The First 35 Years (1977-2012)
A History of Christendom College – Born from a Love for the Catholic Tradition
Christendom College, founded in 1977, is a co-educational, lay-operated Roman Catholic institution of higher learning founded under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs to approximately 500 students in four locations in Front Royal and Alexandria, Virginia; Rome, Italy; and Donegal, Ireland. It is fully accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to award the Associate of Arts, the Bachelor of Arts, and the Master of Arts degrees.
The college is located within the Diocese of Arlington and recognizes the authority of the Bishop of Arlington regarding the orthodoxy of Catholic doctrine taught at the college. Each year, the entire faculty makes a voluntary oath of fidelity to the Magisterium and a profession of faith before our Lord in the Chapel of Christ the King and in the presence of the Ordinary of the Diocese of Arlington. Christendom College fully embraces and implements Pope Saint John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, published August 15, 1990.
Christendom College is a unique educational institution, offering a rigorous liberal arts program in an authentically Catholic atmosphere. The primary aim of a Christendom education is academic, but intellectual formation is never severed from spiritual, social, and personal formation. Just as the different disciplines are integrated within the 86-credit hour undergraduate core curriculum, so too that curriculum is integrated with the rest of the student’s life at the college. Education takes place not only in the classroom but also in the chapel, at mealtime, in leisure time, and throughout the day as students converse with each other and with their professors. Christendom College is not merely a curriculum of courses: it is a season of life in which the whole person matures in wisdom, in virtue, and in ability—intellectually, morally, socially, and spiritually.
The mission statement of the college reads:
“Christendom College is a Catholic coeducational college institutionally committed to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
The College provides a Catholic liberal arts education, including an integrated core curriculum grounded in natural and revealed truth, the purpose of which at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is to form the whole person for a life spent in the pursuit of truth and wisdom. Intrinsic to such an education is the formation of moral character and the fostering of the spiritual life. This education prepares students for their role as faithful, informed, and articulate members of Christ’s Church and society.
The particular mission of Christendom College, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is “to restore all things in Christ,” by forming men and women to contribute to the Christian renovation of the temporal order. This mission gives Christendom College its name.”
In short, according to the college founder, Dr. Warren H. Carroll, the purpose and goal of Christendom College is not only to provide a truly Catholic liberal arts education of the highest quality, but to maintain the idea of “Christendom” and to show how “Christendom” works in action, even on a small college campus.
In 1977, Dr. Carroll, wrote the following in response to the question, “What is Christendom?”
“Our college takes its name from the word which embodies the Christian social and political ideal: a society, a culture, a government in which Christ the King reigns. To help extend His reign, insofar as His grace strengthens us to do so, is the heart of our mission.
We prepare ourselves, first of all, by learning, study and practice. We investigate the character of Christendom in past ages, the enduring principles which must undergird any Christian society, and the particular new applications of these principles for our age in the area of society and government which have been set forth by the recent Vicars of Christ in their social encyclicals. We learn the Christian and Catholic foundations for every field of study we enter and every action we undertake. Above all, we try to build in our own lives, and in our work with fellow Christians, a mini-Christendom, a society, however small, in which Christ does truly reign.
Christendom College aims to be such a Christian society, a microcosm of the social reign of Christ. As such, it will strive to be an example and a model, as well as a center of study on what Christendom is and how it might be built anew even in our secularized age. The education Christendom College provides, primarily for laymen who will spend their lives in the world, will prepare and strengthen them both to maintain themselves and their families in that world, and for the better service to God within it.
There is no wider Christendom today. The very word, once commonly used to designate our Western civilization, is going out of style and even out of knowledge. Many have never heard it, cannot pronounce it, much less explain and serve what it stands for. At this moment of history, Christendom can exist only in small and self-contained places. But the Christian in such a place never settles for it, never hides in it, for he has a message to bring to the world.”
The mission of forming a revitalized laity and clergy to contribute to the building of a Christian society – to the re-Christianizing of the temporal order – gives Christendom College its name. As the motto of the college states, “Instaurare Omnia in Christo,” each graduate is challenged, in whatever profession or vocation to which he or she is called, to help “to restore all things in Christ” – to Christianize the world.
As unique as the college’s educational mission and goals are, the story of how it came into existence is no less unique.
In 1965, the Second Vatican Council came to a close. Many in the Church were using the Council to promote all manner of heterodox teaching. In September 1966, Triumph magazine, a Catholic monthly of uncompromising orthodoxy was first published. Founded by Mr. L. Brent Bozell, Jr. and Dr. Frederick Wilhelmsen of the University of Dallas, Triumph sought to fill the need for a truly Catholic magazine of opinion in the United States. Mr. Bozell and his allies were concerned about the drift of American conservatism to uncritical support of unrestricted capitalism and the deification of the “American Way.” Its editorial policy placed emphasis on bringing Christ’s message to bear on the public order. Triumph counted among its contributors some of the finest Catholic intellectuals of the time, men such as Sir Arnold Lunn, Charles Cardinal Journet, and Christopher Dawson. It was a journal of considerable intellectual acumen and panache.
In 1973, recent convert to the faith, Warren Hasty Carroll, became a contributor to Triumph magazine. A native of Maine, Dr. Carroll was a summa cum laude history graduate of Bates College, after which he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. Between 1955 and 1961 he served two years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, and worked as an assistant command historian for the Second Air Force, Strategic Air Command. After his work with S.A.C., he attended the University of Colorado law school in 1962, where he met his future wife, Anne Westhoff. From 1963-1965, he ghost-wrote political columns for Texas oilman H. L. Hunt. In 1966-70 he was a member of the California State Senate staff, and in 1970-72 worked as a staff member for the U.S. Congress.
As a convert to Catholicism from Deism, Dr. Carroll saw what was wrong in modern education a long time before he saw what was right about Christianity. He maintained that the people teaching in universities did not care whether truth existed or not. But to him, the truth mattered a great deal. In 1968, precisely when so many seemed to be leaving, Dr. Carroll was baptized and received into the Catholic Church, influenced by his wife, Anne, and his godfather, U.S. Congressman John G. Schmitz.
In 1973, along with becoming a contributor to Triumph, Dr. Carroll also took over the direction of the Christian Commonwealth Institute (CCI), an educational program held in Spain. The Institute, as well as Triumph magazine and a speakers bureau, were sponsored by an umbrella organization called the Society for the Christian Commonwealth (SCC). Held at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the Institute offered students a chance to study and experience the achievement of Christian culture first-hand. The palace of El Escorial was a perfect setting for this kind of study. Built by King Philip II of Spain – the champion of the Catholic Reformation and the only sovereign in Christendom during that terrible age who remained unswervingly faithful to the Pope through all the years of his life – the complex included a palace and monastery, a college, a royal mausoleum, a basilica, and a small town. It embodied the triumphant Catholic culture of 16th century Spain. Intellectuals such as Glenn Olsen, Josef Pieper, and Father Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., were among those who taught for the program.
Those attending the Institute learned the joys of living as the Spanish do, with a siesta each afternoon and plenty of time for leisurely reflection. Once a week students went on day trips to nearby sites of interest, such as the town of Avila and the “Valley of the Fallen.” Surrounded by this living Catholic culture, students received instruction in philosophy, theology, and other disciplines from a Catholic perspective. Teachers came from all parts of Europe and America, many being contributors to Triumph. Along with their growth in wisdom and culture, students were encouraged to grow spiritually. Spiritual direction from a priest/faculty member, daily Mass, and weekly Benediction were all available.
In short, they went to Spain to help Americans see how the Catholic Faith made Christendom, how it embraced all of life and formed its own culture and could never belong in the convenient Sunday morning pigeonhole, where many Americans – even good Catholics in the 1970’s – tended to put it. The experience left a permanent mark on most of those who participated.
They understood that the Catholic Faith was more than simply a religion – it was an entire way of life – a culture, which must be lived and breathed, in order to transmit it to others. Later, in May of 1982, Blessed John Paul II wrote in a letter instituting the Pontifical Council for Culture, that “a faith that does not become a culture is not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived.” The college fully embraced this concept by providing an atmosphere on campus where Catholicism is the “air that they breathe.”
These programs were held for a number of consecutive summers at El Escorial and out of these programs came many of the prime movers of Christendom College. There were about thirty students in each of the summer programs, with no more than 150 total for the whole six-year period. Most of them were young – college aged or in their late twenties. Three of the college’s first five founding faculty (Dr. Warren Carroll, Dr. Kristin Burns, and Dr. William Marshner) had attended one of these programs and future Christendom College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell and his wife, Cathy, also were participants. Additionally, a number of the founding donors and board members, as well as current English Language and Literature professor Sharon Hickson, took part in these summer programs.
