A visit to the rural Catholic college that has 171 students, 12 horses and zero textbooks

It is not easy to get to Wyoming Catholic College. And once you are there, it is not easy to get elsewhere. Located in Lander, a town of roughly 7,500 in the foothills of the Wind River Mountain Range, the closest Target is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, and you will have to cross into Colorado to get to Costco. Walmart is only 35 minutes away, in Riverton, Wyo., along with the closest airport, where I was scheduled to land at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday in February.

But I am flying out of Newark Liberty International, which means my flight is delayed by two hours because of cloud cover over the New York metropolitan area. I miss my connection from Denver to Riverton, and the next available flight is not until Thursday afternoon. My best chance at arriving sooner is to spend the night at the AmericInn airport hotel and drive to the college first thing in the morning.

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I start the six-hour trip before sunrise, easing into the moonlike landscape of winter in Wyoming at 80 miles per hour. The weather is blessedly calm, but gusts of wind sometimes cause long-ago-fallen snow to swirl upward from the road. This is where the Great Plains meet the Rockies, and while there are mountains in every direction (though I suspect only an East Coast native would call these relatively modest rock formations mountains), one never seems to gain elevation.

“It’s a bug,” Joseph Susanka, the college’s vice president for advancement, says of its remote location when I share my travel woes. “But it’s also a feature.”

The isolation, the raw landscape, the open sky—none of these are incidental to the education on offer at Wyoming Catholic College. They are a part of the curriculum.

They also make for a dramatic backdrop.

Two months before my trip to Lander, I sat in the back row for the sold-out final showing of “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” a play by Will Arbery about the recent graduates of a small Catholic college in Wyoming, one that in many ways resembles W.C.C. Mr. Arbery did not attend Wyoming Catholic, but his father, Glenn Arbery, became the school’s third president in 2016, and his mother, Virginia Arbery, is an associate professor of humanities at the college. The production unfolds in a dimly lit backyard, where four students debate faith, President Trump, abortion and other culture-war flashpoints.

The niche play inspired by an equally niche school was a surprise hit among New York theatergoers, and its nuanced portrayal of the oft-caricatured world of religious conservatism earned it praise from Catholics across the political spectrum. I wanted to find out what attracted real-life students to Wyoming Catholic College and its unique offerings in the world of Catholic higher education.

The Outdoors

The first class every student takes is an introduction to the Experiential Leadership Program, ELP 101. In the summer before the start of the new school year, freshmen take a wilderness first aid course, then embark on a 21-day backpacking trip in the Wyoming backcountry. Like most everything at W.C.C., the course is grounded in Western philosophy. “The term ‘gymnastic,’” the Philosophical Vision Statement of the college reads, “comes from the Greek gymnos, meaning ‘naked.’ Gymnastics, broadly speaking, refers to the naked or direct experience of reality.” Through their direct encounter with the grandeur of nature, the founders believed, students would grow in virtue.

Through their direct encounter with the grandeur of nature, the founders believed, students would grow in virtue.

The director of E.L.P., Thomas Zimmer, a former ski patrol, raft guide and rock climbing instructor with a Ph.D. in parks, recreation and tourism, explains to me how the four cardinal virtues play out in more practical terms once students are responsible for their own survival in the mountains.

Temperance: “You can’t just eat all the cheese today because if you do, you’re not gonna have cheese tomorrow.” Fortitude: “How many kids who are 18 years old have ever slept on a hard surface other than a bed? Not very many.” Prudence: “You’re in a real environment where there are grizzly bears, and if you make good decisions, you’ll never see one, and they won’t bother you. But if you don’t make good decisions, they could come into your camp.” Finally, he says, dividing up labor is a lesson in justice: “Why don’t you go purify the water? Don’t make a mistake, because I don’t want to have diarrhea. And I’ll go set up the tent because it’s starting to rain.”

Catherine Stypa, a senior from Tucson, Ariz., describes that 21-day trip as the best three weeks of her life, though the first few days, she says, were “incredibly challenging.” Your body is adjusting to the elevation gain and the weight of your pack, while the group is trying to accommodate various levels of backpacking experience.

“I had no idea how much of a challenge it would be in terms of patience and getting along with your group and [learning] how to become self-sufficient as a group,” she says. But, she adds, there is a steep growth curve. By day two, instructors are training students to be “leaders of the day”—mapping out a route, finding water sources. In week three, students who pass certain skills tests embark on independent travel.

