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College Chaplain Fr. Marcus Pollard celebrates Mass at one of Ireland’s famed Mass Rocks.

Caleb Crandall ’22 attended Christendom’s St. Columcille Institute in the summer of 2021 and was transformed by the experience. This is his reflection on how the Institute strengthened his faith and helped him further develop the ability both to evangelize and defend the Faith within secular society.

“Even if the wounds of this shattered world enmesh you, and the sea in turmoil bears you along in one surviving ship, it would still benefit you to maintain your enthusiasm for liberal studies unimpaired. Why should lasting values tremble if transient things fall?” Thus boldly proclaimed St. Prosper of Aquitaine, in words often fondly quoted by our well-loved history professor, the late Dr. Brendan McGuire. These words encapsulate the St. Columcille Institute, which Dr. McGuire wholeheartedly participated in as an instructor and mentor.

The program is a three-week trip to Ireland where students are hosted by friars at Ards Friary and are prepared to be leaders in the New Evangelization. Several courses, Mass, and excursions all aim to enable young Catholics steeped in a world of secularism to better understand their Catholic tradition and be inspired with a new missionary spirit. The experience is sorely needed for us students who are called to advance into the turbulent seas of the world with the same faith as St. Brendan the Navigator—the fearless saint who departed from Killarney in a boat to evangelize the world, holding firmly to the Cross and armed only with trust in the Lord.

Caleb (left) explores Doe Castle in County Donegal with fellow student Ronan O’Reilly ’25.

Caleb (left) explores Doe Castle in County Donegal with fellow student Ronan O’Reilly ’25.

Along those same waters stands Ards Friary, nestled on the side of Sheep Haven Bay. At the friary, I spent countless days among friends, consuming copious amounts of tea, swimming in semi-frozen waters, reading great literature, enjoying bonfires, and most importantly, spending time in prayer. Each class taught me something that was applicable to my life. In history, I learned from Daniel O’Connell, the great Catholic Liberator, to never compromise one’s values no matter what earthly gain may be lost, because the heavenly reward is far greater. Our literature class taught me the value of true love; for example, James Joyce’s The Dead states that when one truly loves another, he is willing to lose his very life for the other. Even in philosophy, my understanding of the virtues was increased, and I learned how Prudence, the habit of applying right judgments to one’s actions, enables one to measure what to properly do in all situations. My classes together provided me a greater understanding of what being a Christian truly means; through the examples of great men and women, Christians may understand how one ought to live.

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It is one thing to read of great Christian lives; it is another to understand them. In Ireland, this understanding dawned on me one early morning when we woke to trek to a Mass rock where two priests had been martyred for their faith. Mass rocks were hidden locations where, when English occupiers banned the Mass, priests secretly celebrated the Mass for the faithful.

As our chaplain, Fr. Pollard, elevated the Eucharist at that same spot, I was struck with the realization that two men had died for doing the very thing that we did freely. In a world where many disregard the faith as frivolous, or the Eucharist in that same regard, we quietly knelt before the Lord. Through the liberal arts, we were able to understand how valuable this very moment was, and how it was the rekindling of a forgotten but not lost flame.

The Columcille Institute enlightened me about the faith that many Irish Catholics have forgotten they bear. Many Americans descend from immigrant Irish Catholics, who endured English Penal Laws and persecution. Their hardships should not be forgotten. Entire monasteries, which provided for their flock, were burned, priests were martyred for the Mass, and families, especially in famine, carried their faith as their only possession. There should be no reason to shy away from evangelizing the modern world, because we stand upon this great patrimony of those who have offered so much more. There is a great cry in the world for something worthwhile; for something which has been lost. It is ironic that an Irish peasant during the famine had more wealth than today’s richest individual.

Students take part in daily classroom discussions and lectures, including from College President Dr. Timothy O'Donnell.

Students take part in daily classroom discussions and lectures, including from College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell.

This point was driven home during one of our many day trips, when we visited the thatched-roofed homes that Irish families still live in. There, they burned peat to heat their homes and families were crammed into two rooms—families of at least 10. Despite poverty, every home held a constant symbol, a St. Brigid’s cross over the door. In an age where it seems almost any desire is attainable, man is the most impoverished he has ever been, for at the core of every man’s heart is the desire to return to this divine simplicity. These homes are a reminder of what must be returned to.

While they may not have appeared profound, our normal daily acts within the trip were in fact restoring the world to a Christian reality. As we normally do, we prayed and ate and learned, but with a central focus on the Incarnation. Through these ordinary things, life became not dull and meaningless, but, instead, of great value.

Doe Castle in County Donegal.

As Chesterton says, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly,” which can be applied to understanding that when Christians focus on living the ordinary life well and constantly educating themselves, they learn that a great life does not imply extreme acts but, rather, living ordinarily well. Not every Irish saint did monumental things, but because they acted for Christ, they became extraordinary. Patrick did not evangelize alone; neither did Columcille, Brendan, or the countless other Irish heroes; rather, they acted day by day with the Incarnation in mind. I personally believe that we did that very thing through the St. Columcille Institute. Beginning with morning Mass, the everyday, simple, shared life sanctified us all.

One late night on these hallowed Irish shores, under a multitude of stars, we gathered around a bonfire and read aloud from James Joyce and sang Irish songs together, displaying the greatest fruit of a liberal arts education: namely, a life where one can enjoy all things in their proper place. Just as scripture says in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Students from across the United States and Ireland take part in the Institute, building new friendships and enjoying activities together — including climbing Crouch Patrick, viewing the Bunglass Cliffs, and more.

Students from across the United States and Ireland take part in the Institute, building new friendships and enjoying activities together — including climbing Crouch Patrick, viewing the Bunglass Cliffs, and more.

Christendom students learn how to orient their lives and education toward a coherent life where all things make sense. Likewise, the St. Columcille Institute, in less than a month, draws together these profound benefits, honoring the example of the Irish faithful to guide us to a fruitful life. In this same spirit, we ended that night by quoting the words of Prosper of Aquitaine: “Why should lasting values tremble if transient things fall?” And then, as the fire burned to its last ember, we softly sang the Salve Regina.

Find out more about the St. Columcille Institute here.

College Chaplain Fr. Marcus Pollard celebrates Mass at one of Ireland’s famed Mass Rocks.
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