The CCI, under Dr. Carroll’s direction, held weekend institutes and forums in the U.S. as well, which consisted of lectures on Catholic history, politics, theology, and philosophy. These forums were held at various parishes and were promoted through Triumph and by word of mouth. One of the promoters of these weekend institutes was a man named Mr. Jack Ames, from Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Thomas McFadden , then-President of Virginia Right to Life (VRTL), had met Mr. Ames at one of the VRTL meetings, where Mr. McFadden encouraged Mr. Ames to form a chapter of VRTL in Richmond. Mr. Ames agreed, but only on condition that Mr. McFadden attend a CCI weekend in Hampton, Virginia. Consequently, not only did Mr. Ames get involved in VRTL, but he also eventually founded Defend Life in 1987 and has worked tirelessly on behalf of the unborn ever since, while remaining a good friend and supporter of Christendom College.
At that weekend forum held in 1974 in Hampton, Virginia, Mr. McFadden met Dr. Carroll, who was one of the presenters, and he encouraged Dr. Carroll to hold one of these forums in the Northern Virginia area, where Mr. McFadden believed there would be a bigger attendance. Dr. Carroll agreed. So Thomas and Olivia McFadden organized a weekend forum at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, where a number of those who eventually became involved in the founding of the college, including two of the first Board members, Dr. Onalee McGraw and Dr. Sean O’Reilly, were in attendance.
The weekend forum was so successful that the participants did not want it to end. As a result, Dr. Carroll set up a plan whereby he would give the participants a reading list and return to St. John’s once a month to lead discussions of the books. These monthly meetings were, again, so successful that everyone wanted more. Mr. McFadden, who knew that fellow parishioner Mr. William Dougherty was the administrator of a facility in Front Royal, Virginia, owned by the AFL-CIO, decided to organize a week-long “Family Institute” out in Front Royal. Mr. Dougherty generously agreed to let the group use the facilities free of charge.
In the summer of 1975, the McFaddens organized the first week-long “Family Institute” at the AFL-CIO property in Front Royal (later to become Christendom’s permanent campus). Approximately 50 people attended – many of whom became the first families and supporters of Christendom College. Mrs. Anne Carroll organized educational and playful activities for the children during the day, and the parents attended the lectures by Dr. Carroll, Dr. William Marshner, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, Fr. Mark Pilon, and others. The families stayed in the future Madonna Hall, ate in the Regina Coeli building, and attended lectures and Mass in the old barn (which eventually was made into the library, and then the St. Kilian’s Café).
At that Institute in 1975, the founder and director of Triumph and the Society of the Christian Commonwealth which published it, Mr. Bozell, announced that the magazine was so deeply in debt that it could not pay its printer and was ceasing publication. Although discouraged by this news, Dr. Carroll wanted to continue to keep the Christian Commonwealth Institute afloat, and continued to hold weekend seminars and forums under the auspices of The Wanderer, a weekly traditional Catholic newspaper.
Mr. Bozell and his various organizations (Triumph, SCC, and CCI) were very influential in Christendom’s founding. When Mr. Bozell died in 1997, Dr. Carroll wrote an “In Memoriam” for him which was published in the Catholic Social Science Review. In that article, Dr. Carroll wrote:
“Christendom College was gestated in the womb of Triumph magazine and the Society for the Christian Commonwealth, Brent Bozell’s creations. All of our original five faculty were long-time subscribers to Triumph and three had attended the program in Spain. Our current president and his wife and our executive vice-president had attended the program in Spain. Two of the three original major donors who enabled our College project to be launched financially had attended the program in Spain, and the third had seen his son attend it. Many of the original members of our Board of Directors were Triumph readers. In a very fundamental sense Christendom College was a Triumph enterprise, and always will be. As long as any of this present generation of College leaders and supporters shall live, I am confident they will always acknowledge our debt to Brent Bozell.”
The Institute was held, again in Front Royal, in the summer of 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, with many of the same families attending (McFadden, Hunt, Francis, Brothers, O’Reilly, Smyth, Mirus, McGraw, Richardson, Stuart, Schaeffer). It was at this summer program in 1976 that Dr. Carroll announced his intention to found a Catholic college. The initial decision and plan to establish a college bearing the hallowed name of Christendom, with all its teaching based on the Catholic view of the universe and providing a liberal arts education equal in quality to any in the country, was Dr. Carroll’s alone. It was not the product of a committee, nor even of the creators of Triumph and the Society of the Christian Commonwealth.
He told the participants about some donors who had expressed interest in helping. Everyone was very excited about this new venture and the possibility of having an authentic Catholic college for their children to attend. It was at this Institute that Dr. Carroll began assembling the first Board of Directors for the not-yet-existent Christendom Educational Corporation. As the last event of the week-long institute, everyone took part in an outside rosary procession in honor of Our Lady of Fatima. Dr. Carroll told the group that the intention of that rosary that night was that they would find a site for Christendom College. Under the circumstances this seemed like a pipe dream to the group, but Dr. Carroll’s faith and sincerity were so powerful, everyone was compelled to go along with it.
Why did Dr. Carroll wish to found a college at this time? Why did he not choose simply to work at another already established Catholic college or university and try to make a difference from the inside?
Dr. Carroll realized that the cultural revolution which had swept across the United States in the late 1960’s had struck a devastating blow to Catholic higher education. The damage became evident with the Land O’Lakes statement in 1967, in which Catholic universities (some of those who signed the statement were from Georgetown, Notre Dame, Fordham, Boston College, and St. Louis University) formally broke their ties with the teaching Church and repudiated their duty of obedience to her. There followed a wholesale loss of Catholic identity in these institutions. Not only were crucifixes stripped from classrooms, but the foundations of Western civilization were stripped from the curricula. The very existence of objective truth and absolute moral principles were denied, explicitly or implicitly.
There was no longer a place in these transformed universities for what had always been the primary purpose of Catholic education: to lead young minds out of narrow perspectives into the world of known truth and under the guiding light of the Catholic Faith. Most especially, there was no longer a place for the sacred discipline of theology that had the task of ordering and illuminating all other disciplines.
Most “Catholic” universities at that time (and consequently, today) had abandoned or drastically cut back their core curricula. Theology was replaced by “religious studies,” often with the Catholic Faith treated less fully than other religions, or presented by dissidents who rejected essential doctrines. Often, no more than two courses in “religious studies” and/or two in philosophy were required of the undergraduate. Other subjects were taught almost exactly as in the secular universities, even when their subject matter cried out for a Catholic orientation, as is the case with history, psychology, and the humanities in general.
With no God-centered core of humane studies to focus the university’s mission, Dr. Carroll saw that many colleges had turned to senseless “diversification” and mindless growth. In the name of diversification, the genuine liberal arts had been replaced largely by mere vocational and professional training. There had been an endless proliferation of courses and majors, among which students were allowed to choose without guidance or purpose, with the inevitable result that most of them never even dealt with the fundamental questions about God, man, and reality; never even encountered the most challenging works of Western civilization.
All these developments were exacerbated by the large size of the modern university. The lack of personal guidance for the student, already distressingly evident in the abandonment of sensible parietal rules, became still more disastrous in the stultifying impersonality of a campus of thousands, where students were left to wallow in the worst of the “youth culture.” Furthermore, the deep wellsprings of Christian virtue, which should animate common courtesy between men and women and civil decency between individuals of diverse background, were replaced on most college campuses by the oppressive atmosphere of “political correctness” – the power politics of gender, race, and “lifestyle.”
During a general audience on August 6, 1975, Pope Paul VI gave the following warning concerning Catholic higher education:
“In recent years some Catholic universities have become convinced that they can better respond to the various problems of man and his world by playing down their own Catholic character. But what has been the effect of this trend? The principles and values of the Christian religion have been watered down and weakened; they have been replaced by a humanism which has turned out to be really a secularization. Morals within the university community have degenerated to the point where many young people no longer perceive the beauty and attractiveness of the Christian virtues.”
The Holy Father went on to call for a reversal of this trend. Catholic universities, he said, “must see to it that in the pursuit of their disciplines, in the books they publish and in all other academic undertakings, they always foster the full integrity of Catholic doctrine, obedience to the Church’s teaching authority and fidelity to the hierarchy and the Apostolic See.”