Outdoors at WCC
Students make the trek to downtown Lander, Wyo., from W.C.C.'s Holy Rosary campus after Mass on Sunday morning. (Credit: Ashley McKinless)

Students continue their outdoor education all four years at W.C.C.: a week of winter camping after the first Christmas break; week-long hiking, rafting or rock-climbing excursions once a semester; and a required course in horsemanship. But it is the 21-day trip that forms the foundation of what will follow in and out of the classroom.

“There’s nothing more empowering than when those students can go backpacking in wolf country and grizzly bear country by themselves without an instructor,” Mr. Zimmer says. “And that allows them to know that [when they take] the final they’re going to have in humanities or Euclid or Latin, they’re going to be fine. Just like their 21-day trip, they have to put effort and energy and time into their training.”

Ms. Stypa agrees. “There are so many nights out there where you’re freezing or it’s raining, and your sleeping bag got wet and someone has a blister that needs to get taken care of. And it’s 11 p.m. and you’re supposed to get up at 6 a.m., and it’s just hard,” she says. “That toughness that it gives you sticks with you when you come back into the semester when you’re slammed by paper after paper.”

She also described a more subtle connection to the classroom. “You’re just thrust into the wilderness, into the mountains and these mountain lakes, snow and wildlife and lightning storms. It’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful,” she says. “And then we come back, and we study poetry, and we talk about ancient Greece and ancient Rome. And I think you really draw on your experience and fill your imagination as you’re reading the Great Books.”

The Classroom

Jason Baxter, an associate professor of fine arts and humanities, also finds a deep resonance between the freshmen expedition and the Great Books curriculum. “There’s something severely beautiful about ancient texts, which are not trying to accommodate us in any way,” he tells me over tea at Crux, the corner coffee shop staffed by students and frequented by faculty and local residents alike. “And there’s something fascinatingly analogous to the Wyoming landscape, which is severely beautiful but does not exist in order to accommodate human beings. Without railroads or now interstates, we would not be here.”

Despite its emphasis on the outdoors, most learning at W.C.C. does not take place in the backcountry or on a ranch, as I had assumed after driving several hours on I-80 and seeing more cows than cars. The college is made up of two modest campuses. Two academic buildings, the coffee shop, a dining hall and the outdoor program offices are in downtown Lander; while student dorms and the parish church are about a 20-minute walk away, past the end of Main Street.

“At least we can tell our kids we walked a mile in the snow both ways to get to school,” one student joked.

Students are not allowed to have cellphones at Wyoming Catholic College—and not just in the classroom.

I, too, can say I made a 20-minute trek, from the Holiday Inn at the other end of Main Street to the downtown campus several times in 5-to-10-degree weather over icy sidewalks. On my first day, I arrived just in time to join the students for lunch. On the menu: hamburgers made from cows owned by the college and a modest salad bar.

Putting down my plate at a table of sophomores, I hear a student say something about Kierkegaard. I step away to grab a Diet Pepsi, and by the time I return to the table they have moved on to Thomistic philosophy. I assume my guide has warned them that a journalist is present, and they are trying to sound smart. But my introduction is met with what seems to be mild bemusement that someone would fly from New York City to eat at Frassati Hall, and the conversation continues apace.

I cannot help but think back to my college years at the University of Virginia, from which I graduated in 2012. Our dining halls had, among other options, a stir-fry station, a pasta station, a sandwich station, an omelet bar and all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream. Most days I sat by myself while finishing up class readings on my laptop or scrolling through the news on my phone.

Students are not allowed to have cellphones at Wyoming Catholic College—and not just in the classroom. Each semester when they arrive on campus, they hand over their iPhones and Androids to the faculty prefects assigned to each dorm. (Students are permitted to check their phones out when they travel out of town.) Laptops are not permitted in class, though students have them to write papers. Internet access in dorms is limited to school email and approved websites needed for classwork. That does not include Netflix.

No one I talked to missed having a cellphone. If they are not engrossed in a book, students are constantly looking up, out and at each other. As a visitor to this screen-free sanctuary, I find myself taking out my phone to check email or Twitter or Instagram between classes or interviews, only to become extremely self-conscious and stuff it back in my coat pocket.

It is a feeling I will have frequently during my five days at W.C.C.: indicted, not because I am being personally judged but because the school is genuinely countercultural, and the culture they are countering is in many ways mine.

