Committed to community.
Standing by each other in good times and bad.
Rooted in Christ.
This Giving Day 2021, we are honoring our fellow alumni and the difference they make in our lives. Let’s share stories about how our friends in the Christendom alumni community have supported us or made a difference in our lives. This year, as we Stand Together and draw strength from our Christendom roots, let’s reconnect by sharing memories of fellow students and alumni—from our time at Christendom and beyond—making an impact in our lives.
Make-A-Difference Stories from Alumni
Annie Sullivan (‘20)
The Christendom alumni family helped me with the difficult transition from student to graduate. Following graduation, thanks to Vince Criste’s (‘98) recommendation, I was offered a job in Christendom’s Advancement Department. I am so grateful for the chance to work with an amazing team and give back to Christendom in a unique way.
Back in June 2020, while excited to move and start post-grad life in Front Royal, I was worried about friendships since most of my closest friends from school were not staying in the Front Royal area. A few days before I moved from Nebraska to Virginia, though, my fellow classmate, Isabella Reilly, called me to let me know she too was employed by Christendom’s Advancement Department and would be living around the corner from me. Isabella and I weren’t super close while at school, so I was a little surprised when she called me. But we ended up talking for a long time and she reassured me that it was all going to be fine. Now, as fellow employees, we’ve become good friends. In the first months, when I was tempted to just stay at home alone, Isabella often invited me over to her place for game nights or just good conversations and tea. Along with Isabella, several older alumni offered lots of support and advice over the last several months, checking in on me every now and then and inviting me out or to their homes.
While moving to Virginia, starting a new job, living alone, and becoming staff at Christendom were all difficult changes, the strong presence of Christendom alumni reminds me that I’m not alone in all this change. While I’m states away from my immediate and extended family members, Christendom alumni have been a second family to me and helped me during a time when I was very lonely. Among others, I’m so grateful to Isabella Reilly (‘20), Johanna Burke (‘19), Marilyn Charba (‘14), Maura McMahon (‘09), and the Criste, Jalsevac, Wilson, Rohlena, and Halisky families for being alumni who’ve really helped me amidst so much change. They’ve helped make Front Royal home again.
Adam Wilson (‘07)
Kevin Fox (’04) made a huge impact on my life. We first met when he was my RA in my first year at Christendom. I enjoyed the privilege of “flying under the radar” as one of the only freshmen living in an all-seniors dorm. We reconnected years later after we had both gotten married and had several kids. At the time, I was scouting around for my next career move and Kevin offered helpful advice not just about jobs but about being a Catholic father and husband. Kevin invited me to join a local Catholic men’s group that met for bonfires once a month. Thanks to this connection, I was able to make friends with Greg Settducati and several other alumni and other Catholic men seeking to improve has husbands and fathers. The guys in this group gave me a lot of much-needed guidance as well as a prayer network through which to support each other’s families. I’m very grateful for the difference Kevin made and continues to make in my life!
Isabella Reilly (‘20)
The drive back from the Christendom Graduate school (in Alexandria) to Front Royal can be painfully long, especially at night after a two-hour theology class. My brain was usually fried, and I was almost always starving and exhausted. Fortunately for me, alumnae Lily Mann, Cabrina Gorges, and Riley Lane, all Class of 2020, had a warm and welcoming home right off 66. Every Thursday (the same day as my class), Lily, Cabrina, and Riley hosted a “Family Dinner Night”
with several other alumni and had extended an open invitation for me to stop by after class. I would come exhausted and hungry to their door and they would give me lots of delicious food and good laughs before sending me on my way home. I am so grateful for their hospitality!
Niall O’Donnell (’03)
I landed in Rome in the Fall of 2003, a newly-minted Christendom alumnus ready to take on graduate studies in the Eternal City. I quickly learned that life in a city, even as beautiful and spiritually rich as Rome, could be very lonely. Step in Alphonse Pinto (Class of 2000). Alphonse, who was also pursuing a graduate degree, became a great friend and mentor. He hosted myself and many friends countless times for wonderful feasts, expanding our horizons culinarily and theologically every time. His dedication to the Church and the saints made a big impact on me. After three years of wonderful adventures—from making hilarious music videos to navigating the darker streets of Rome, from exploring Italy’s lake towns and hill countries to meeting Pope St. John Paul II—I can say with certainty, that I would not have survived nor had such a rich Roman experience without Alphonse’s friendship and guidance. Thank you, Alphonse!
