Christendom College Celebrates 35 Years of ‘Truth Exists; the Incarnation Happened’
The lay-run campus encourages students to be part of the New Evangelization.
CHANTILLY, Va. — “Truth exists; the Incarnation happened.”
Those words formed the motto of Warren Carroll, the late founder of Christendom College, and stood at the heart of celebrations surrounding the lay-run Catholic college’s 35th anniversary earlier this month.
More than 300 hundred donors, alumni and VIPs gathered April 6 for Christendom’s 35th anniversary gala at the Westfields Marriott Hotel in Chantilly, Va., to celebrate the college’s legacy of providing Catholic education since 1977 and raise funds for student financial aid.
“This is so important to us, as we do not accept and will not accept any federal aid when it comes to the support for our students and our program at Christendom,” Christendom’s president, Timothy O’Donnell, said in his remarks. “We’re now in a position of strengthening our cash reserves to help meet our future challenges,” he said.
The Register learned from John Ciskanik, vice president for advancement, that Christendom had surpassed its Annual Fund goal for this fiscal year and its goal for student financial aid by raising approximately $200,000 from the gala.
Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., which includes Christendom in its territory, was honored that evening. O’Donnell presented Bishop Loverde with a bust of Blessed John Paul II to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the episcopate.
In his remarks, O’Donnell recognized former GOP presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen, who were in attendance, “for the heroic, prophetic defense of life, the truth of our Catholic faith” and for their “great witness in the public square,” both in the last presidential election and throughout their lives.
Also publicly recognized among the guests that evening was Anne Carroll, the wife of Christendom’s founder and first president until 1985: Warren Carroll started Christendom in response to the Second Vatican Council’s exhortation to the laity to promote the Church’s saving mission.
Although the college takes its motto — “Restore All Things in Christ” — from Pope St. Pius X, Carroll said the “watchwords of Christendom College” could be summed up as “Truth exists; the Incarnation happened.” The words are inscribed on Carroll’s tombstone, which rests on the college’s campus, overlooking the Shenandoah River.
Christendom has enjoyed strong personal connections with both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and that tradition appears to continue with the current papacy. The college’s chaplain, Father Donald Planty, read a message delivered on behalf of Pope Francis both congratulating the college on its 35th anniversary and imparting his apostolic blessing.
“His Holiness Pope Francis sends his cordial greetings to the entire academic community with prayers that this commemoration will foster a renewed commitment to the ideals of Christian faith and academic excellence which inspired the college’s foundation.”
The gala’s mistress of ceremonies, actress and original Mouseketeer Sherry Alberoni, regaled the mostly black-tie audience with her humor and later chimed in that, while Pope Francis was a pope of many firsts, he also had the distinction of being the Church’s “266th conservative pope.”
Students for the New Evangelization
But Christendom’s role in forming students for the New Evangelization was on the minds of many that night.
Bishop Loverde told the Register at the gala that he believed Christendom’s influence would have a multiplying effect by preparing young people to give an authentic witness to those they meet in society.
“What the world needs are committed believers in the Lord Jesus, Catholics who live their faith,” he said. “The mission and goals of Christendom are to form young people in such a way that they will go forth to be these dynamic, articulate, faith-filled Catholics who will bring to the wider society truth and charity — the world is thirsty for both.”
Alumnus Frank O’Reilly, from the Class of 1983, recounted to the Register some of the experiences of being a student in Christendom’s early days.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “Back then, there were about 50 of us, so it was a very intimate community. I suppose that’s one reason why Dr. Carroll wanted to keep the college relatively small.”
O’Reilly said the college always had a “family atmosphere,” which has taken on new meaning, with many alumni now sending their own children to Christendom for their education.
But O’Reilly said the words of Father Cornelius O’Brien, one of the college’s first chaplains, hit home for him. The chaplain commented on why every student had a mission to evangelize.
“He said you have to be like the leaven in the dough. But you can’t ever be leaven in the dough if you stay on the shelf,” O’Reilly said.
Since its founding, Christendom says it has formed more than 2,640 alumni, including 300 alumnus-to-alumna marriages, 63 priests and 43 religious brothers and sisters.
Today Christendom’s main campus in Front Royal, Va., teaches 400 undergraduate students; there is a semester-long Rome program and an additional campus in nearby Alexandria, which houses its Notre Dame Graduate School. In July, Christendom is also inaugurating the month-long St. Columcille Institute, an annual program in Ireland to explore Catholic theology, history and literature.
This past spring break, the college sent 19% of its student body, 66 students, to work with Catholic missions in Guatemala, Peru, Jamaica and the Bronx, N.Y.
“We’ve had 35 years of sending people forth, but I think in many, many ways there remains so much more to be done,” Timothy O’Donnell told the Register. “I think the spirit that is within Christendom has deepened with the passing of time.”
Daily Mass, Rosary, Eucharistic adoration and confession form much of the tapestry of the college’s spiritual life. And Christendom also requires all professors to take an “Oath of Fidelity” to the magisterium, even though the Church requires only theology professors to profess the mandatum once.
The college also now broadcasts Catholic programming in the Shenandoah Valley area as a member of the EWTN Catholic Radio Network (ETWN is the parent company of the Register).
“I’m hoping that what started out as a small candle, like the light at the Easter vigil, will be passed on by heart speaking to heart,” O’Donnell said. “As it gets darker and darker in the culture, I hope that light shines brighter through the darkness.”
Register correspondent Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.
He is a 2009 graduate of Christendom College.