Breathing Catholic in the Shenandoah Valley

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Christendom College is a four-year coeducational Roman Catholic Liberal Arts College with undergraduate and graduate programs offered on three campuses in Front Royal and Alexandria, Virginia,  as well as in Rome, Italy. Founded in 1977 in response to the devastating blow inflicted on Catholic higher education by the cultural revolution which swept across America in the 1960s, Christendom’s goal is to provide a truly Catholic education in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and thereby to prepare students for their role of restoring all things in Christ.

In this exclusive Regina Magazine interview, Christendom’s Director of Admissions Tom Mc Fadden fields our questions about the school and its students.

Q. What was the genesis – the inspiration – for Christendom College? 

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A. 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.”

“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.

Q. What kind of young person is attracted to your school? Where are they from? What kind of student are they? What are they seeking?

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A. We attract a wide range of students, from home-educated to public school. From students who are from our state of Virginia to as far away as Africa. From students interested in acting and the fine arts to students who love the competition of our varsity sports. In general, they are students who are attracted to the lasting value of a liberal arts education and hold a deep love for the Faith.

Our varied student body, coupled with the ample opportunities to be active in or lead a wide variety of clubs makes our campus life very rich.

This past freshman class was comprised of139 students, the largest in our history: 38% are siblings of either current Christendom students or alumni, 14% are legacy students, 45% attended one of the College’s Summer Programs, and from 31 US States, Italy, and Japan. Their average SAT score was 1833 – the highest in 5 years.

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Q. How do students rate their experience of your school?

A. Here are two testimonies from last year’s graduates:

“My four years at Christendom have given me the best friends I may ever have, an education that is unparalleled in its commitment to Catholicism, and the opportunity to see virtue in action. What we have been given is priceless.”

At graduation, Anne Carroll, the wife of Christendom’s founder Warren Carroll, quoted what our founder used to call “The Watchwords of Christendom,” saying, “Truth exists. The Incarnation happened.”

“This, she said, was what motivated Dr. Carroll to found Christendom, to write the History of Christendom series, and to inspire so many young people to pursue truth in a world that has forgotten it exists.

“Graduation is a bittersweet time. Any senior will tell you that. Every moment is a mix of tears at parting and excitement for the future. It’s also a time of reflection. Five years ago, I came to the Experience Christendom Summer Program as a brand new Catholic. I admit to being one of those kids who came to Christendom very reluctantly. As a convert, what made the most impact on me was the unity of the Christendom community. As a senior, I understand so much more that the unity within the College is not due to the size of the school, the emphasis we put on formation, or the events Student Activities hosts. It comes from each individual member’s commitment to Truth. We are Catholic, united in the person of Jesus Christ Who is Truth itself.

“No institution is perfect. Every student at Christendom, myself included, has his or her complaints. It is necessary, however, to step back from those complaints to recognize that very few college students are given the gift of faculty and staff who applaud their colleagues as men and women of true virtue. To know someone who is truly virtuous is rare, and to be taught or mentored by that person is a gift that, at Christendom, we students have a tendency to take for granted.

“Our professors sacrifice so much for Truth. That alone speaks to the fulfillment of the vision of Warren Carroll. My four years at Christendom have given me the best friends I may ever have, an education that is unparalleled in its commitment to Catholicism, and the opportunity to see virtue in action. What we have been given is priceless. Dr. Carroll’s mission will live on in the faculty, staff, and students of Christendom College. Truth exists. The Incarnation happened.”

-Emiko Funai, Class of 2013

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Christendom has given me the strength to recover when I stumble, and fight through this world to reach the next. 

“When I was asked to reflect on my years at Christendom, I thought to myself, “where on earth am I going to start?” That thought kept running through my head, as I tried to think of a way to start. Then it occurred to me: Christendom IS the start.

“In so many ways, Christendom is the starting point of its students’ lives. I am not saying that people did not have lives before or during their time at Christendom, but the real start to their own lives as individual adults begins at Christendom, and is able to flourish because of Christendom. Christendom gives each and every student a true and strong foundation upon which to start his life beyond Christendom, and endure through the many trials and temptations of the world.

“The Good Lord knows my weaknesses and struggles, but Christendom has given me the strength to recover when I stumble, and fight through this world to reach the next. After all, that is what Christendom is for: it gives each person what is necessary to reach eternal salvation, and nothing is more important than that. That is what makes Christendom one of the best colleges in the world.

“Christendom also is the start of many life-long friendships. I have made friends with people who make me a better person, and who give me strength and inspiration in my life, and I know that I will have these friends my whole life. When I look back to how I was four years ago, I thank God for all that I have experienced at Christendom which has helped me to be better prepared for the world. Perhaps I never will be ready for it, but without Christendom, without the foundation that it has provided, I would sink for sure. Through the education, the friendships, and the experiences that Christendom has given to me, I know that I can face the challenges of this world. And for that, I thank Christendom with all my heart.

