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It’s a Wonderful Life – George Bailey and Catholic Colleges

It’s a Wonderful Life – George Bailey and Catholic Colleges


To teach the Catholic Faith without government interference, since its founding by Warren Carroll, Christendom College has never accepted federal funding.

We all know Frank Capra’s beloved story of George Bailey as told in It’s a Wonderful Life. One frustrated old man, Mr. Potter, wants to take over the whole town of Bedford Falls and lead it in a bad direction.

But there’s just one thing standing in his way—the old Building and Loan, run by Peter Bailey, and then later by his son, George.

After misplacing a large sum of money, and fearing legal consequences that might lead to his imprisonment, George Bailey despairs and contemplates suicide. Clarence the angel steps in and shows George what life would be like if he had never existed.

And what a different world it was—a lack of charity toward others, excessive depression amongst the townspeople, immoral entertainment options, and a crude bar scene replete with religious skepticism.

But George Bailey was one man who made a difference. Through the institution that his father had founded, and that he later managed, George was able to give hope to the poor and lowly of Bedford Falls.

Because he did not take “Potter money,” he was able to offer the citizens of Bedford Falls a real, viable option if they wanted to succeed in life and not be overly burdened by the strings attached to “Potter money.”

And Potter hated George Bailey for it. In fact, since he saw George’s Building and Loan as a roadblock to his total domination over Bedford Falls, he tried to take it over by sweet talking George into giving it up. Among other things, Potter offered him ten times his annual salary and a high ranking position under him.

At first, George was really thinking about it. He wanted the money; it would have made his life so different and would have made many of his problems go away. But then he looked deep into the eyes of Potter, saw the truth of the situation, and emphatically rejected the offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter. In the…in the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

In 1965, the Omnibus Education Act made millions of dollars available to Catholic colleges in the United States.

In the decades that followed, many Catholic colleges and universities cited the need to qualify for federal funding as a reason to secularize their colleges and justify their rejection of ecclesiastical supervision. They wanted the money, so they had to change what they did. In short, they sold out to “Potter.”

But in 1977, one man stepped forward and founded a Catholic college that would be free from any federal funds so that it could be truly free to teach the Faith without interference or distraction. Historian Warren H. Carroll, like the fictional George Bailey, was one man who made a difference by founding Christendom College.

From its very beginning, Christendom College made a prudential decision never to accept federal funding. Christendom’s stance as the only fully accredited Catholic higher education institution not dependent on federal student aid means that it is free to teach the Catholic Faith without government interference.

The college’s decision has proven prophetic given the federal government’s current assault on religious freedom and its expanding use of funding conditions to promote policy preferences.

But, the college’s courageous stance means that it must rely on its generous donors to provide the financial support that students at other institutions receive from the federal government.

Every once in a while, when financial concerns come up at Christendom, the topic of whether we should start accepting federal funds is discussed.

The idea that we could receive millions of dollars each year from our students by way of federal loans or grants is very enticing. The extra money would allow us to do more than just go on some long trips to New York or buy some fancy clothes, as suggested by Potter.

But then reality sets in. We look at our many sister schools who were once fully Catholic and who were bastions of Catholic orthodoxy and fidelity.

Now we see the heretical teachings, the secularized student life policies, the hook-up and drug cultures that are thriving there, and the blatant disregard for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. And this is due, in a large part, to the fact that they take federal funds.

So we stand firm in our commitment to relying on the generosity of God, through our faithful donors, and over these past nearly 40 years, God has been very good to us, and has rewarded our faithfulness to Him by allowing us to prudently grow and prosper.

Today, many Catholic colleges and universities are having to look ahead to how they are going to deal with the many possible mandates that will be given to them—mandates that may even violate their religious rights, and run contrary to the Catholic Faith.

Parents who are seeking an authentic Catholic education for their children need to be aware that many Catholic colleges are now simply Catholic in name only, and are hotbeds of religious skepticism, immoral entertainment options, and crude bar and drinking scenes, with a depressed student body lacking in true love of God and neighbor. They are living in Pottersville.

And parents need to know that they have a choice. Christendom College, like the old Building and Loan, exists to give students the opportunity to thrive and to keep their dignity as young Catholics.

Since Christendom does not have to abide by the strings attached to federal money, families can be assured that what their children experience will be a fully Catholic liberal arts education, with a dedication to teaching what is True, Good, and Beautiful.

That, to me, sounds like a wonderful life.

Header photo © Liberty Films

About Tom McFadden

Tom McFadden
Tom McFadden holds a BA and MA in Theology and has worked at Christendom College since 2000, serving first as the Director of Admissions and most recently as the Vice President for Enrollment. He and his wife Amanda are the proud parents of eleven children.

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