Vince Criste (’98)
As part of a new year’s resolution, I decided to “grab the bull by the horns” and attack the paperwork clutter on my home office desk. Five years ago, my father passed away and I received many cards, emails, and kind gestures from friends, parishioners, and alumni. It was with mixed emotions that I unearthed the particular “pile” of sympathy cards from that time and read the thoughtfulness of so many good souls. As I reached the bottom of the stack, I came across a very nice card that, to my profound joy, indicated that indeed 30 days of Masses were being offered for the repose of the soul of my dad. Who sent that card and arranged for these Masses? None other than (the late) Brendan and Susan McGuire (’03). Thank you, Brendan and Susan … what a wonderful act of charity for my father and a deeply meaningful gift you gave to me and my extended family.
Johanna Burke (’19)
A beautiful thing about friendships between Christendom alumni is that they easily extend beyond the different Christendom “generations.” This has been the case with my dear friend Jess Schmitz (’15). My senior year I decided to participate in a spring break mission trip in Denver to work with the homeless, and when Mr. Brown opened up the mission trip program to alumni, Jess decided to attend, a testament to her generosity and heart for service. This mission trip was the start of our friendship, but certainly not the end. We reconnected after I graduated and became fast friends, and eventually became housemates too. She introduced me to many of her friends, welcomed me to her bible study, invited me to young adult events at our parish, and even got me involved with an ultimate frisbee league. Even though we never attended Christendom together, we still have Christendom to thank for our friendship and enjoy looking back at the similar experiences we shared
Zach Smith (’14)
During my first three years as a Christendom student, I can’t really say I did much at the college outside of spending time with my group of friends and studying. When it came to events and college life, I coasted through much of it without ever stopping to truly appreciate all the college had to offer. That all changed when Caitlin Bowers (’09) offered me a position on the Student Activities Council for my senior year. Thanks to Caitlin, who was Director of Student Activities at the time, I truly fell in love with Christendom for the first time. Even more than that, she was incredibly generous with her time, never failing to be there for a one-on-one conversation or for a helpful bit of advice. It was Caitlin that pushed me to work at Christendom after graduation. After I initially did not get a position, I applied for, I went off to work at Disney, but Caitlin kept in touch, again with the encouragement. When I eventually did return to Christendom to work in the Marketing Department, it was Caitlin who made sure to congratulate me and welcome me back first. I can safely say that, thanks to her, I not only fell in love with my alma mater, but I was also able to give back to it in a way I never anticipated. Thank you, Caitlin!
Lily Mann (‘20)
2020 came, the pandemic hit, and praise God the Class of ‘20 still graduated. Then we had to make our way into the crazy society of the post-Christendom world. Thankfully, none of us were alone: we had a long legacy of Christendom graduates to help us make our way. Most memorable to my journey so far have been Cabrina Gorges, Isabella Reilly, Riley and Josh Lane, and Tom Anderson, all of whom graduated from Christendom in the last few years. This group of alumni has given me a sense of normalcy in a trying year as well as the intellectual stimulation that helped us thrive at Christendom. Through our strengthening friendships, our support of each other, and our common commitment to live out the mission of Christendom to restore all things in Christ, I have come to realize that a Christendom alum is never alone because we are always part of the Christendom community that is a true family.
Cabrina Gorges (‘20)
Starting out on your own after graduation isn’t easy to begin with. Try starting out during a pandemic when no events are going on and people are afraid to meet. I’ve been so blessed by Christendom alumni of different classes. Moving from Oklahoma to NOVA has been an adjustment but friends from the Classes of 2020 and of 2018 have been so helpful in helping me get involved in the community. In a situation where few events are going on, I’ve seen many Christendom alumni pull together to help each other branch out into new circles and communities. I will be forever grateful for the support and friendship shown by my Christendom family. It’s a great reminder that we never truly start out on our own.
