How Augustine College U.S. Started in Blacksburg: April 16, 2007

There will be more than one series of topics in this blog, and the theme for this one is: How will the story end?

That is, is it possible to start a 2nd Augustine College here in Blacksburg, Virginia, a town of 43,000 souls, about half of them students at Virginia Tech?

Is it possible to start a college without a huge endowment?

Is it possible to reboot the entire concept of “college” –or, to change the metaphor, regenerate college from its healthy and Christian roots?

Our story so far has had a lot of shifts and turns, dead-ends and races to milestones.  Whether we open or not in Fall 2019 is, at this writing, an open question.

But the beginning of this hope-filled enterprise may be traced, strangely enough, to the worst day in Blacksburg’s history.

It was April 16, but it was freezing cold in Blacksburg, with snow flurries racing in the wind.  Dr. Ty Hopkins was at home in Christiansburg, a few miles from the Virginia Tech campus.  That morning, news of the shootings began to dominate the Web, radio and television.  At the time, no one knew what was really going on, how many shooters there were, or when it was going to end.  But the death toll kept rising.  The sense of danger in the air was not going away.

Ty and his wife, Joi, left home and went to her mother’s house.  It was a farmhouse set high on a hill and on the other side of Blacksburg.   “More family came in,” Ty says, “phone calls were made, we heard from people we knew on campus. The building where the shootings happened was occupied by people in Joi’s father’s department.”  A mechanical engineer, Dennis Jaasma had retired from VT, so they were checking on friends.

No family friends had been shot.  But they soon found out that two student victims attended Ty and Joi’s church at that time, Blacksburg Christian Fellowship.

As the news was trickling in, Ty’s overall feeling was despair.  The killings came on the tail of two other murders in Blacksburg the year before.  Ty recalls thinking, “How could things be this bad? How could evil be taking hold like this?”

In the ensuing days, “it seemed like everyone in town knew somebody who was shot or knew somebody who did.”

VT closed, public schools closed, businesses closed. “It felt like the town ground to a halt,” Ty says.  “All of a sudden, there’s a week of nobody doing their normal routine.  And it’s as if there is this huge question mark written on everybody’s chest.  People really felt confronted by the problem of evil.  People said to me ‘How could there be a God that would allow something like this?’”

The day after the shootings, Ty was with some medical students in his living room, discussing the problem of evil.  In previous months they had been listening to talks by Dr. John Patrick, president of Augustine College in Ottawa, Canada, and someone who had a huge impact on Ty.  One of the students suggested, “Why not ask him to come here now?”

Next: Who is John Patrick?