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Christendom College senior and convert battles cancer

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Senior Meagan Montanari is no stranger to hardship. Neither is she a stranger to grace. Before attending Christendom College in Front Royal, Montanari had a spiritual conversion, leaving behind a life harrowed by addiction, drug use, homelessness and even jail time before coming to the church.Through the support of many mentors, the prayers of family members and God’s abundant grace, Montanari is now resolved to learn everything there is to learn about theology so she can teach the faith to others. But recently, Montanari was dealt a cross that threatened these plans -- malignant melanoma.

Heading into her senior year at Christendom, Montanari was more focused on her theological studies than ever. While working on her bachelor’s over the past three years, she simultaneously completed course work with the Christendom Graduate School to earn a master’s in theology. This May, she will graduate with her bachelor’s in theology, and after comprehensive exams this summer, she also will earn a master’s. Montanari hopes to earn a doctorate and one day teach theology at the collegiate level.

But before starting her senior year, Montanari discovered a mole on her forearm. Knowing that skin cancer runs in her family, Montanari visited the dermatologist. She soon learned that the mole was cancerous, and it was possible the cancer had spread.

Just one week before classes began this semester, Montanari had surgery to remove the mole and a significant amount of surrounding tissue. A lymph node biopsy revealed the cancer had not spread beyond her arm and was stage one, an answer to prayers. Yet, Montanari will need to monitor with regular skin checks since the  cancer could return through satellite melanoma cells -- a reality that has been hard for Montanari to process.

“It’s difficult with cancer. My whole perception of my life is different now. I know that one day it could come back and it could kill me,” said Montanari. “It was hard realizing this, especially when I thought I had so much more work to do for God. I had this conversion, I had gone to school and I believed God wanted me to do all these things, but then I thought that maybe my work was done. That was really sad, but I just had to accept it.

“It’s easy to conflate your desires and imaginations with what you think God’s will is, but ultimately, he’s in charge. His plans can be different than what you think.”

Throughout this trial, Montanari found solace in the support of the Christendom community. When head chaplain Father Marcus Pollard asked the entire student body, faculty and staff to pray for Montanari’s recovery, she received an outpouring of support.

Students and faculty members sent notes and emails to Montanari assuring her of their prayers. President Timothy O’Donnell sent Montanari a handwritten get well card. Lily Keats, the wife of literature professor Patrick Keats who passed away last year after a battle with cancer, helped Montanari through her operation. Brendan McGuire, who recently passed away from his own battle with cancer, told Montanari before he died that he would offer up his sufferings for her healing. Montanari even received an email from an alumna she had never met who encouraged her in her recovery. While this diagnosis has been a heavy cross to bear, Montanari has felt supported by her college community.

Montanari has remained as resolved as ever to continue her theological studies, even in the midst of her illness.

“I live for this. I live to go to school. I absolutely love it,” Montanari shared. “However much more time God gives me, I am going to spend it doing theology.”

Currently, Montanari is writing her senior thesis, studying for the graduate school entry exam, and will soon apply to graduate programs. After completing classes online last semester, Montanari is especially thankful to be back in the classroom. According to Montanari, “there is no place like Christendom,” and she is very thankful for her health and to be able to continue with her studies.

In the wake of her diagnosis, Montanari has found Christendom to be not just an excellent place to study the Catholic faith, but a caring community as well. Montanari’s life story beautifully demonstrates the power of grace, prayer and faith-filled supporters. No matter what God has in store for Montanari, she is sure to handle life’s trials with grace, trust and a supportive community at her side.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020