To meet the challenge of this crisis and to offer a solution in keeping with the thousand-year-old tradition of the Church as university educator, Dr. Carroll decided to light a candle, rather than to curse the darkness, and to found Christendom College.
Christendom College was to be a new institution that would take on the task of rebuilding Catholic higher education. It would be dedicated to full Catholic truth and would be genuinely innovative in developing a Catholic curriculum, taught in an authentically Catholic cultural environment.
In conceiving his project, Dr. Carroll was aware of a number of other lay-run faithful Catholic colleges that had been founded in previous years, particularly Thomas Aquinas College in California (1971) and Magdalen College (now, the College of Saint Mary Magdalen) in New Hampshire (1973). He admired what these colleges were doing, but he felt that their approach to education, their use of the Socratic method, and their curriculum focused on the Great Books was lacking a number of key elements. He wanted to implement the Catholic Church’s time-tested scholastic method of education at Christendom, where history would provide a central aspect of the college’s curriculum, and where all subject matter, where appropriate, would be taught with a Catholic worldview.
Additionally, as a recent convert, Dr. Carroll was intrigued by the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, which stressed the importance of the laity’s share in the priestly office of Christ and in the salvific mission of the Church. In their jobs, their families, their schools, their society, and their personal relationships, the Catholic laity are called to promote salvation by their example and witness, by bringing the message of the Gospel to men, and most especially by informing and penetrating their temporal society with the spirit of the Gospel. It was Dr. Carroll’s hope and expectation that the graduate of Christendom would, in the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Christefideles Laici, “take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment of history” in this Third Millennium of Grace.
Dr. Carroll also wanted to implement in the curriculum an intensive study of Christian social and political principles, especially as taught in the papal encyclicals of the past two centuries, which would not only acquaint students with the virtue of social justice and its application to current social problems but would also provide them with a veritable program of social reconstruction, their primary task as Catholic laity.
Since the graduates of Christendom College were primarily going to be lay men and women, called to work in the world, Dr. Carroll was very determined to provide for the students valuable preparation for their work in a variety of fields, particularly for careers in law, journalism, and teaching. He believed that, through these influential professions, Christendom alumni could Christianize the temporal order in a more effective manner, and therefore, better achieve Christendom College’s mission of “restoring all things in Christ.”
Now that the plan for the college existed, Dr. Carroll desperately needed financial backing. He appealed to former Triumph subscribers and to those who had attended the program in Spain. Miss Regina Graham of Maryland and a former CCI student, responded and sent $5,000, as did Mr. James Mooney of Ohio and Dr. Edgar Hull of Louisiana. Two others, Mr. John McCarty of Massachusetts and Michael Sullivan of Maryland, also sent in generous donations at a crucial time. These generous visionaries were the first five donors of Christendom College.
Convinced by these and other donations that he had enough support, Dr. Carroll began looking for faculty. Using the contacts he had developed while working for Triumph and the CCI, he gathered four more members for his founding full-time faculty: Dr. Kristin P. Burns, Mr. Raymund P. O’Herron, Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus, and Dr. William H. Marshner.
Dr. Carroll knew Kristin Burns (nee Kristin M. Popik) from the Institute in Spain where she had served as his assistant for two years. She had been a philosophy student of Dr. Frederick Wilhelmsen, one of Triumph’s founders, at the University of Dallas. After graduating from Dallas, Dr. Burns received her master’s degree in philosophy from Niagara University and taught there for several years. Soon after, Dr. Carroll invited her to head the philosophy department at Christendom, and to serve as the first Dean of Women. Just before the college opened, she went on to receive her Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, the first woman to be so honored.
Mr. Raymund O’Herron was the second member of the founding team. He had earned his Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from the Catholic University of America in 1962 and had worked for a number of years in the engineering field. He had also earned his master’s in philosophy from Catholic University in 1973, after which he had taught at a diocesan high school in New York state. He met Dr. Carroll at a weekend forum sponsored by the SCC in February of 1975. In November of that same year, the two met again at another weekend forum where they had a chance to talk more. In January 1976, Mr. O’Herron expressed an interest to Dr. Carroll in teaching philosophy at a Catholic college. Dr. Carroll said he was going to start a college and asked Mr. O’Herron if he would be interested in a position. Anne Carroll had opened Seton School in 1975 in Manassas, Virginia, and in 1976, Mr. O’Herron was given a position teaching there while assisting Dr. Carroll in setting up the college. When the college opened, Mr. O’Herron became Dean of Men and professor of philosophy.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus, an historian educated at Princeton, was teaching in North Carolina at Pembroke State University in 1975. Dr. Carroll knew of him from Triumph, for which the latter had occasionally written. Frustrated with the lack of solid Catholic scholarship, Dr. Mirus had begun the quarterly journal, Faith & Reason, to provide a forum for the work of orthodox scholars in all fields. Dr. Carroll sent Dr. Mirus a prospectus on the college that Dr. Mirus thoroughly reviewed and sent back with his suggestions. Dr. Carroll was so impressed with what Dr. Mirus had suggested that he immediately asked Dr. Mirus to join the board of directors of the corporation which was to launch the college. Dr. Mirus accepted and was later given teaching and administrative positions, becoming the college’s first Director of Academic Affairs.
Pursuing his special interest in Catholic publishing, Dr. Mirus left Christendom College in 1985 to found Trinity Communications, a non-profit corporation with the purpose of advancing and defending the Catholic Faith. In 1993, the company shifted its focus to online publication, and in 1996 he founded PetersNet.net, which became CatholicCulture.org in 2003. He and his wife, Barbara, have six children, all of whom have attended Christendom.
The founding five faculty were completed by William Marshner. Dr. Carroll knew him from Triumph, where Dr. Marshner had been an assistant editor since 1971. Before that, while still a Lutheran (he converted to Catholicism in 1967), he had pursued a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Yale. Dr. Marshner had attended the first CCI in Spain in 1970 and was on the CCI faculty thereafter. In the summer of 1973, had become Washington editor of the Catholic weekly, The Wanderer.
Here, also, Providence smoothed the way. Part of Dr. Marshner’s beat at The Wanderer was to travel around the country reporting on the scandals erupting in dioceses everywhere. Thus, he was able to connect concerned Catholic parents everywhere with the Wanderer Forum Weekends that Dr. Carroll was setting up. In 1975, Dr. Marshner began graduate studies at the University of Dallas. He started in philosophy under Dr. Wilhelmsen, but switched to theology and earned his master’s degree. Throughout his time at Dallas, Dr. Marshner was a mainstay of Dr. Carroll’s team of Wanderer Forum lecturers around the country. So Dr. Carroll knew him well and was pleased when Dr. Marshner accepted his offer to become the head of the Theology Department at Christendom. After the college was well under way, Dr. Marshner completed his S.T.D. (Doctorate of Sacred Theology) from the Pontifical Lateran University.
Finally, with the faculty set, on September 3, 1976, the Christendom Educational Corporation was incorporated as a non-profit corporation under Virginia law, with Dr. Warren Carroll, Mrs. Anne Carroll, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, Dr. Onalee McGraw, and Dr. Sean O’Reilly as Directors.
Dr. Onalee McGraw was a 1969 convert to Catholicism from mainline Protestantism who earned a Ph.D. in government from Georgetown University in 1970. She, and her husband, Bill, had been very concerned about the declining state of public education and the culture, so much so that they helped form a group in Montgomery County, Maryland, called Citizens United for Responsible Education (CURE). Mr. and Mrs. McGraw had been readers of Triumph magazine and The Wanderer, as well as original members of Catholics United for the Faith, which enabled them to travel in some of the same circles as a number of the other first families of Christendom College.
In addition, in the late 1960’s, and on through the 70’s, the McGraws were very involved in the culture wars that erupted following the Church’s publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which upheld the Church’s constant teaching on the intrinsic immorality of artificial contraception. All three of the McGraw children – Mrs. Laura Clark, Fr. Steve McGraw, and Mr. Tom McGraw – graduated from Christendom and two of their grandchildren are current students. They moved to a house located across the street from the college in the late 1990’s where Mr. McGraw died on March 18, 2012.