The technology policy and the outdoors program are the most concrete manifestations of what Mr. Baxter calls “a thirst for the authentic, for the raw, for the real” among the students and faculty of W.C.C.

In the classroom, this looks like direct engagement with the original texts that have shaped the Western and Christian world. The curriculum is inherited, not chosen. It starts with Homer, Plato and Aristotle, the Old and New Testaments, then proceeds through Augustine and Aquinas, the Reformation and Renaissance to the scientific revolution and the modern novel. All students take the same classes, following an integrated eight-track curriculum consisting of humanities, theology, philosophy, fine arts, math and science, trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric), Latin and experiential leadership. There are no majors or textbooks.

Virginia Arbery
Virginia Arbery, associate professor of humanities at W.C.C., in her office. (Credit: Ashley McKinless)

I ask Ms. Arbery if she worries about a lack of diversity of voices and experiences represented in the curriculum. During a conversation in her office that spills into brunch at The Middle Fork, where one of her former students waits tables, she tells me she is no stranger to the battles over representation in academia that have been raging since the ’70s.

She points to the strong role of female characters like Antigone in Greek classics, to Flannery O’Connor, whose stories are read by all seniors, and poems by Emily Dickinson memorized by every student. And she insists there is diversity of thought in the classroom: “You can’t have one opinion about a great work of literature.”

“Do we have a woman writer like Homer?” she asks, rhetorically. “Hell no. And there is no other man like Homer.”

“I am pretty feisty when it comes to women and the good ol’ boy network,” Ms. Arbery continues. “But, no, we’re not on the bandwagon for cutting up the Great Books for being male dominant.”

I sat in on Latin 102, taught by Eugene Hamilton, to see how one learns the language of many of these “dead white men,” as they are called by some in the academic discourse, without a textbook. It is an 8:30 a.m. Friday class, the sort I managed to avoid throughout my four years as an undergrad. Although a young man appeared to be sleeping on a couch in the back of the room when I arrived, by 8:31 the freshmen have recited the Pater Noster (Our Father) and are on their feet following orders from Mr. Hamilton, all in Latin. “Ambulas,” he says, and they walk around the room. “Legis,” and imaginary books appear in their hands. There is a word I don’t catch, and suddenly the 12 or so students are on the floor making snow angels.

There is a word I don’t catch, and suddenly the 12 or so students are on the floor making snow angels.

Later in the day, I sit in on SCI 402, a seminar that looks at evolution through the lenses of science, philosophy and theology. Nalgene water bottles with the names of mountain peaks and pro-life stickers dot the black desks as students discuss two different accounts—one from an atheist biologist, another inclined to intelligent design—of the Cambrian explosion and the implications for evolutionary theory. The course is co-taught by a scientist and a theologian, J. Scott Olsson and Jeffrey Holmes, respectively, and encapsulates well the aims of the integrated liberal arts curriculum.

“The idea of the liberal arts,” Mr. Holmes says, “is not to become an expert in a given area but to become able to judge what the experts are saying in all the different areas.” Far from pushing a fundamentalist interpretation of evolution or any other contentious subject, professors encourage students to read the texts for themselves and learn how to recognize a good philosophical or scientific argument. Doing so at times requires breaking down what he calls a “siege mentality” among students who see the world around them as out to undermine their faith. In the classroom, Mr. Holmes tries to create a space where students are willing “to entertain the notion that a bunch of atheistic scientists might actually have something good to say.”

“We’re going to discuss big ideas with the gloves off,” he tells me, “which is going to be really challenging. We’re going to discuss literature that isn’t Catholic—in the nude, so to speak. But at the same time, nobody here is going to finally doubt the church or challenge the pope’s authority.”

A Catholic Community

The school’s obedience to the magisterium of the church, among other factors, has secured it a spot on the Cardinal Newman Society’s list of recommended colleges, a well-known fact among the students. When I asked students how they came upon Wyoming Catholic College, I received one of two replies: “the Newman guide” or “my sibling.” Most of the students come from large families and many were homeschooled. Ryan Milligan, a freshman, is one of 14 children and the eighth in his family to attend the college. “There has basically been a Milligan here every year since the college started,” he tells me.

Glenn Arbery
Glenn Arbery, the college’s third president, at a school-wide celebration in honor of its patron, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. (Credit: Ashley McKinless)

I ask Glenn Arbery if he thinks it is helpful for the Cardinal Newman Society to label certain Catholic colleges as insufficiently faithful. He says he thinks that serves a purpose for parents looking for an authentic Catholic education for their children, but that I should talk to his wife.