Henry Love (‘19)
In my first year as a missionary on a state school, it was very daunting to be on a college campus with little faith and almost no families at all. But there was one family who was always at daily mass and always willing to invite me over to help me adjust to the area. It was Karl and Melanie Haislmaier (’11/’12) with their two boys, Joe and Thomas. It was such a source of joy for me to have at least one growing family around in a world where no students wanted to even consider starting a family yet. They were an incredible influence not only on me, but on the students here as well. I wish I could’ve been here for more than just a year with them!
Catherine Marra McGrath (’12)
I owe everything to two Christendom alumni. When I was hungry, they fed me, When I was naked, they clothed me. They taught me my catechism (O’Herron style, class notes intact in a notebook), how to tie my shoes, hold a hockey stick, pull up crab grass in the yard. They gave me 10 other siblings to play with and raised us as staunch Catholics in one of the most liberal dioceses in the country. They let 7 of us (so far) borrow family cars to attend Christendom in our turn. Thank you Dave Marra (’88) and Joan Gallagher Marra (’89) for Making a Difference, giving me the gift of life, and supporting me in my decision to attend your alma mater. (P.S. I’m really sorry we kids destroyed your cassette tape recordings of Dr Warren Carroll’s lectures, but we hadn’t yet reached the age of reason.)
Sequoia Sierra (’12)
I never quite had a community like I did until Christendom, and haven’t found another like it since! That’s how special and impactful a place Christendom is. But despite being in CA, far from most of my Christendom friends, I still feel their love and support. We keep in contact, visit each other, and it amazes me how supportive all of them are of my endeavors even when I haven’t seen them in a while, or if they are alumni from a different time, even from a long time before me! And yet, if you are a Christendom Alumni, they’re there for you, and an instant friendship and bond is there, because we know what we’re about, what life is about, and we’re there to encourage and help each other to “Restore all things in Christ.”
Elizabeth Wallace (’05)
I am grateful to Christendom for giving me my husband, David! Also eternally grateful for the friendships it gave me! 20 years after meeting as freshman, a group of us still connect every couple months over a meal. The beauty of these friendships, women truly supporting each other on their vocations is truly priceless.
Sydney Dominguez (’18)
During my senior year at Christendom, someone off-handedly mentioned that Mrs. Krebs was leading a group of students to teach Confirmation classes at Randolph-Macon Academy, a local military boarding school. “That’d be fun,” I thought, noting it down. Fast forward a year later, when we had just finished teaching our second class of students. The students, mostly exchange students from Africa, had just finished their final exams before meetings with the bishop. All year, I’d been worried, “What if I’m just talking and they’re not listening?” Mickey finished up the exam, and came into the hallway beaming, “Sydney, they know so much!” We were both ecstatic–every Tuesday night had paid off. A few weeks later, their families traveled to the U.S. for the Confirmation Mass. Hands down, this experience was the best experience I had at Christendom.
Lisa (Foos) Ruf (’19)
Gemma (Youngman) Sheedy ‘19 has been a great comfort for me while my 7 month old, Athanasius, has been in the hospital with cancer. Her son was born very early and she knows what months in the hospital looks like so she can empathize with me and encourage me in a way that not many others can, even if she was in a different situation than I am. She knows what a hassle insurance can be, what to advocate for yourself, and what to let the doctors handle. I am so grateful to have Gemma as a friend while I am going through this difficult time.
Mary has been positively impacted by her alumni friends. She keeps in contact with them and appreciates how fellow Christendom alumni uplift and encourage her in the life of virtue. She has also been positively impacted by all of the alumni professors she had while she was a student. Mary remembers every class she took, and continues to benefit from the Christendom education and practical wisdom of her professors every day.
Pat Pennefather was positively impacted by fellow alumnus Jeremy Minnick last year. When Pat was struggling financially due to COVID, Jeremy helped him get an interview at SmartRoof, providing a good recommendation and a foot in the door when Pat needed it most.