In 1998, the college’s “Annual Report” was dedicated to Mr. William McGraw, who faithfully served on the Board of Directors from 1977-1998. In the “Annual Report,” a resolution of the Board of Directors, made on September 11, 1998, was included:
“William F. McGraw has been a director of the Christendom Education Corporation since its beginning. During his time on the Board he has been a faithful friend, a candid advisor and genial companion to all who have had the good fortune to serve with him. The obstacles facing the newly minted Christendom College were daunting but Bill never wavered in his conviction that the work must go forward. When perils appeared, as they often did, he remained steadfast. When successes were granted he shared in the joy but kept a clear eye on the difficult road ahead. His unswerving determination that the College survive and prosper has been a constant inspiration to his colleagues. His very presence has been a reminder that with God all things are possible. We extend our thanks and affection to Bill McGraw whose place in the history of the College is secure.”
Native Irishman Dr. Sean O’Reilly was licensed to practice medicine in Ireland, England, and the United States, and he had held several prestigious positions during the course of his sixty years, with his latest being Post Graduate Research Training Director in Neurobiology at the George Washington University Medical School. He was a member of the National Commission on Human Life, a member of Scientists for Life, and a charter member of the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life.
Not only did Dr. O’Reilly help found Christendom College, but he also donated his money and his time, teaching each year a special course in Bioethics to sophomores. Unfortunately, just five years after the college opened, Dr. O’Reilly died of a heart attack on April 18, 1982. The college then named its library after him – The Sean O’Reilly Memorial Library – and in 2004, when the new library was built (by Dr. O’Reilly’s son and Christendom alumnus, Frank O’Reilly ’83, and his company, Petrine Construction) it was named after Dr. O’Reilly’s patron saint, St. John the Evangelist. Three of Dr. and Mrs. (Anne) O’Reilly’s seven children attended Christendom College, and as of the 2012-13 academic year, twelve of their grandchildren have attended. Mrs. Anne O’Reilly lives close to the campus and generally attends daily Mass in the college’s Chapel of Christ the King.
On November 15, 1976, now that the Board was completed, the official announcement was made through a nationally-distributed press release, that the college would open in the fall of 1977 and that its first campus would be on the property of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Triangle, Virginia.
The first formal meeting of the Board of Directors took place on January 29, 1977, at the home of William and Onalee McGraw, in Virginia, where Mrs. McGraw was unanimously elected first Chairman of the Board. Other members of the first Board of Directors included Mr. James Hunt, Dr. Edgar Hull, Miss Regina Graham, Mr. Thomas May, Mr. John Carlin, Mr. William McGraw, Dr. Robert Blume, and Mr. William Smyth. On January 31, the Internal Revenue Service certified the Christendom Educational Corporation as a tax exempt organization under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Recruitment for the college began under the direction of Dr. Carroll, and as of March 10, 1977, the admissions office had nineteen students who either had made a commitment to enroll in September or who were strongly leaning toward such a commitment, with 55 other prospective students who had expressed an interest in attending. The first student to be accepted to Christendom was Peter M. Westhoff from Colorado, the brother of Mrs. Anne Carroll.
At the Board of Directors meeting on May 21, 1977, Dr. Carroll reported that $52,000 (of the $80,000 that was estimated to be needed in order to open the college in September) had been raised to date. He also reported that revenues of over $115,000 were expected during the first academic year, and that the projected fundraising target for the upcoming year would be $100,000. Dr. and Mrs. Louis Gasper, business and accounting consultants, and Mr. John Kopeck, a press relations consultant, both of McLean, Virginia, were also present at this meeting.
As of June 5, 1977, thirty-one students had expressed a definite intention of attending Christendom in the fall. Twenty-three of these had been formally accepted, while the applications of the other eight were still in process. Additionally, there were approximately ten more students who were seriously interested.
On August 1, 1977, the college’s lease of the St. Francis of Assisi campus began. The building the college rented contained eight rooms, together with office space. Two of the rooms were designated as classrooms, one as the library, one as a recreation room, two as the kitchen and dining room, and the other two were reserved for parish use. The faculty used a small extra room as their office. The college community attended the daily Mass offered for the parishioners in a beautiful chapel in the building, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The college found an apartment building in the village of Quantico to serve as its dormitory. The building was leased on very favorable terms by St. Francis of Assisi parishioner, Mr. Louis Lambiasi, and the college provided transportation between the apartments and the campus several times a day using an old school bus and a student as driver.
On September 11 the first students arrived on campus, with orientation on September 12, and registration on September 13. Bishop of Arlington Thomas J. Welsh offered the opening Mass on September 12 and blessed the building. The Mass was concelebrated by Msgr. Justin McClunn and Fr. Cornelius O’Brien.
The school’s first day of class, on September 14, 1977, was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Twenty-six pioneer students attend that historic first day of class. Dr. Carroll had always said that he only needed 25 students to begin, so God seemed to have answered his prayers – plus one. Five full-time professors, four part-time instructors (Miss Theresa Gallagher, Dr. Sean O’Reilly, Dr. Michael Szaz, and Mr. Anthony Fussa), and two staff members – Sr. John Eudes, O.P., as librarian, and the cook, Mrs. Shirley Carosi comprised the nascent Christendom College that we now celebrate.
During the first year, Dr. Carroll taught history; Dr. Marshner taught Latin and theology; Dr. Burns taught philosophy; Dr. Mirus taught English; and Mr. O’Herron taught theology and social teachings of the Church.
Miss Theresa Gallagher was a Spanish instructor at the college, and she also taught both Spanish and religion at Anne Carroll’s Seton School in Manassas, Virginia. The eldest of thirteen children, Miss Gallagher had met Dr. Carroll at a weekend Christian Commonwealth Institute, and later attended one of the summer institutes in Spain in 1975, where she met many of Christendom’s original founding members.
Dr. Zoltan (Z.) Michael Szaz, who had earned his B.A. from St. John’s College in Minnesota, and a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America, was an author and the Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He taught political science classes, on a part-time basis, during the first academic year.
Mr. Anthony Fussa, a 1977 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, was a visiting instructor for the college, teaching a seminar on jurisprudence and acting as a mentor for those interested in attending law school.
Sr. John Eudes, O.P., served as librarian, office supervisor, and tutor for students needing remedial work in English. She held an M.A. in English from Catholic University and was working on her M.A. in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School at the time.
Mrs. Shirley Carosi was an active parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi parish who had been highly recommended to the college by parish pastor Fr. Angelus DeMarco, O.F.M. She had been familiar with the parish’s facilities and she was assisted by her husband, John, and two of their six children, Michael and John, in organizing the kitchen and the food service operation in the early, hectic days.
The first 26 students were: Patricia Brady, Brian Broggi, Timothy Brown, Judy Bushong, Charles Buxton, Maria Cianflone, Joseph D’Ambrosio, Loretta Davison, Chris Foeckler, Daniel Foeckler, Bob Hambleton, Joe Hambleton, Patrick Hartnett, Eddie Henderson, Sheila Hobbs, Richard Kephart, Gerard Longtin, Peter Scheetz, Joseph Skube, Laura Spooner, Joseph Stuart, Mary Stuart, Ed Sullivan, Peter Westhoff, Alfred Leo White, and Christopher Zak.
Dr. Carroll wrote, in September 1977, in the Christendom College Report, an article entitled, “To the Students at CC,” in which he said the following:
“A college rightfully exists above all for its students. Contrary to modern perversions, its primary purpose is neither to do research nor to serve as an outlet for government funds, but to teach. A Catholic college must, above all, teach the Faith and what the Faith means, throughout its entire curriculum. But it must do much more than that; or rather, it cannot do that adequately unless it serves the Faith and lives the Faith along with, and as a part of teaching it.
We of the staff of Christendom College can and will do all in our power to carry out our teaching responsibilities well, in the broadest Catholic sense of teaching. But our efforts would inevitably be futile without students who will respond to the Faith, to the broadened and brightened and come-alive view of it which it is the task and privilege of the Christendom College staff to present. There is nothing automatic about that student response. There is no magic of argumentation or charisma that can bring any student into the fullness of joy of a Catholic community and the fullness of participation in Catholic study without an openness to what is being offered, a willingness to put aside previous conditioning, to take a risk, even “a leap in the dark” – hoping and trusting that it will turn out to be light at the end.
That is what the first students at Christendom College have done. They came to an institution that did not yet exist, no more than a dream on a paper. They came to share in a vision, to make a journey that few, before they came, understood in more than the vaguest way. Yet they were willing to try. They were willing to open themselves. Now that they are here, nearly all of them are finding Christendom College an experience like none they have ever known before – an experience with unlimited promise.