Ms. Arbery previously served as the dean of admissions at the University of Dallas, University of St. Thomas in Houston and Thomas More College and has thought a lot about the right and wrong reasons to attend Wyoming Catholic College.

“They have to have spunk,” she says, describing the typical W.C.C. student. “We have to make sure that they’re not coming because it is a safe place that mom and dad have designated as one of the two or three places that are safe.”

She argues that, in fact, W.C.C. might be the opposite. “It’s not safe because once you’ve seen something noble and beautiful, you have to either measure up to it or you will feel quite shameful the rest of your life,” she says. “We don’t say, ‘When you get out of here, you’re going to get a great job; you’re going to make a lot of money.’ It’s a heroic education, and it’s not for wimps.”

I am struck by that word, heroic. In one scene from “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” the graduates debate the Benedict option, the idea, popularized by the writer Rod Dreher, that to survive in a culture increasingly hostile to traditional religious practice Christians must engage in a strategic withdrawal from public life.

I ask Ms. Arbery if she sees W.C.C. as a Benedict option college.

“I hope not,” she replies, with a laugh. “I love Rod, don’t get me wrong.” (The Arberys know Mr. Dreher from their time in Dallas.) “Maybe [it is] in this regard: the Benedict option understood as a place that, by forming young minds and souls in a well-established vibrant tradition, allows them to re-engage with the world in a fuller and more intelligent and loving way.”

But, she adds, “we’re not huddled down here waiting for Armageddon.”

Both Ms. Arbery and her husband acknowledge and worry that W.C.C. students are not particularly engaged in contemporary politics. You are much more likely to overhear students debating Plato’s Republic than the state of the country under President Trump.

You are much more likely to overhear students debating Plato’s Republic than the state of the country under President Trump.

Ms. Stypa says she finds the lack of political engagement frustrating. But she understands why, with only 24 hours in a day, students want to make the most of this “sacred time to study the Great Books and be in the wilderness…and take a monastic retreat from the world of politics.”

Kyle Washut, the acting academic dean, says “one of the constant worries” is that this type of “conservative Catholic college” could become a bubble for students. He thinks students at W.C.C. benefit from being embedded in the town of Lander and points to the eye-opening experience of week-long immersion trips to serve and be present to people living on the streets of Denver. Every Sunday, a group of students also goes to the Wind River Indian Reservation, which has high rates of domestic violence, suicide and drug abuse, to teach religious education. “They do a little bit of catechism,” Ms. Stypa tells me. Then they play basketball with the kids.

But no one denies that the college offers the sort of thick, traditional, Christian community prescribed in the Benedict option. On top of the technology policy, there is a dress code for class and liturgical events, a curfew, a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy and a prohibition on opposite-sex visitation in dorms—punishable by explusion. Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary form, eucharistic adoration and prayer groups are available (though not required) every day.

It can all sound deadly serious and pious, at least to this graduate of U.V.A., where the only required (or at least strongly encouraged) engagement with Homer is running, in the nude, so to speak, to his statue at the far end of Thomas Jefferson’s academical village and back to fulfill the right of passage known as “streaking the lawn.”

The students do, I am happy to report, have fun. On Friday morning, the seventh W.C.C. student of the Milligan family, Kevin, a junior, was already in the library at 8 a.m. and kind enough to give me directions to Latin class. Afterward, still in the library, he asked me if I was planning on going to Quis Quid that night. Having left my first and only Latin class early, I assumed this was some sort of knock-off of Quidditch, the Harry Potter-inspired game popular among a certain set on college campuses, and said I would be there.

Quis Quid, I learn, means “Who What” and is not a game played on brooms. According to the website, it is an annual battle “of wits and intelligence.” Mr. Milligan described it as “part Candy Land, part Latin class.” Neither quite captures the experience. The entire school is divided into three teams: cowboys, philosophers and poets. Each team marches into Frassati Hall in full costume—hats and vests for the cowboys and gals, togas for the philosophers and red-and-black outfits (meant to signify love and death) for the poets. A panel of professors sits at a long table in front of colored board-game squares taped to the floor and a volleyball-sized die. The faculty’s spouses and children, dozens of toddlers and teens, make up a raucous, highly mobile audience.

