Christendom College Founder Warren Carroll Dies

Pre-eminent historian, educator and convert is remembered as a staunch defender of Catholic identity.

Portrait of Warren Caroll
Portrait of Warren Caroll (photo: Courtesy of Christendom College)

FRONT ROYAL, Va. — Warren H. Carroll, the founder and first president of Christendom College, died at home July 17 at the age of 79 after a series of strokes.

He had received the last rites the prior week, and a priest brought him holy Communion the day before he died peacefully in his sleep.

“He was a great man,” said Timothy O’Donnell, current president of Christendom. “He was a convert. In 1968, the time of great chaos, when many were leaving the Church, he came in. He had a deep love for Our Lord and our Blessed Mother and the Church. That’s something that was communicated in everything he did after his conversion.”

O’Donnell sees Carroll as among those unsung heroes who stood in the breach when people started leaving after Humanae Vitae came out.

With another papal document, Carroll was a pioneer Catholic educator with the perspective of a visionary.

“The example of Christendom as one of the few early colleges to really embrace the message of Ex Corde Ecclesiae even before it was issued,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, “has given rise to a whole series of new Catholic colleges modeled after Christendom — schools that have embraced a strong Catholic identity in reaction to the decline of Catholic identity elsewhere.”

Reilly sees Carroll’s big contributions as “global” in reach — and “particular” in the way Christendom and Carroll’s personal influence has had a tremendous impact on students. Over and over, the Newman Society hears from graduates about how much Carroll’s example and personal attention has meant to them.

That influence started the day Christendom opened its doors in September 1977. Carroll served as president from that time until 1985, when he became chairman of the history department until his retirement in 2002.

Donna Bethell, chairwoman of the board of trustees at Christendom, remembered: “As the founding president of Christendom College and a professor of history for some 30 years, Dr. Carroll never wavered in his energetic devotion to the truth and the gift of Catholic faith he had embraced.  His constant touchstone was: ‘God exists. The Incarnation happened!’ The way he lived his life added, ‘Deal with it!’”

Deal with it Carroll did as both educator and historical author, often in memorable ways that have become found remembrances.

Reilly pointed out the “real personal influence he had on me and the Cardinal Newman Society. In the early years, after some of my volunteers had drifted off, he stepped in and helped to recruit a number of his best students and graduates from Christendom to help move the society forward and, in some ways, insured the Cardinal Newman Society would succeed.”

President William Fahey of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire originally spent nearly 10 years at Christendom as Greek and Latin chairman and former chairman of the classics department.

“I pretty much got my job there because of Dr. Carroll,” said Fahey. “Reading his books inspired me to apply.”

As part of several days of job-interview meetings, Fahey had to give a talk in front of everyone. His topic was the Irish and the evangelization of Europe the Irish spearheaded. In the question session that followed, he became worried when Carroll stood up. But instead of getting a question, Fahey vividly remembers Carroll saying: “I spent the last 30 to 40 years working on this topic, and I want to say I agree with everything he says. I can tell Dr. Fahey is what I would call a crusader of the faith.”

Fahey remembered letting out a sigh of relief.

“He was an amazing — a great — storyteller and a great fighter for the faith,” Fahey said. “He looked like this big rock, this bulldog, a solid man.” When he lectured or talked, “you didn’t even have to hear it; you just could see his conviction.”

Fahey also saw a tremendous connection in the fact that the Holy Father announced on July 17 that he was going to consecrate all the young people in Madrid and in the world to the Sacred Heart.

“I think it absolutely appropriate something like that would happen in the Church the day he [Carroll] died,” Fahey said.

Carroll looked not to the powerful, wealthy and established people, but to the young to restore the Church and renew society. He had the conviction the restoration of the Church and society were going to happen not through political action, but by providing an authentic Catholic education for young people, because of young people.

Christendom’s O’Donnell observed this strong bond Carroll had with youth. Even though he and his wife, Anne, didn’t have any children, there was a real paternity in the college.

“The college was his baby,” O’Donnell said. “Thousands took his courses, and, to this day, alumni talk about his lectures.” And what a family it produced for them: 2,640 alumni, which include 300 alumna-to-alumnus marriages producing thousands of children so far, 63 priests, and 43 religious sisters and brothers.

Carroll also has an additional legacy. He was a superlative Catholic historian and author, which was naturally derived from his teaching.

Among his several popular books on history and historical movements are Isabel of Spain, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution. His major work is the five-volume History of Christendom.

As Ronald McArthur, president of Thomas Aquinas College in California from 1971-91 and currently a tutor there, sees it: “Dr. Carroll did yeoman work presenting an apology of the Church and its contributions to Western civilization.”

O’Donnell explained: “Through his work as a Catholic historian during the time the Church was attacked, he gave a very solid, balanced, scholarly vision of Catholic history which recognized the role of divine Providence in human affairs.”

Carroll has already reached thousands of people through his books, and through them “he will have a lasting impact in the Church in our country and in the world,” added O’Donnell.

Just as impactful is the impression Carroll made on his friends.

“He was a bit of a night owl,” recalled O’Donnell. “He did a lot of his work on his books at night. And he loved conversation and people.”

He remembers some of Carroll’s visits to the O’Donnells: “Normally around 2 in the morning he would say, ‘Did I ever tell you the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie?’ He would go on till around 4am. These times he would spend sharing the heroic history of the outstanding men and women who radiated the love of Christ and the Church and
had an impact on history. We loved those late-night conversations, and we will cherish them all our lives.”

For the History of Christendom, Anne worked with her husband on Vols. 5 and 6 (yet to be released). She is the founder of Seton Home Study School and Seton Junior and Senior High School in Manassas, Va. She was influential in her husband’s conversion.

“They were a great witness for Catholic marriage,” O’Donnell pointed out. “Warren was always so solicitous to his wife and Anne loving and patient when he could not speak. She was so sweet and thoughtful. It was a beautiful witness to the sanctity of Catholic marriage.”

In every respect, Warren Carroll leaves a long legacy.

“He was a pioneer who determined the future direction of Catholic higher education in this country,” noted George Harne, president of the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in New Hampshire. “His fearless dedication to serve the Church will never be forgotten.”

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.