Undoubtedly our future holds many problems – many crises. But I hope that no one associated with Christendom College in these first days will ever forget the spirit that is among us now and the way we have all responded to it, for I firmly believe that spirit is of God, and that whatever the future brings, He will never forsake us.”
Let us build on the foundations we are now laying together, in His Holy Name.
On September 26, A. Leo White was elected coordinator of student activities. Throughout the year, he and the other members of the student body organized many religious, social, cultural, and athletic activities on campus. Brian Broggi headed up the religious activities; Bob Hambleton took on Right to Life; Joe Hambleton managed sports; Mike Skube ran Shield of Roses; and Joe Stuart organized drama productions. Right from the start, Shield of Roses was an important group on campus that traveled to nearby abortion clinics to prayerfully protest abortion and to counsel women to choose life. Also, all-night adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament became staples of student life. Sports, too, were important to the students, from soccer games with Seton School to ping-pong tournaments on campus. In January of 1978, the entire college suspended classes and attended its first March for Life in D.C.
Throughout the year, the college continued to recruit for the second year. The first application for the fall 1978 semester was received in November, and as of mid-December, 37 inquiries had been received from high school students interested in what Christendom College had to offer.
The spring semester of 1978 saw 27 students registered to take courses for credit. The first Mardi Gras dance (a square dance) was held two days before Ash Wednesday, and the first Coffee House (a variety show) was held on April 8. On April 28, the college community came together in thanksgiving for a successful first year of school and celebrated a special enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Reminiscing about her first year at Christendom College, Mary Stuart ’80 wrote:
“The goal of our studies was to find truth searching through wisdom and Revelation and form it into one reality. We learned that faith and reason not only could be combined, but they must be combined. Our Faith pervaded every subject and affected its point of view. What might have sounded like foolishness to our modern ears before, proved itself in the classes which came alive with questions and enthusiasm.
The success of what was folly to the world extended before our amazed eyes into a wholly Christian life: everyone freely attending the daily Mass and Rosary, joining in soccer and football, planning the first parties, and singing on the bus as it came home late at night. When the Eucharist was preserved in the sanctuary in October, individuals made frequent between-class visits and said Rosaries together. When the class got organized, we held parties with guitar, dancing and skits; a ping-pong tournament with everyone participating; soccer and basketball games against outside teams; a huge picnic; and a tremendously successful coffee house.
The kids joined in work and religious activities too at a simple request; when there were mass mailings, other work to be done, meetings to be held, the Washington March for Life or a pilgrimage to the Immaculate Conception Shrine, students participated eagerly and selflessly. When Lent came, besides the individual and community sacrifices, many made it to Benediction before dinner every night, and gave their Friday nights up for a few hours of meditation and adoration.
The students’ endless sense of humor and ingenuity managed to turn normally dull events inside out: groups got together and studied in the restaurant near the dorms, while buying a Coke each to keep from being thrown out; the Laundromat we even turned into a place of laughter and square dancing! We were kids in ways most like any other, yet special; we believed, quietly and deeply, the same things that my parents had always said, like voices in the wilderness. Moreover, we tried to live what we believed, and succeeded a little more each day. And being part of Christendom filled our individual and shared lives with beauty and truth, as well as a great deal of challenge.”
At the end of the year, in May, Dr. Carroll explained to the community why it was that the college was founded under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima. Dr. Carroll said that he saw Mary’s coming and her words at Fatima as the answer to the prayer that Pope Benedict XV had made.
On May 5, 1917, the Pope had urgently requested all Christians to beg the Virgin Mary to obtain peace in the world and to solemnly entrust the task to her alone. Then, just eight days later, on May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to the children in Fatima. She asked everyone for prayer and reparation. Our Lady warned of the evils to come, but she also assured us: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart with triumph. Russia will be converted, and there will be peace.” From this, Dr. Carroll understood her to mean that ultimately Christendom would be rebuilt. It was because the college hoped to play some small part in that Divinely-appointed task of rebuilding that Our Lady of Fatima was chosen as the college’s patron.
In the summer of 1978, the college realized that it would be unable to reach the quota of 40 full-time students which were needed for financial stability. Through the assistance of Mr. George Bridgman of Minnesota, who ended up contributing $41,000 over the succeeding years, and with the aid of other donors, the school managed to survive on only 35 full-time and six part-time students. Sixteen of the previous year’s 20 full-time students returned, along with 19 new, full-time students.
With the lease expiring at St. Francis parish after the second year, Dr. Carroll and other members of the faculty began searching for a new location. Mr. Raymund O’Herron headed the search. The college wanted to stay in the Diocese of Arlington because from its beginning it had the strong support of then-Bishop Thomas Welsh. Moreover, it was through Bishop Welsh that Father Cornelius O’Brien, who was involved in the college from its inception, became the first chaplain, while still serving as assistant pastor at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in the Diocese of Arlington.
Working with Mr. O’Herron, the real estate agency finally found a location – the AFL-CIO training camp in Front Royal, the same one where the Family Institutes had been held in the summers of 1975 and 1976. But the price seemed out of reach.
When Bishop Welsh heard how well this land and its buildings would meet the college’s needs, he made a telephone call to his friend, the highly-respected retired Cardinal Archbishop O’Boyle of Washington. It happened that Cardinal O’Boyle was an old friend of George Meany, the President of the AFL-CIO, who was a faithful Catholic. Cardinal O’Boyle called Mr. Meany to put in a good word for Christendom College and to ask Mr. Meany to lower the price to make it more affordable. Mr. Meany lowered the price, by more than one-third, to $275,000!
Bishop Welsh had been the founding bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in 1974. In 1983, he became the Ordinary of the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, before retiring in 1997. He died on February 19, 2009, at the age of 87. He was a great friend and supporter of Christendom from the beginning and served as the college’s first Commencement speaker in 1980 and, then again in 2004 when he received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the college.
The required down payment of $75,000, although reasonable, also seemed out of reach. However, by unremitting effort, the college was able to raise $30,000 from its Board of Directors, $35,000 from the De Rance Foundation of the late Mr. Harry John, and $10,000 from readers of Christendom’s quarterly journal, Faith & Reason. But the college was still left with the hefty mortgage, and no bank would risk loaning that amount of money to such an unstable organization. Mr. William Carrigan, a former Triumph donor and philanthropist, came to the rescue.
In Dr. Carroll’s presence, Mr. Carrigan took out his checkbook and wrote out a check for the entire amount of the mortgage, thus making the land and the buildings Christendom’s property. According to Dr. Carroll, without Mr. Carrigan and what he did that day, Christendom College would not exist today. The deed for the campus bears George Meany’s signature and signifies one of his last official acts as President of the AFL-CIO. The college closed on the property on April 6, 1979. Our Lady of Fatima had answered the prayers of those Family Institute attendees so many years before and had found them their property!
Over the years, Mr. Carrigan continued to loan the college large amounts of money for essential construction that no bank would risk on the college. As a final gesture of generosity, when he died on November 20, 2000, at the age of 98, he released the college from its debt to him.
During World War II, Mr. Carrigan had served as a Field Director for the American Red Cross in Italy. There he met now-St. Padre Pio, a Capuchian friar. Mr. Carrigan introduced many American troops in Italy to this priest, and after Padre Pio’s death, he was active in the effort for his beatification. He was able to attend the beatification in Rome on May 2, 1999.
After World War II, Mr. Carrigan became a successful developer of commercial and industrial properties in the Washington, D.C. area. Through his philanthropy and his enterprise, he was instrumental not only in saving Christendom College, but also in assisting children with emotional and learning disabilities, in establishing Providence Hospital and the International Eye Foundation, as well as many local parishes.
When the college opened its campus in September 1979, the new setting enhanced student life. The 73-acre campus came complete with a pool, shuffleboard courts, an athletic field, dormitories, buildings which could be used for a library and a chapel, and the main building – an old hunting lodge – which was used for classes, dining, and administrative and entertainment purposes. The main building had been originally built around 1921 by Judge Walter Olmstead to accommodate his family and some guests. In 1986, the building was dedicated to Miss Regina Graham, one of the first major donors, and in 1992, it was renamed Regina Coeli Hall, in honor of Miss Graham and Our Lady, Queen of Heaven.
Bishop Welsh offered the opening Mass on the Front Royal campus on September 9, with concelebrants Fr. James Schall, S.J., Fr. Charles Ryan, Fr. Cornelius O’Brien, Fr. John Munley, and Msgr. Richard Burke.