Alberta (Stephens) Kuhlman
Mrs. Kuhlman told a story about how she once was listening to her son, some of his friends, and the pastor at the time. She marveled in the beauty of the stories they were discussing. The wealth of information they exchanged was impressive and she loved to listen to any topic they had under the sun. She was able to see how at Christendom, the friendships formed are founded on God and help people strive for holiness together. This is a unique type of friendship; different from what one can find at most colleges, and Mrs. Kuhlman admires that about Christendom.
Mr. Cole told the story of how he ended up at Christendom, as his attendance was made possible by the efforts and generosity of many alumni. Mr. Cole called Christendom to learn more about the school, never intending to attend, but was struck by the kindness of the student on the other line. She put him in touch with some alumni, and John Ciskanik in particular was instrumental in getting him to come to Christendom. When Mr. Cole visited campus, Matt Cameron had a big impact on him. Matt gave him a ride to the airport and commented on what he thought was the biggest takeaway of the college, “Know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” He thought this summed up his visit and impression of the college perfectly.
Bernadette Horiuchi (’11)
Everyone experiences times of joy, tragedy, suffering, happiness, and laughter, but those times, those memories, are always better shared with bosom friends. I cannot imagine my life without my dear friends and classmates from my four years at Christendom, Each in his or her own, very different way, assisted my growth into the woman I am today. I love that ten years down the road, we can still get together and it is as if though time has not passed; we can pick up where we left off in life. We can continue to encourage each other in this, our temporary home. My path to heaven, God-willing, is richer and more abundant for having encountered such beautiful flowers along the way.
Doug Briggs (’84)
Alumni impact on my life? Literally, Frank O’Reilly had an impact on my face with the palm of his hand one evening our Sophomore year, teaching me in the process a good lesson in Generosity – one of many lessons in that virtue (albeit not so literally impactful) for which I will always owe a profound debt of gratitude. Briefly, he was asking a simple but very desirable favor, and I demurred for no good reason. Repeatedly protesting my cheap sadness at being unable to help him out, I soon enough received a sharp one on the cheek – a bracing assurance that I had just failed a very simple test in fraternal generosity. I’d like to think the lesson wasn’t lost on me; in the ensuing forty years, I have had ample opportunities to witness – often on the receiving end – and hopefully emulate the virtue in Frank himself.
Mary (Harrington) Norris (’11)
So many good Christendom alumni have influenced my life, it is hard to pick. However, here are two anecdotes you can share for Giving Day.
I have not only known the late Dr Brendan McGuire as a teacher and mentor , but after graduation he and his wife Susan ended up becoming two of my greatest friends. I saw this especially when they made the trip to come to my wedding in IL. In midst of the wedding stress and dealing with last minute cancellations, knowing that the McGuires were going to be part of my special day meant the world to me. It is a memory I will always treasure.
Anne Bukowski has been another Christendom graduate who has proved to be a faithful friend. After I graduated, Anne and I were both teaching together, and one day I asked for prayers in dealing with some difficulties. Not only did Anne promise prayers, but she came and checked in on me the next day after my class. We have been friends ever since.
(Anonymous) is continually inspired by her children and their friends who are alumni of the College. Her son is the principal of a small Catholic grammar school, living out the mission and heart of Christendom through his career. She also knows an alumnus who is a priest.
(Anonymous) graduated from Christendom in 2011. One of her friends and fellow alumna Sister Maria Josephia Anton continues to inspire her today. When Sister Maria was speaking of the loss of access to the sacraments that so many Catholics experienced last year, she encouraged this alumna and others to “take some time to visit with Him in the parlor of your heart.” Thanks to Sister Maria’s words, (anonymous) was encouraged and better appreciates the quiet wisdom of her religious vocation.
(Anonymous) is continually impacted by the friendships she made while at Christendom. She still keeps up with several of her fellow alumni. She appreciates how Christendom alumni are able to form meaningful relationships with other people; it is reminiscent of the unique community life they all experienced at Christendom.
(Anonymous) was impacted by Dr. McGuire while she was a student at Christendom. When faced with academic struggles as a freshman, Dr. McGuire encouraged her and helped her excel not only academically, but in other areas of her life as well. This alumna credits her success at Christendom to Dr. McGuire’s influence; she even became a history teacher upon graduating and hopes to one day be as good a teacher as he was.