Quis Quid
Once a year, the cafeteria turns into life-sized board game for Quis Quid, a game of wisdom, wit and bribery. (Credit: Ashley McKinless)

One by one, the professors ask questions and hand out tasks to the teams, such as: “Recite a poem from the curriculum in the voice of Sean Connery”; “According to Aristotle, in what sense of before is one sense of before before another sense of before?”; and “Is bribery always and everywhere wrong?” This last question is especially challenging because part of the game is plying the judges with food and drink. Throughout the evening, students are constantly running in and out of the kitchen with bottles of wine and margaritas, homemade guacamole and spicy shrimp and, a young man in a toga tells me, the Vatican’s own recipe for raspberries and creme. (Full disclosure: As an audience member, I gladly accepted these edible bribes.) The poets, I am told, always win, and this year was no different.

It was as joyous and goofy and wholesome as it sounds. These are students from large, Catholic families, taught by professors who have large, Catholic families. It is good, and it is beautiful.

These are students from large, Catholic families, taught by professors who have large, Catholic families. It is good, and it is beautiful.

Still, as one who has learned hard truths mostly through mistakes, I could not help but think about the ones who may get lost along the way. Of course, students know what they are signing up for when they enroll. But “you don’t deprive someone of freedom by having rules,” Mr. Abery tells me. “They have the freedom to break the rules.” What happens when they do? Where do frailty, suffering and sin fit into all this?

Parker Eidle, a senior, started at Wyoming Catholic six years ago. As a freshman, he fell in love with Homer in Mr. Arbery’s humanities class and says he would stay up until 3 a.m. talking about the Iliad and Odyssey with his roommate. I attended his Senior Oration, a 30-minute capstone presentation required of all graduating students. His was titled “Faith of Our Father: Homer as Father of the West.” Though he at times played the class clown and had the audience on his side, it was also clear he was trying, almost desperately, to communicate something about Homer or God or himself that he could not quite put into words.

I ask what accounts for the two-year gap in his academic record. Mr. Eidle tells me he started drinking after things did not work out with a young woman he was dating his sophomore year. He was expelled.

I ask what it was like to be cut off from W.C.C. “I was really bitter at first,” he says. “I started resenting everything about the community, including anything to do with the faith. I stopped going to Mass.”

He worked for a year at an Amish construction company in Pennsylvania. He had some friends at the University of West Virginia, so he moved to Morgantown and worked in the school kitchen. When I ask him what brought him back to the school, Mr. Eidle gets quieter. “It’s a little melodramatic,” he warns, sheepishly. While working in Morgantown he was in a car accident with his girlfriend, who did not survive. In the hospital, barely able to speak, the first thing he said to his dad was the opening line of a poem he had read at school, “To an Athlete Dying Young.”

“I started thinking about that poem a lot more,” he says. “It made me realize there are so many poems in the curriculum that you can memorize but not really understand until you experience it.”

He re-applied to the college in 2018, was accepted and is set to graduate this spring. At a college-wide reception on Feb. 22 marking the feast of the school’s patron, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, Mr. Arbery gave a toast in honor of Mr. Eidle, calling him “the heart of the school, both in joy and in sorrow.”

•••

Three weeks after leaving Lander, I am in Washington, D.C., for the birth of my first niece when the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Across the country, Masses are canceled, store fronts are shuttered, and schools, colleges and universities send students home. I wonder how Wyoming Catholic College would adapt to the new reality of distance learning and virtual community. This is a school that does not allow laptops in the classroom, that eschews lectures and PowerPoints, that requires you to hop on the back of a horse once a week or spend a week canyoneering in Utah. How do you do that online?

Mass
Most students attend the 8 a.m. Traditional Latin Mass, celebrated by one of the college’s two chaplains, the Rev. Paul Ward, at Holy Rosary Church on Sunday. (Credit: Ashley McKinless)

“The genius of Wyoming Catholic College is its community,” Mr. Arbery told me over a video call on March 26, four days into the brave new world of Google classrooms and online discussion boards, about his concerns about the rest of the semester. Trying to recreate online the tight-knit, almost familial atmosphere of the school has been tough, he said. At that point, he had led “one and a half” classes over Zoom, with which he, along with the rest of the country, has become well acquainted. The “half” is because the internet at his house is spotty and cut off in the middle of the session. The students, however, “went on for another 45 minutes,” he says. “They’re pretty resourceful.”

