Christendom College Offers Scholarships for Military-Affiliated Students

Liberal arts school extends benefits.

Around a dozen students put to good use Christendom’s military scholarships in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Around a dozen students put to good use Christendom’s military scholarships in the 2021-2022 academic year. (photo: Sarah Jackson, courtesy of Christendom College)

FRONT ROYAL, Va. — A Virginia-based Catholic liberal arts college is offering 100% scholarships for eligible students from military families, responding to recent legislation that limits students of non-government-funded institutions from receiving such benefits. 

Attending Christendom “helps me articulate some of the situations and experiences I had in the Marine Corps,” said Philip McShurley, who had taken four years between his freshman and sophomore years to serve in the armed forces. “It’s also a great way of reflecting, and it’s really definitely deepened my faith.”

McShurley, a beneficiary of the new scholarship program, left Christendom after freshman year because he felt “restless” and “was looking for something to really challenge me.” 

Although he had his pick of colleges, thanks to the GI Bill, McShurley realized that, after leaving the Corps, he wanted to return to Christendom, which would not have been an option were it not for the scholarship program.

“I felt like I had gotten my moral and spiritual challenge in the Marine Corps, and I was ready to build up after that,” McShurley said.

“In this day in age, it is great to see a college have strong support for the troops and have an interest in giving them true wisdom,” said Adam Rockwell, another beneficiary of the new scholarship program being offered by Christendom College, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Front Royal, Virginia. 

“Giving these students this opportunity is creating a diverse environment at Christendom, inviting people from all different backgrounds to come and learn the teachings of Christ.” 

Rockwell, whose family had served in the military from World War II to Vietnam, told the Register that he considers it an “honor” to have served the United States in the U.S Army Reserve as a motor transport operator in the Transportation Corps before his time at Christendom. “These brave men fought [through] some of America’s biggest wars, leaving a legacy and inspiring stories that have been passed down my family line,” he said.

Christendom College began offering the new scholarship after new government regulations, issued in summer 2021, limited benefits for military-affiliated students who attend educational institutions that do not receive government funding under Title IV. 

As a consequence, “new government regulations were issued in the summer of 2021 requiring that any school that accepts GI Bill funds meet the requirements for and participate in federal student aid programs under Title IV,” according to a statement issued through the college website. “As a result, GI Bill funds are now likely to bring with them the same bureaucracy, government control, and entanglement as other federal funding.”

Prior to the 2021-2022 academic year, students could receive military benefits while attending Christendom through the GI Bill funds, as a benefit granted to individual veterans, even though the college rejects government funding.

“Military service members and their children have been deeply connected to the college since Day One, and we have greatly benefited from their influence and commitment to our faith and our beloved country,” said Mark Rohlena, executive vice president of Christendom College. The 2021 legislation caused a “tension” between the college’s commitment to not accept federal funding and their “commitment to our veterans,” Rohlena told the Register. “Christendom College has always rejected federal funding since the day we opened our doors as an important way of preserving our independence and the type of education we provide,” Rohlena explained. “We could not risk abandoning a bedrock principle of the college that has us rejecting federal funds each year for the real peril that we would be forced away from our mission, but we also knew that our veterans and their families could not be left out in the cold,” he said. “We are in the process of actively withdrawing from the system and have filed the necessary forms to do so,” said Zachary Smith, Christendom’s associate director of marketing and communications. 

Although the college is still listed on GI Bill websites, Smith explained that they had “ceased processing any GI Bill fund requests or paperwork, so no GI Bill funds for Christendom have been processed for the last year.”

Between Christendom’s undergraduate and graduate programs, around a dozen students “have benefitted from the scholarship” in the 2021-2022 academic year, said Rohlena. “This includes active-duty military personnel, reservists, veterans and children of veterans,” he said. When it became evident that government regulations would limit the benefits that military-affiliated students could receive, the college turned to benefactors for assistance, said the college’s vice president for advancement, Paul Jalsevac. “The response was quick and overwhelming,” Jalsevac said in an interview with the Register. 

“Our supporters love their country and the military who serve it and made it clear that they both supported our desire to remain free from federal funding and wanted to provide for the needs of our military families.”

The objective of the new scholarship is to “mirror” the benefits that the GI Bill had to offer, Rohlena said. “Our goal is basically to mirror the GI Bill in terms of who can benefit from the scholarship.”

With the new scholarship program, Rohlena said, “veterans and family members who still qualify to use the GI Bill would be eligible for our program.” Acknowledging the “incredible sacrifices” that military families have made “to protect our freedoms,” Rohlena said, “veteran families bring us extremely dedicated students who do very well in our liberal arts curriculum, and they go on to do amazing things in the world.” 

Rohlena added that students with military connections “often come to us with a keen awareness from their service of what can happen to a society when it abandons truth and gives over its freedoms to hostile ideologies that have no regard for human life and freedom.” 

“Our mission is to restore all things in Christ,” said Jalsevac. “As part of that mission, Christendom educates leaders who will make an impact on our Church and nation in so many different ways, including our military, so ensuring that our military have access to a Christendom education is an important way to impact our culture.”

McShurley recounted how one particular ethics class from the past academic year discussed how actions and habits affect how one views the world. In essence, he said, “you’re responsible for how you look at the world, and you’re responsible for how you view things and people.” He recalled having encouraged one of his fellow Marines to take a break from viewing pornography and how the Marine had come to recognize the benefits of such a fast; as the Church teaches in the Catechism, pornography “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense” (2354). “It all really hits home for me in a very experiential way,” McShurley said of what his coursework underscores. 

As for Rockwell, Christendom has helped him “learn to have a deeper trust in Christ during difficult moments and training,” he said. “Being at Christendom has allowed me to share this unique experience with my fellow classmates.”