The college held its first Commencement Exercises on May 4, 1980, where two graduates, Miss Mary Stuart and Mr. Alfred Leo White, received their Bachelor of Arts degrees from Board Chairman Dr. Andrew Pepin, who had replaced founding Board Chairman Onalee McGraw on September 8, 1979. Bishop Welsh delivered Christendom’s first Commencement Address.
In the summer of 1980, the college purchased a private home across the street and named it St. Teresa Hall. Shortly thereafter in the fall, St. Augustine Hall, another private residence across the road, was also purchased. Both halls were used for student housing.
In the fall of 1980, the college had 70 students enrolled. This number is significant because the college was then able to raise academic standards and still maintain a substantial enrollment.
That same academic year, there were a number of important topics concerning the future of the college that the Board of Directors had to address, most importantly, the future site of the college’s permanent campus. Although the college was happy on the Front Royal campus, the aging structures and a serious soil percolation problem caused the Board of Directors to examine other alternatives for a permanent location before erecting major buildings on the current campus. They began to investigate the acquisition of a new property, called the Scaleby Estate, owned by Kenneth Gilpin – an estate which would have provided an opportunity for less expensive, long-term development.
By the first day of summer in 1981, a student crew had been organized to go into Scaleby to make it ready for the 1981-82 academic year. Students Walter Janaro, Douglas Briggs, Pat Diemer, Eileen Tickner, Janna Cummins, Molly Walsh, Maggie O’Reilly, Maria Stanton, Anne Marie Hinkell, and Remi Ruiz comprised the crew. They worked the whole summer moving the entire college into Scaleby, in anticipation of local zoning approval for use of the 200-acre estate as a school. However, in what appeared to be one of the most unfortunate moments in the college’s short history, local opposition prevented the desired approval and the college was unable to acquire the new location. But Dr. Carroll saw these interferences as blessings in disguise, for many immediate improvements to the property would have been required, which would have put a strain on the college’s limited finances.
Since it was now too late to begin any building projects for the fall 1981 semester in Front Royal, nine mobile homes were rented and placed on the former soccer field: six for the women, one for Father Edward Berbusse, S.J. the school’s first full-time resident chaplain, and two for recreation. The men continued to live in Madonna Hall, affectionately called “The Quad.” In 1983, the college completed its first building project, a dormitory named St. Edmund Campion Hall, which was built under the supervision of Mr. Richard Seelbach, then-Director of Finance and Development, and used to house female students.
The college’s enrollment continued to grow, and in 1985, Dr. Carroll decided to step back from his position as President of the college and focus on teaching history and writing. Dr. Carroll remained on the faculty, serving as the chairman of the History Department until his retirement at age 70 in 2002. He continued to come to campus to present public lectures (available on iTunesU) over the course of the next 8 years, as well as to attend the college’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities, where he faithfully and enthusiastically read the “Easter Proclamation of 1916.”
Additionally, Dr. Carroll remained a member of the Board of Directors and played an active role in helping to guide the college through the years. Dr. Carroll, who was born on March 24, 1932, died on July 17, 2011, at the age of 79, after a number of years of dealing with the effects of numerous strokes. He was buried on July 26, 2011, in a grave overlooking the Shenandoah River, behind the college’s Regina Coeli Hall, where he had spent so much of his time while working at Christendom. On September 16, 2012, Dr. Carroll’s Celtic-cross headstone (inscribed with “Truth exists. The Incarnation happened.”) was blessed by college chaplain Fr. Donald Planty.
“Truth exists. The Incarnation happened,” Dr. Carroll defined as the “watchwords of Christendom.” Every student of his, and practically all alumni of Christendom, are well-aware of these most important five words, for it is through these five words that all of history, and the essence of a Christendom College education, may be summed up.
In one of his last public lectures at the college on April 26, 2010, Dr. Carroll delivered a lecture entitled, “Truth Exists. The Incarnation Happened. The Watchwords of Christendom College,” in which he said:
“We can say with full assurance that God Himself founded [the Catholic Church] because the Incarnation happened and that is true because truth exists. That’s why we say that “Truth exists. The Incarnation happened,” are the watchwords of Christendom College. That is why you must go to your death fearlessly proclaiming that truth exists. That is why you must avoid, as you would avoid a plague victim, any man or institution that permits the teaching that truth does not exist. This is our modern message of death and destruction and it is why averring the Incarnation happened makes you a Christian. It’s why I was not a Christian until I could say it.”
As college President, Dr. Carroll was aided by many people, most of whom gave up very successful positions to join Christendom College’s unique cause. Some of the early professors, in addition to the founding faculty, included Dr. Robert Hickson, Dr. Thomas Fowler, Dr. Maria Barone, Mr. Thomas Mangieri, and, finally, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Rice and Dr. William Luckey – all three of whom still currently teach at the college. The administration included Mr. Mark McShurley (Admissions), Sergeant George Carter (Food Service), Dr. Robert Rice (Academic Affairs), Mr. Thomas Storck and Miss Rebecca Harper (Librarians), Mr. Raymund O’Herron (Dean of Students), Mr. Richard Seelbach (Finance/Operations), Mrs. Linda Wilson and Mrs. Frances Rudacille (Business Office), Dr. Jeffrey Mirus and Mr. Walter Janaro (Press/Publications), Coach Greg Dick (Basketball Coach), and Mr. Charlie Strayer, Mr. Russell Henry, and Mr. Archie Henry (Maintenance). Dr. Timothy O’Donnell was the last faculty member to be hired by Dr. Carroll.
In 1985, Dr. Damian P. Fedoryka, who had been involved in other institutions of higher learning, was chosen to be Dr. Carroll’s successor. It was at this time that the college leased the 150-acre “Fox’s Earth” property, just north of campus, so that the Fedoryka family could live next to campus. The college eventually bought this land in 1988, and in 1993 sold all but 26 acres of it to Donald and Eleanor Kelly.
Dr. Fedoryka had received his degrees from the University of Louvain, Fordham University, and the University of Salzburg. His main area of expertise was the philosophy of the person, ethics, and, in particular, the thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand and Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II. He and his wife, Irene, who passed away on December 24, 2010, had ten children, all of whom were very musically talented.
During his seven years as President, Dr. Fedoryka achieved a number of great accomplishments. It was during his presidency that the college retired nearly $600,000 in debt without disrupting the growth and development of the college. Also under his direction, two dormitories (Blessed Margaret of Castello Hall in 1988 and St. Joseph’s Hall in 1989), a library wing (1988), and a chapel extension (1988) were constructed without adding any new debt. Moreover, Dr. Fedoryka publicized the college in the highest circles in the Vatican through several trips to Rome and personal audiences with Blessed Pope John Paul II, and he guided the college to full accreditation by SACS on December 10, 1987. Dr. Fedoryka resigned on July 15, 1992, to pursue important educational and intellectual projects that had been summoning him for some time. He later took on teaching positions at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and at Ave Maria College, Michigan.
Then-Chairman of the Board of Directors, J. Laurence McCarty, wrote the following about Dr. Fedoryka:
“As I look upon Damian Fedoryka’s time among us, I see a man who seven years ago assumed the leadership of a small, struggling college. I see a man who increased our student population, increased our budget, and increased our fundraising. I see a man who enhanced our reputation for excellence through his speaking and writing. I see a man who paid off our debts while he managed our growth. I see a man who leaves us healthier in every way than when he took the helm seven years ago. I see a man who deeply loves his wife, his family, his Church, and this college.”
Some key members of his administration were Sergeant George Carter (Food Service), Mr. Mark McShurley (Admissions), Dr. Robert Rice (Academic Affairs), Mrs. Linda Wilson (Operations), Mrs. Judy Costello and Mrs. Frances Rudacille (Business Office), Mr. Douglas Briggs (Computers), Dr. Timothy O’Donnell (Student Affairs), Mrs. Michelle Sewell and Mr. Mike Lythgoe (Development), Coach Greg Dick (Basketball Coach), and Mr. Russell Henry and Mr. Archie Henry (Maintenance).
Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell was appointed the college’s third President on July 12, 1992, the date of the commemoration of the great Irish Battle of the Boyne, and officially installed on October 11, 1992, the 30th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
Dr. O’Donnell was the first layman to receive both the licentiate and doctoral degrees in Ascetical and Mystical Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. Prior to that, he had earned his B.A. in philosophy and history and his M.A. in Church history from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, California. After earning his doctorate from the Angelicum, Dr. O’Donnell went back to California where he taught for two years at St. John’s Seminary and two years at Loyola Marymount.
