The Catholic University of America

CUA President Addresses U.S. Bishops in Baltimore

Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president
Baltimore, Md.
Nov. 16, 2009

Thank you all for your warm welcome and good afternoon. I am very grateful, Cardinal George, for your affording me this opportunity, once again, to address the full body of bishops of the United States at your annual meeting. This is the last time I will have this honor since I am leaving The Catholic University of America at the end of summer, completing my 12th year as president.

I have been reflecting in the past few days about what I would like to say to you as I wrap up my tenure. The first and most important thing, in fact the only thing is gratitude. Gratitude to you, our bishops, and to the generous people of your archdioceses, dioceses and eparchies for their response to the national collection held annually for The Catholic University of America. Over the past 12 years, your efforts have resulted in a total of over $63 million received for scholarship assistance and financial aid to thousands of our students from all over the country. Last year's national collection totaled almost $6 million. The university's annual financial aid disbursement from its own budget is $33 million each year so you can see how critically important the collection is to us. Since Pope Leo XIII first asked the bishops to support The Catholic University of America, over $230 million dollars has been raised for student financial aid from Catholics in the United States.

In the name of the university, I also wish to express gratitude to those cardinals, archbishops and bishops who serve the university on its Board of Trustees, one-half of a Board of 50 people. So many of you have accepted terms on the Board over the years and have served so generously. For the past eight years, Bishop William Lori has served as Board chair and this past June, Archbishop Allen Vigneron began his first term in that position. Board participation is an important service and all of us at Catholic University are in your debt.

Of the current membership of the USCCB, one-third of those sitting in this room today are alumni and graduates of The Catholic University of America. Support, governance and the episcopal alumni connection - these are just some of the ways that the expression "the bishops' university" has a meaning that is unique and special to The Catholic University of America.

Please forgive me for making comparisons but they are important in demonstrating the progress we have made over these years.

Although identified as the national university of the Catholic Church in our country at its foundation and throughout its history, it is no secret that Catholic University struggled with its identity at times in the not too distant past and that these struggles resulted in a certain alienation from you - the bishops who sponsor the university - for many years. I think the greatest progress that the university has made in the past 12 years is in the area of Catholic identity and its clear, public and unapologetic expression resulting in the re-engagement of the bishops in the life and work of their university. With their renewed commitment came the renewed commitment of the Catholic faithful in their jurisdictions. If there is only one accomplishment that I could point to that fills me with the greatest sense pride and satisfaction, it is that. When he was on our campus almost two years, Pope Benedict XVI said to me in the presence of our Chancellor Archbishop Wuerl, that CU has become one of the truly great Catholic universities and that "the Church is grateful."

At my installation 12 years ago this Thursday (Nov. 19), I challenged The Catholic University of America community to do everything possible to live up to our privileged name. Focusing attention clearly on who and what we are would yield more students, more support and more recognition among our peers, I said in my inaugural address. I believed it then and it has proved true, with three of the past four years having the largest entering classes in history, each year better than the one before. This year, our numbers are only slightly down from our first year projection due to the economy. The university has, however, witnessed an increase in graduate and doctoral students. Our total enrollment hovers around 7,000, with our total undergraduate population now a bit larger than the graduate. Clarity of identity and a strong sense of purpose have raised the university's profile and have drawn students and faculty to the campus.

The life of faith has grown stronger and much more visible due to our incredibly effective campus ministry in these years. Vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are now reported every year thanks to our discernment groups. Our seminary, Theological College, is doing very well and offering very good formation along with the university's theological preparation. Our ecclesiastical faculties are strong, among the best anywhere in the fields of philosophy, theology and canon law. We have recruited incredibly talented faculty in these areas, very good signs for the present and the future of CUA as the Church's national university. The progress that we are seeing is part of a continuing positive momentum.

And there is peace on the campus. There is a renewed sense of purpose and commitment, a renewed sense of service and, I would say, a spirit of joy that has replaced much of the antagonism, cynicism and unreflective criticism I found when I first arrived at the university 12 years ago. Please don't get me wrong. It is not all "sweetness and delight" every day. There are disagreements to be sure but folks are not disagreeable. People realize that you can accomplish so much more when there is "peace in the land."

Our finances are stable and secure, thanks to good management. The administration is the strongest it has ever been and we have increased the ranks of the faculty with exceptional scholars from the best universities in the world. This has enabled us, again, to raise our profile and to compete effectively with peer institutions, secular as well as Catholic. During the past several years, we have sponsored some excellent symposia for the Church: this year, "On the Priesthood;" last year "On St. Paul;" the year before that, at the request of then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004, "On the Natural Moral Law."

Our endowment reached an historic high of $224 million before the economic downturn, an increase of over $110 million since my work began at the university. During these same years, over $180 million has been raised in charitable support through our fundraising. Over $187 million has been awarded in external research grant funding, including a $36 million grant last month from the Department of Energy with more to come. More than 15 buildings have been renovated, including the library and athletic fields; three residence halls constructed; 49 acres of new property have been added; technology has been substantially upgraded, including the addition of over 50 smart classrooms and the university's first strategic plans have been developed. And the list continues.

I mention these things to you today because The Catholic University of America belongs to you, the bishops of our nation, and through you, to all the Catholics of our country. CUA is not the largest Catholic university; it is not the most famous or often regarded in the popular mind as the premier Catholic university; it is not the wealthiest by any means nor the most substantially endowed. But it is the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, unique in its origins and in its continuity as the only Catholic university sponsored by the national hierarchy. I mention these things to you today because The Catholic University of America has enjoyed genuine success over the last 12 years, thanks to the efforts of many people, including you, our bishops and sponsors. It is my hope and prayer that you will continue to embrace, support and be proud of "the bishops' university" in our country. And I thank you for the privilege of serving the university and you as its president for these past 12 years.

Goodbye and God bless you all.