Thursday, September 22, 2011

A College and a Community in the Shenandoah Valley

Tonight I want to write a few words about the institution to which I devoted most of some twenty years of my active teaching career, and why it remains so important to me even now.

Christendom College was founded by Warren Carroll, four other faculty members, a handful of supporters, and 27 students who were convinced during the upheavals in academia in the early 1970s that there was a need for a college offering a liberal arts education that acknowledged Christ at the center of history. It was an unlikely enterprise in almost every respect, but one thing after another fell into place through the years to enable the college to grow into the solid institution it has become today, with a beautiful campus in the Shenandoah Valley and over 600 undergraduate and graduate students.

The college was founded to be an academic institution, with a curriculum that would shed the light of the Incarnation on the whole human quest for truth that is embodied in the great humanities tradition. But in bringing together people who believe that Christ is really the most important thing in history and the One who gives purpose to life, the college would also bring together people who shared a profound spiritual and human bond with each other.

No one really thought that this college was destined to be the beginning of a great "family" of people from all manner of circumstances and backgrounds, who were to discover a pervasive human solidarity with one another by virtue of their common experience of Christ living in His Church.

And because this experience is real, it can embrace the whole of each person's humanity. Unlike a cult or a sect or a gang, it does not create artificial bonds by inflating one aspect of human needs while suppressing or obscuring others, nor does it depend on a system of emotional manipulation. In spite of all the flaws of human interaction that are present among us, time and perspective reveal that the community generated by Christendom College is one that has room for the whole scope of the human person.

Above all it is a place where mercy for one's faults is experienced. Christendom is not entirely coherent in any of this, but the deep sense of belonging according to the truth of one's self as a person is discovered here. If anything, this extraordinary bond results in more passionate disagreements among us about many particulars, precisely because everyone has such an ardor for the splendid gift that is shared and that must be fostered.

Such is the case that many who have had contact with the college, or with institutions that have grown up around it, have come to settle in the Front Royal, Virginia area. Thus a growing population of young Catholic families find themselves spontaneously contributing to a network of enterprises expressing faith, humanity, and an enriching community life.

The grace of Christ is here, and although we still need to be led by the Lord to give it greater space within us, it has already begun to engender an environment that offers hope for our present time and for the future.