In the spring semester of 1985, Dr. O’Donnell came to Christendom to teach. He had visited the campus in November 1982 and later in the fall of 1984, and was impressed with the college’s core curriculum and with the fact that each aspect of the college – academic and social – was directed toward the consecration of the intellect and will to Christ. From 1985-1992, Dr. O’Donnell taught history and theology and served as the Vice President of Student Affairs. He was, additionally, the Chairman of the Theology Department, Editor of Faith & Reason, Director of Student Activities, and Dean of the Summer Apologetics Institute.
Just prior to Dr. O’Donnell’s appointment as President, he led a pilgrimage to Rome in which Dr. Carroll participated. Near the end of the trip, on June 1, 1992, the pilgrims were granted a private audience with the Holy Father, now-Blessed John Paul II. The Vicar of Christ smiled upon Dr. Carroll and the group, and after Dr. O’Donnell introduced Dr. Carroll as the founder of Christendom College, the Holy Father said to Dr. Carroll, “Christendom College is a great work for the Church.”
In the fall of 1992, the student body numbered 144 students. It was at that time that “Fox’s Earth” became the Christendom Athenaeum, and the small cottage located near it was named St. Kevin’s Cottage Residence Hall, while the four apartments on that land were renamed Cardinal Newman Hall.
Over the 20 years that Dr. O’Donnell has served as President, the college has increased the number of buildings on its 115-acre campus to twenty. The St. Lawrence Commons was built in 1993 and St. Francis Hall in 1995; Regina Coeli was renovated in 1996; St. Benedict Hall was built in 1997, St. Louis the Crusader Memorial Gymnasium in 1998, St. Catherine of Siena Hall in 2000, and St. John the Evangelist Library in 2004. The old library was renovated into the Pope John Paul the Great Student Center and St. Kilian’s Cafe in 2005. In 2011, St. Dominic’s and St. Anne’s residence halls were purchased, along with St. Kevin’s Cottage, Newman House, and 14 additional acres, some of which will be used for a new athletic field in the future, located across Shenandoah Shores Road from the main campus.
One of the most important buildings erected under Dr. O’Donnell’s supervision is the Chapel of Christ the King. When the college moved to its Front Royal campus in 1979, a small building that had come with the property was first used as the chapel. That chapel did not have a formal title, but was simply, “The Chapel.” In 1988, that chapel had been doubled in size, but it still could not hold all of the members of the college community at one time. The college really needed a larger building to house Our Lord and to accommodate the growing college community.
When Dr. O’Donnell was inaugurated as President on October 11, 1992, in his acceptance remarks, he announced that the college would begin simultaneously to build the Chapel of Christ the King and the St. Lawrence Commons. At the same time, Dr. O’Donnell launched a fundraising initiative called “Operations/Chapel.” Through this program, the college committed 15% of every dollar of unrestricted donations to the chapel fund.
Prior to the announcement of the Operations/Chapel fund, Dr. O’Donnell had met with Christendom’s Executive Vice President, Mr. Mark McShurley, who insisted that a major gift would have to be received in order to launch this project. The two men prayed to the Blessed Mother for her intercession and within 30 minutes of the conclusion of the meeting and prayer, Mr. McShurley received a phone call from an anonymous donor who wanted to pledge $250,000 to the Chapel fund.
On November 22, 1992, the Feast of Christ the King, a special ground blessing ceremony was held on the site of Christendom’s planned new chapel. On Sunday, December 6, the ground was broken for the Chapel of Christ the King.
Petrine Construction began work on the Christ the King project on December 18, 1992. The Chapel was patterned after the oldest Catholic church in the Shenandoah Valley, the Sacred Heart Church built in 1870, located in Winchester, Virginia, and built by Irish immigrants. Much of the interior furnishings came from Sacred Heart Church, including the beautiful stained glass windows.
As of spring 1994, the college still needed almost $535,000 to finish the Chapel and buy all of its furnishings. By May 1994, most of the brick work for the Chapel had been completed and only $280,000 more was needed. Then in December of 1994, when $160,000 was still needed, Dr. Eleanor Kelly and her children James, Kathleen, and Valerie donated $100,000 to help finish the Chapel in honor of Donald Kelly, who died November 8, 1994. Finally, in February of 1995, the college announced it had reached its goal to raise the $890,225 to complete the Chapel of Christ the King project.
The pews were bought from a closing church in Philadelphia, St. Edwards. The old high altar, made of pure Carrara marble, donated in 1991 by then-Bishop of Arlington John R. Keating, was from the old Sacred Heart Church in Winchester. Alumni Frank and Angelique O’Reilly donated the money for the restoration as a gift in memory of Frank’s father, the late Dr. Sean O’Reilly, a founding Board member of the college. Fr. Frank Phillips, of St. John Cansius Parish in Chicago, also donated a number of items for use in the Chapel, including a lovely monstrance used for Eucharistic adoration. Mr. Thomas Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, donated the exquisite 19th Century wooden stations of the cross, hand carved from Germany.
On April 7, 1995, the final Mass in the old chapel was offered by Fr. James McLucas. On April 8, the Chapel of Christ the King was solemnly dedicated and blessed by His Eminence Jan Cardinal Schotte, Pope John Paul II’s Secretary General to the World Synod of Bishops. It was at this time that Cardinal Schotte read a personal message from the Holy Father and presented the college with a chalice and paten from the Pope. When the Holy Father had given the gifts to Cardinal Schotte to deliver to the college community, he had said, “I know what they are doing there and I want them to have this chalice and paten from me so I may be always present to them in this way. Take it to them.”
On April 9, Palm Sunday, everyone gathered for the blessing of the palms at the old chapel, then processed to the new chapel for Mass. The old chapel was then transformed into a lecture hall, St. Thomas Aquinas Hall, dedicated to the college’s special patron.
Another highlight of Dr. O’Donnell’s presidency was the addition of the graduate school. In 1997, Christendom acquired the Notre Dame Institute and began offering Master of Arts degrees in Theological Studies, as well as both the Basic and Advanced Apostolic Catechetical Diplomas, awarded through the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy in Rome. The next year, the college approved and published its Vision Statement, affirming key principles of the Christendom educational philosophy, which was solemnly affirmed by the Faculty Senate and Board of Directors on January 24, 1998.
The Notre Dame Institute (NDI) had started in 1969 when Sr. Mary Elise, S.N.D., superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, invited Msgr. Eugene Kevane to teach a summer school in catechetics to her sisters. Msgr. Kevane was the Dean of the School of Education at the Catholic University of America and had been the only dean at CUA to support the university’s dismissal of controversial dissenting theologian Charles Curran by keeping his school open when the rest of the university went on strike to try to force the university to rehire Curran.
On October 17, 1970, the Notre Dame Institute was officially dedicated by Apostolic Delegate to the United States Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, with Msgr. Kevane as Founding Director. The following year, John Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, established the Notre Dame Institute as an official catechetical institute, recognized and authorized by the Holy See, with the title “pontifical.” The Institute was authorized to grant the Apostolic Catechetical Diploma and was affiliated with the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the “Angelicum” where Msgr. Kevane was also a professor) for the granting of the M.A. in religious studies.
Originally, the purpose of the Institute was to train religious sisters from various communities to teach Catholic doctrine to other teachers in accord with the catechetical initiatives of Vatican II and in response to a survey among American bishops that indicated a need for an institute for religious sisters where Faith and vocations could be nurtured and stabilized. For several years the Institute operated as a summer school for religious in Middleburg, Virginia, where the Notre Dame Sisters had a convent and school. The first Apostolic Catechetical Diplomas were awarded in 1973 and the first M.A.’s in 1976.
In 1979, the Notre Dame Institute opened its doors to lay students and started offering evening courses on the Marymount University campus in Arlington, Virginia, in addition to its summer program in Middleburg. Soon after, Bishop Thomas Welsh entrusted the Institute with the theological education and pastoral formation of candidates for the Permanent Diaconate of the Diocese of Arlington. Rev. John Hardon, S.J., was an early and long-time professor at the Institute. NDI incorporated in Arlington, Virginia, and moved its offices to the diocesan chancery offices in Arlington. Msgr. Kevane was the Chairman of the Board, Rev. William Kaifer, S.J., was vice-chairman, and Deacon Daniel Resendes was secretary/treasurer; these three were to continue to direct NDI for many years.
