in my pursuit of virtue. Suffering side by side and working through six am workouts [with fellow student-athletes] creates a strong bond of friendship as well. We are all trying to live the faith and it helps to have people that will hold you accountable, especially people that spend so much time together.”
With those fellow student-athletes alongside, Kennedy managed to accomplish much in his nearly four years at the school. All of the six am workouts and long practices came together in his senior year, as he captained the rugby team — a sport he only started playing upon arriving at Christendom — to a National Championship Title in December, where he was also named MVP and an All-American. On the basketball team, he led the team in rebounds and was second in PPG for his final year at Christendom, helping lead the team to a winning record on the court. Looking back now, Kennedy hopes he impacted the Athletics program for the better.
“I can only hope that I have left it better than I found it,” says Kennedy. “Overall, sports ought to be fun, and I hope my teammates enjoyed their time as much as I did.”
In the classroom, years of building discipline and virtue led to continued success in studying for a mathematics major at the college. While he initially wanted to pursue engineering before beginning college, Kennedy now wants to take his mathematics degree and go into finance after graduation — a career field that demands discipline to succeed. Thankfully for Kennedy, after nearly four years of hard work, early mornings, and constantly working towards a goal, he is primed for success in whatever he chooses to pursue after graduation.
Discovering a place where one can both study and thrive as a Catholic can be difficult in today’s higher education landscape. Finding a place that encourages the pursuit of discipline and virtue too can be even harder. At Christendom, Kennedy was able to find all of this. Prayer led him to it and, thanks to his experiences at the school, it helped him grow into the captain, the MVP, and the mathematics major that he is today.