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Warren H. Carroll, R.I.P.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 18, 2011

An old friend and mentor died yesterday, Warren H. Carroll, the founder of Christendom College, a four-year Catholic liberal arts college noted for its faithfulness to the Magisterium, located in Front Royal, Virginia. The College’s obituary provides an excellent survey of Carroll’s life and accomplishments; here I’ll provide a more personal view.

When Warren Carroll founded Christendom in the late 1970’s, Catholic higher education was dominated by Modernism and secularism. His vision for what was then a new kind of Catholic college was as courageous as it was unique, and the establishment, early development and stabilization of Christendom College was an almost unthinkable achievement. Today, Christendom proudly bears his original stamp, and continues to mold students in the tradition he initiated. Among other things, the faculty there must take an oath of fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, both historically and as exercised by the current pope.

I was privileged to labor with him—in a decidedly subordinate role—in the founding of the College. I left Christendom in the same year he resigned as President, but Warren continued to keep the College on track behind the scenes for a number of years after this, and he served as the Chair of the Department of History until 2002. Unfortunately, the period of Carroll’s presidency and guidance, beginning with the College’s opening with just 26 students in 1977, was marked by deep and inevitable conflicts, especially given the governance structures required by the State and by accrediting agencies so that a college can grant degrees.

In a nutshell, among the faculty, the administration, the board of directors of the Christendom Educational Corporation, and the board of trustees of the College itself, we had a wide variety of personalities, each with different levers of power, all striving to make the fledgling college into the best possible expression of Catholic education—but with differing ideas of what was “best”. The result was a tremendous potential for muddying Warren Carroll’s clear and uncompromising Catholic vision, and the subsequent maneuvering caused even the inevitable financial problems to pale into insignificance. I used to joke (ruefully) that 50% of our time was spent protecting the founder’s specific vision from attack. I know first hand the suffering, fatigue and intense psychological stress Warren suffered during these years.

But these challenges and conflicts were an important measure of Warren Carroll’s determination and ability. It would be both churlish and foolish to rehash the early controversies now, as if one group was good and another evil. No, with the passage of years it has become ever clearer that all involved were attempting to do what was best for the College. But we are fallen, and conflict arises necessarily out of our flawed perceptions. I regret my own weaknesses and factionalism in those days, and I presume others feel the same way. Yet it took unshakable faith, great personal strength, and tremendous tactical ability to guide the College through these years, when destruction was so frequently imminent. Warren Carroll embodied that faith, that strength and, indeed, that tactical ability. The essential vision was Warren’s, and he understood more clearly than anyone which proposals, developments and compromises were consistent with that vision, and which ones could ultimately jeopardize Christendom’s unique commitment to the Truth.

I am convinced that his ultimate success was possible only because of his profound humility. I have never met a man with so much ability yet so little concern for his own status, or for how he was treated by others. Warren Carroll was single-minded in his implementation of his vision of a Catholic college which would remain firmly rooted in the Faith long after he was gone, and which would form a cadre of leaders for the Church, in every walk of life, with fruitful extensions in outstanding Catholic marriages and priestly and religious vocations. The results, some 26 years after his retirement from the helm, speak for themselves. Among the graduates from this young and close-knit college, which now houses about 400 students, there are already 300 alumna-to-alumnus marriages (with thousands of children in strong Catholic families), 63 priests, and 43 religious.

To say that I was profoundly influenced by the great man who set this in motion is a very large understatement. Financially and politically Warren Carroll travelled a long, hard road, never faltering and never losing sight of God’s will. After those eight years serving at his side, I could no more turn my back on Catholic apostolic work than I could cease to breathe. My wife has had a somewhat similar experience teaching under Warren’s wife, Anne Westhoff Carroll, at Seton School, the high school she founded shortly before Warren founded Christendom. As a couple, Warren and Anne were as unmatched in devotion to the Church and to Catholic education as they were unrivaled in fruitfulness in the lives of their students and faculty, in all things both virtuous and self-effacing. But it is Warren who has been called home; Anne’s work is not yet done.

Beginning early in the new millennium, Warren suffered from a series of strokes which progressively robbed him of mobility and ultimately of the power of speech, though his mind remained clear. He continued occasional lectures at Christendom, as well as working on his outstanding historical writings, for as long as he was able. Some have criticized those writings for describing historical developments too much in terms of dramatic action by heroes and villains. But all of his work is characterized by a profound Catholic insight, and I doubt he ever wrote a dull historical account. If you take up any one of his histories, you are unlikely to put it down. It remains possible, and is certainly richly rewarding, to get to know Warren even now through his books.

Which brings me to this: Warren Carroll was one of the heroes. May he rest in peace, as I firmly believe he will.

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mclom2107 - Jul. 21, 2011 10:10 AM ET USA

    Carroll's humility was touching. Years ago, before I learned of his status, I wrote to thank him for writing "The Last Crusade". It consoled & helped me to understand why Franco and the Church have been so villified for the events during and after the Spanish Civil War. I sent him a cheque for $10, all I could affford, because I've always assumed most authors need help! I received a charming handwritten response saying he'd given it to charity as he was OK financially.

  • Posted by: gcreel5531 - Jul. 19, 2011 5:30 PM ET USA

    He was a superb writer of history of Christianity. I still remember his unapologetic note at the beginning of Vol 1 "Founding of Christendom" that "This history is written by a Catholic, from the Catholic perspective..." His other books are eminently readable. For example, his book about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War straightened out for me a lot of the misinformation I had been fed as a youngster. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Jul. 19, 2011 10:00 AM ET USA

    May he rest in peace! I haven't read his books only due to lack of time, but someday I plan to.

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Jul. 18, 2011 9:04 PM ET USA

    My daughter goes to Christendom College, and simply loves it! She is getting a first rate education by first rate professors. There are more rules there than at most colleges: and the students there do not need them. However, if the rules were NOT there, a different set of students would be there and the rules would be needed--and even then they would not be enough. RIP

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 18, 2011 7:02 PM ET USA

    Thank you for the insights. There was no greater influence on my outlook on life than the histories of Dr. Carroll. His history of the Communist Revolution was particularly influential, and his penetrating narrative made a lasting impact on me. Each day is to be lived to the fullest with deep appreciation for the gifts God has given us, even those so fundamental that they are often overlooked. I thank God that I was afforded the opportunity to be among his appreciative students at Christendom.

  • Posted by: jmoore20082145 - Jul. 18, 2011 6:15 PM ET USA

    I am sorry to hear of Mr. Carroll's death. I have all five of the published volumes of his History of Christendom (and read each twice, so far) and still hoped to see the sixth volume published. May he rest in peace.

  • Posted by: jjen009 - Jul. 18, 2011 6:09 PM ET USA

    So that means - sob! - that volume 6 of his history of Christendom series will never be finished! I have been waiting and hoping against hope... jj

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