The staff and faculty are as well. While not looking after his four home-bound children, Mr. Washut is trying to keep the W.C.C. community alive from his laundry room, the quietest space in his house. While the horsemanship and outdoor programs have been suspended, other courses and informal meet-ups are being held over a hodgepodge of online platforms.

He hosted his regular cor ad cor (heart-to-heart) meeting with the entire junior class via Zoom. Faculty prefects continue to have regular coffee dates with members of their dorms. The sophomores are keeping up their Lenten practice of reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis aloud over soup and bread on Fridays. A student started a handwritten letter campaign: If you receive a handwritten letter from a fellow student, you write back and send a handwritten letter to someone else at the school.

And while so much has moved online, the school’s technology policy is in some ways still being enforced—by students. “The main student complaints,” Mr. Washut says, “have been [about] the sort of disjunct, with me telling them, ‘Make sure you check your emails regularly and make sure you log in for these conversations,’ when they are used to me normally saying, ‘Distance yourself as much as possible from this [technology] and focus on real interactions.’... When they’re home, they just want to be present to the people around them, which seems to be a success of our technology policy.”

The school is seeking to balance “live” online classes with recordings of lectures and discussions that can be accessed by students on their own time.

To accommodate the diverse situations of students—whether that is taking care of five younger siblings or having to drive hours to get access to the internet or caring for grandparents who have been taken out of a nursing home—the school is seeking to balance “live” online classes with recordings of lectures and discussions that can be accessed by students on their own time.

“For some of them, it may look more like a written-correspondence course from decades ago than an online course,” Mr. Washut admits. “But we’re trying to work with them as we can.”

And because everything at W.C.C. eventually comes back to Homer, Mr. Washut has set up a Google classroom for movie-watch parties, group readings of Shakespeare and optional lectures, which they are calling “Alcinous,” after a banquet attended by Odysseus on his way home to Ithaca, where there is feasting and games and storytelling. Asked to give a toast, Mr. Washut tells me, Odysseus says, “This, in my mind, is something like perfection.”

The world at this moment feels very far from perfection. Government officials are having to make life-and-death decisions with limited data. Some workers feel they must choose between their livelihood and protecting their health and that of their community.

But on op-ed pages and in private conversations across the country, people are also talking with new urgency about the big questions: What is the value of a human life? How do we choose between two goods or, more often these days, two equally bad outcomes?

It is the focus on higher goods cultivated by the liberal arts and the Catholic faith that lead to the “heroic virtue that we hear about being manifested in the pandemic,” Mr. Washut tells me. “Spending time thinking about these questions and praying in the quiet of our hearts—it’s only when you have that commitment to preserving a space for that, that you’re going to be able to survive in a situation like the coronavirus.”


                                  FOUNDING AND FINANCES

Wyoming Catholic College was incorporated in 2005; its first class of 34 students matriculated in 2007; and in 2018 it received accreditation from the region’s Higher Learning Commission. With accreditation came the opportunity to access federal loans, but the college has decided to forgo the federal funding available through Title IV.

“If you accept federal funds, you accept the mandates that go along with federal funds,” says Glenn Arbery. “And if you’re not willing to accept what that might do to your religious liberty, then it seems like the thing to do is to reject them.” According to the website, the decision was made out of a desire to preserve “institutional integrity” in hiring and admissions practices, which “could be severely compromised by the regulatory power which accompanies the acceptance of federal funds.” All Catholic teachers are required to make a public profession of faith and an oath of fidelity to the magisterium, and non-Catholic faculty “promise never to publicly reject or defy the teachings of the Catholic Church or the Pope’s authority as head of the Church,” according to the college catalog.

The college offers work-study programs and need-based scholarships and encourages potential students to apply for outside grants. To date, the school has acted as its own loan servicer, allowing students to pay back loans from the college after graduation. Only three students have defaulted in the college’s history, but with little cash upfront to cover operating expenses, the arrangement meant W.C.C. was on precarious financial ground and dependent on the generosity of benefactors. Last year, however, the college reached an agreement with the Notre Dame Federal Credit Union (based in South Bend, Ind., though not affiliated with the university), which will take over the student loan program beginning in the 2020-21 academic year.

Today, there are 171 students from 41 states (along with two Canadian provinces and the Netherlands) at the college, which plans to max out enrollment at 400 in the next five to 10 years.

– Ashley McKinless

Correction: This piece has been updated to correct the name of the play, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” The description of the backyard scene has also been corrected.

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