Christendom College summer program explores Church in Ireland

Front Royal, Va., Apr 6, 2013 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- Christendom College has announced a new program in Ireland that will be launched this summer to offer students a deeper understanding of Western Christianity and the role of Ireland in particular.

College president and institute director Dr. Timothy O’Donnell explained to CNA that “the idea was to bring American and Irish students together, basically to study, to pray, and to have a great time together.”

He noted that the Church in both countries has faced difficulties in recent years.

The St. Columcille Institute will be a three-week program at Ards Friary in County Donegal in northwest Ireland.

The academic core of the institute will feature classes in theology, history and literature, exploring Western Christian civilization in order to re-invigorate the faith of young students.

“We want this to be part of the New Evangelization,” said O’Donnell, adding that the academic program aims to represent Church teachings with “enthusiasm” and “intensity.”

One of the cornerstones of the program will be an apologetics course taught by O’Donnell that will “meet kids where they’re at.” The course will help students learn the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, as well as how to handle many common intellectual and personal challenges to the Church’s teachings.

Students will also engage in a course on the spread of Christianity in Europe, with an emphasis on the role of Irish Catholics. Of particular emphasis will be the namesake of the institute, St. Columcille – also known as St. Columba – who helped spread the faith to much of the British Isles and some of mainland Europe during the 500s.

O’Donnell noted that this time period was also a “New Evangelization,” in that Christianity inspired the peoples of Europe, and he voiced hope that the study of this important moment in history would enrich both Irish and American students.

Finally, Christendom will bring one of its classes on short stories to Ireland, hoping to “raise questions about faith, about life.” The class will place an emphasis on Irish authors, among the other great works and stories discussed in the seminar.

O’Donnell also mentioned that the institute will offer an opportunity to bring “American and Irish students together” to enhance one another’s faith through shared experience and learning from one another’s perspectives.

The institute’s location will help to enhance the lessons learned in the classroom, he said, explaining that the area surrounding the friary still has “this very strong Catholic Culture there.” Students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture, which still features Gaelic greetings referencing God and Mary and a strong devotional culture.

In addition, the surrounding area is “strikingly beautiful,” close to the sea and surrounded by greenery. 

“You feel very close to God,” said O’Donnell, “and it’s very easy to pray there.”

Students will be able to receive spiritual guidance from Fr. Mark Byrne, SOLT, chaplain at Christendom College and a native of Ireland. Spiritual formation at the institute will include Mass, Eucharistic adoration, regular confession and the communal recitation of the Rosary and Divine Office.

There will also be opportunities for trips along medieval pilgrimage routes as well as to the National Marian Shrine at Knock and to Dublin.

Already, the program has “been very very popular,” O’Donnell explained, and more than 25 students have signed up since the program was announced on March 27.

Enrollment is open not only to Christendom students, but also students from other colleges and “anyone who would like to learn more about the faith.”

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