The class of 1982 was the last to receive the M.A. degree from the Angelicum, as the Institute received approval to grant degrees from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1983. At this time, NDI started to offer evening and weekend classes at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, and the summer program was transferred from Middleburg to Marymount University. Barbara Murphy, a 1982 graduate, served the Institute in various capacities over almost two decades, as Dean, professor, director of admissions and of oversees programs, and, finally, as a member of the Board of Directors. A spirituality concentration was added to the catechetics program in 1984. In 1986, Rev. Franklin McAfee, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, replaced ailing Msgr. Kevane as director of the Institute. During his tenure (until 1992), the Institute often held classes at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Springfield, where Father McAfee was pastor. In June 1990, the Institute was granted candidate membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Reverend William P. Saunders, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, was appointed president of the Institute in 1992. In June 1994 he moved the Institute to its present facility in Alexandria, Virginia, finally combining offices, classrooms, and library at one location. He also led the Institute to full accreditation by SACS, built up the library collection, and greatly improved the financial stability of the Institute. Father Saunders served as President of NDI until the merger of the Institute with Christendom College in 1997. On February 1 of that year, the Notre Dame Institute became the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College (NDGS), with Father Saunders as its first Dean.
Father Saunders served as Dean until 2002 when he stepped down to focus on his parish work as the founding Pastor of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Fr. Saunders was aided in the transition from NDI to NDGS by long-time NDI employee, Mr. Luther Niehoff, who continued to contribute greatly to the growth and development of the graduate school until 2006 when he retired after 15 years at NDI/NDGS. Mr. Niehoff died of cancer on April 22, 2010.
Following Fr. Saunders’ departure as Dean in 2002, the college tapped founding faculty member Dr. Kristin Burns, who had been teaching philosophy courses for the graduate program since 1991, as the new Dean of the Graduate School. Under Dean Burns, the graduate school has grown tremendously, with several new programs. In the summer of 2006, Christendom hosted the first Vita Consecrata Institute (VCI) on its Front Royal campus. Co-sponsored by the Graduate School and the Institute on Religious Life, the VCI is a program of theological study and spiritual renewal for religious, priests, and other consecrated persons. It is held every summer in conjunction with the Graduate School’s summer program.
In 2007, the Christendom Graduate School started once again offering theological formation courses for candidates of the Permanent Diaconate Program of the Diocese of Arlington. In 2009, the Graduate School offered its first courses in online format to distance students. Now a student may earn the M.A. in Theological Studies degree completely online or with a combination of online and campus courses. The Graduate School continues to operate at its Alexandria campus year-round with the six-week Summer Program held every year at the Front Royal campus.
Another of the highlights of Dr. O’Donnell’s presidency is the establishment of the Junior Semester in Rome experience, which grew out of the many summer study abroad opportunities offered by the college. Students live within the sound of the bells of the Vatican but a world away from the tour buses. Their residence is a five-minute stroll to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, located in a quintessentially Roman neighborhood, and they take classes in a building located directly next to the colonnade of St. Peter’s.
Started in 2002, the Rome experience has undergone many changes over the years. Philosophy professor Dr. Douglas Flippen and his wife, Maureen, served as the first Rome Directors, along with then-Chaplain Reverend Anthony Mastroeni. In 2005, alumni Ben and Heather Akers took over as the Directors and were instrumental in solidifying the experience over the course of four years. In 2009, Tomas and Caroline Fuertes were selected to be the new Rome Directors, and in 2010, Mr. John Noronha took over as Director, with Miss Katy Ott serving as Associate Director. In 2012 Miss Ott became Director. The program is under the direction of Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Steven Snyder, with Philosophy professor Mark Wunsch intimately involved in all aspects of the academic part of the experience, while Dean of Student Life Dr. Jesse Dorman handles all the student-life aspects.
During the first 20 years of Dr. O’Donnell’s tenure as President (1992-2012), the student enrollment has grown from 144 undergraduates to near 500 students, including graduate school students. The total financial assets have increased 440%, and total plant costs have increased 397%. As of the fall of 2012, the college has over 3100 alumni, with 2194 of them having earned degrees (A.A., B.A., or M.A.). Additionally, there are approximately 352 alumna-to-alumnus marriages and over 135 vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
The college faculty too has grown tremendously over the years, from the original five (two of whom still teach full-time – Dr. William Marshner and Mr. Raymund O’Herron – and a third serves as the Dean of the graduate school – Dr. Kristin Burns) to now twenty-five full-time and a number of adjunct/part-time faculty members. Many members of the current faculty hold terminal degrees from such places as Yale, Columbia, Notre Dame, Northwestern, the University of Virginia, and the Angelicum. The college’s core curriculum, which all students must take, is the strongest and most rigorous amongst all colleges who offer majors – 98 credit-hours, including the semester in Rome program – and has recently been improved to include the college’s new flagship, career development initiative, “Education for a Lifetime Program.”
Much of Dr. O’Donnell’s successful tenure as President of Christendom College can certainly be attributed to the dedicated members of the college’s administration, particularly long-time employees Mr. Mark McShurley, Mr. John Ciskanik, Mr. Mike Foeckler, Mr. Tom McFadden, Mr. Doug Briggs, and Mr. Andrew Armstrong.
The Board of Directors has played an essential role in guiding the college to its current position. From the Founding Chairman of the Board, Dr. Onalee McGraw and her husband, Bill, to Dr. Walter Stuart, Mr. Robert Monahan, Dr. Philip Crotty, Mrs. Joan Janaro, Mr. Chris Cuddeback, and Mr. J. Laurence McCarty, to current Chairman since 2002, Mrs. Donna F. Bethell, Esq., the Board has been always there to make the hard decisions and steer the college through much financial turbulence and hardship.
Over the years, the college has been highly praised and recognized, both from Catholic luminaries as well as from secular college-ranking organizations. It has received attention from Blessed Pope John Paul II, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Francis Cardinal George, Raymond Cardinal Burke, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and many others, including Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, served as the Chairman of Christendom’s 25th Anniversary Honorary Dinner Committee in 2002, and wrote:
“I am well aware of the distinguished record of Christendom College and of the outstanding contribution which it has made to Catholic life in the United States. For this reason, I am particularly honored to associate myself with such a fine Catholic institution of higher learning and my prayers are that Christendom College will enjoy many more years of service in the education and formation of young people.”
Additionally, Christendom has been promoted or endorsed as an excellent Catholic liberal arts college by the Cardinal Newman Society, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Peterson’s Colleges, Free Congress Foundation, Newsmax, and the Young America’s Foundation, as well as by some notable Catholics, including theologian and author, George Weigel, who wrote,
“Christendom College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in America. Its commitment to providing its students with an integrated, rigorous core curriculum, combined with a vibrant Catholic atmosphere that permeates every aspect of the college experience, marks it as a distinctive and precious resource. I recommend Christendom College to anyone seeking an education that teaches students to think, to pray, and to serve, all under the guidance of Faith and reason. It is wholly worthy of your support.”
Christendom has not been restored, and only God knows how much time must pass before it can be and will be. But, hopefully, by the grace of God, Christendom College is here to stay. Through thirty-five years, it has survived every danger, both external and internal, and has been justified above all by the responsive gratitude of its students and the special impact made by their knowledge and devotion and delight in their Faith and all that it means, wherever they go and whatever they do.
The pledge of the college to its students, many of whom are now children of alumni, is a noble one, one that, hopefully, will continue to be proclaimed for many more years in the future:
“With the help of God’s ever-sufficient grace, we at Christendom College promise never to depart from the truth as taught by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church under its head, the Pope, and to uphold the highest Christian moral standards for ourselves and for our students.”
For Christendom College, thirty-five years is only a beginning. Under the mantle of its patroness, Our Lady of Fatima, the college is looking forward to playing a major role in the New Evangelization, working to re-Christianize the temporal order through all of its many exciting educational offerings, including its undergraduate and graduate programs, Christendom Press, the annual Experience Christendom Summer Programs for high school students, the Summer Institute, and its newly launched St. Columcille Institute in Donegal, Ireland, and WXDM 90.3 FM radio station in Front Royal.
By the grace of God, and with the support of the thousands of generous benefactors, Christendom College will continue to stand as a proud witness to the cultural and religious achievements of the Catholic Church for many years to come.
Long live Christendom! Viva Christo Rey!
Written by Tom McFadden -Vice President, Enrollment & Marketing- for the 35th Anniversary Gala Dinner – April 6, 2013