“Looking back on the last four years, and all the memories made, I can’t help but be excited about what the future has in store. I think I can safely say that these past four years have been the best of my life so far, but I think I can also safely say that the best is yet to come, which fills me with excitement and wonder about what God has planned for me in the upcoming life that Christendom has started for me. So, to Christendom College, the professors, faculty, staff, and students, I thank you for an amazing experience, a fantastic start, and a firm foundation.

“And to the class of 2013: thank you for these past four years. Thank you for the memories, the experiences, and the friendships. You will all remain with me and be in my prayers. God bless each and every one of you, and may He keep you always close and firmly in His Sacred Heart. I love you all, and I will miss you! Ciao!”

-Nate Collins, Class of 2013

Q. Given the scarcity of vocations in America, how is your school doing in this regard?

A.  As of September 2013, Christendom College has helped foster 148 religious vocations amongst its alumni ranks (68 priests, 50 sisters, 2 brothers, 1 deacon, and 27 men currently in seminary). Students entering religious orders and who take final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are eligible for loan forgiveness from the College. Students who pursue missionary or other lay apostolic work also qualify for some deferments. The college has also seen 358 alumnus-to-alumna weddings over the past 35 years.

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As of September 2013, Christendom College has helped foster 148 religious vocations amongst its alumni ranks (68 priests, 50 sisters, 2 brothers, 1 deacon, and 27 men currently in seminary).

Q. Cost is a huge factor these days as students balk at assuming large debts for undergrad degrees. How is your school addressing this?

A. We deliver a high-quality education at an affordable price. That’s why Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine ranks us as the #3 private school in the nation that provides both academic quality and affordability.

Christendom’s tuition, fees, and room/board costs have been set for the 2013-14 year as follows: Tuition = $22,050, Room and Board = $8280, and Fees = $670, Total = $31,000. Christendom’s total cost of $31,000 is one of the lowest of any private, Catholic institutions of higher learning in the US today.

Additionally, Christendom (although we do not accept Federal loans, grants, subsidies, or aid of any kind) does offer its own well-funded financial aid fund from which students are given loans, grants, and academic scholarships. We have our own Financial Aid Form which mirrors the FAFSA form, and from the information provided, we give out loans and grants to students to help cover costs of tuition. The average financial aid package is around $15,000 a year.

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We offer academic scholarships and on campus employment opportunities to help defray the costs.  Also, something we offer which I believe is unique is our sibling discount. If two siblings attend at the same time, the second sibling receives 25% off tuition. If there are three siblings attending at the same time, the 3rd one receives 50% off tuition.

And lastly, if someone who has received loans from Christendom chooses to join a religious order which takes a vow of poverty, Christendom erases the total amount of the loan.

So, hopefully you can see that although the initial “sticker price” of a Christendom education may seem a bit steep, we have many ways to lessen the costs. The Class of 2012 had an average indebtedness of “only” $25,875 after four years. Again, although this may seem like a lot of money, compared to national figures, it is a bit below the average for a private institution. According to The College Board’s “Trends in Student Aid 2012” report, the average student debt for 2009 graduates of four-year, private colleges was $29,900. And the Christendom students would have been given that loan of $25,875 interest and payment free for the entire four years they attended, as well as given one full grace year of not having to pay anything on the loan and the loan would not accrue interest during that grace year.

If someone who has received loans from Christendom chooses to join a religious order which takes a vow of poverty, Christendom erases the total amount of the loan.

Q. How would you characterize the formation of young Catholics these days – as opposed to 20 years ago? Any reason for hope?

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A. Today, our youth need to be equipped to handle the philosophical errors which run rampant in our relativistic culture of death. Our education gives them the intellectual tools to do this. Another essential element in the formation of the youth is the development of their character and their spiritual life. Through the campus life, activities, and availability of the sacraments, our students are given an opportunity to “learn Christ” and to learn how to live with Him. This encounter with Christ and a Christ-centered culture gives them a vision on how to restore the current culture and become leaders in our current culture war. While the challenge in combating the current culture is great, there are reasons for hope that can be seen in the youth who attend Christendom and thrive in its culture.

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While the challenge in combating the current culture is great, there are reasons for hope that can be seen in the youth who attend Christendom and thrive in its culture.

At our 2011 commencement Bishop James Conley (of Lincoln, Nebraska) said of Christendom:

“You are the real change-makers in our culture even though, relatively speaking, you lack the size and endowments of so many larger Catholic institutions of higher learning. Speaking from the heart of the Church with a confident Catholic identity, you are forming talented and creative disciples, equipping them with a Christian vision of life, culture, and history and sending them out well prepared to be leaders in the contemporary world.”

Giving to Christendom College

Our firm stance means that our students rely on you—our generous benefactors—to provide them with financial support that others receive from the federal government. Your support will continue to give our students (many from large, single-income families) the comprehensive scholarship and financial aid assistance program they need, enabling them to receive a formation that prepares them to join—and light—the fight for the Truth.

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