The Catholic University of America

Remarks at the 117th Annual Meeting of The Knights of Columbus
Minneapolis, Minnesota
August 5, 1999

Worthy Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant, Worthy Supreme Chaplain Bishop Daily, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, and Brothers all.

I am deeply honored by the invitation to address you this morning. I am especially grateful to the Supreme Knight, Mr. Dechant, a member of the Board of trustees at The Catholic University of America, for providing me with the opportunity.

Yesterday, during the Supreme Knight's address and annual report, he spoke about the extensive works of the Order, including among them Catholic education. Last evening, in his keynote address, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza noted the support provided by the Knights for this work at The Catholic University of America --- support for which I, as President, am profoundly grateful. My brothers, it is from the perspective of gratitude that I share these few thoughts with you.

Almost from its inception, The Catholic University of America and the Knights of Columbus have enjoyed a marvelous and wonderful relationship. Around the turn of this century, when another rector with the name "O'Connell" presided over The Catholic University of America, the Knights of Columbus began to contribute scholarship funds to the university. This generosity, which continues to the present day, has enabled countless numbers of students --- children of the Knights among them --- to experience the benefits of a Catholic university education. The Knights of Columbus were --- if not the first then --- certainly among the first to contribute to the endowment of CUA. Today, at the end of the century and approaching the beginning of the next, this rector with the name "O'Connell" wishes to express how grateful our university and I are.

In more recent years, the Knights have contributed mightily to the construction of the newest building on our campus which houses The Columbus School of Law, a building that is the envy of many Catholic law schools across the nation. More than a building, The Columbus School of Law strives to share the spirit of so worthy a name. For this gift, I am grateful.

As late as last week, I received a beautiful letter --- and a beautiful enclosure of over $146 thousand --- again demonstrating the commitment of the Order to our institution and what it represents. I immediately expressed my gratitude in writing to our Supreme Knight for your continuing generous support. Today, I stand before you, gratefully.

When we at The Catholic University of America hear the name "Knights of Columbus" we are filled with gratitude for your involvement, for your sharing in our ministry of Catholic higher education. Without you, my brothers, that ministry and so many other works of charity would not be possible within our Church in the United States. Your name has become synonymous with commitment to the Church.

In these days you have, no doubt, read much in the Catholic and secular press about a document on Catholic universities entitled "Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the heart of the Church)." This beautiful constitution of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, published almost ten years ago, is a call to all Catholic universities and colleges to give life and expression once again to the meaning and mission and message of Catholic institutions of higher learning everywhere. You also know, as the media has presented them, recent discussions have been less than enthusiastic in implementing the Holy Father's vision here in the United States. There seems to be, sad to say, an organized resistance among some of the very institutions to whom the document is addressed to the process of implementation. I stand before you today to state that The Catholic University of America is not a member of the resistance. Although we are every inch an American institution of higher learning, we are also at the same time Catholic and proud to affirm our identity. We do not see a necessary contradiction between the two.

Our university, at the turn of another century and the dawn of a new millennium, are poised and ready to move forward with the Holy Father, with the Bishops who first founded and still sponsor us, with all of you who are so committed to the work of the Church in so many areas of our modern culture, society and life. We join with the Knights in taking up the motto of this 117th meeting, "Open Wide the Doors to Christ."

What is unique about our university and so important to keep in mind is the fact that The Catholic University of America is not the apostolate of any one religious order or diocese. The Catholic University of America belongs to the entire nation, to the Church in our country, and to you and all who support it because of that fact.

A few months ago, I returned from an exhausting business trip to the West Coast on a Thursday night. Having been away for a few days, I thought I would wander over to the Caldwell Hall Chapel to join our students for their Holy Hour. When I walked through the center entrance to the building, I saw students sitting and standing on the stairwell leading to the Chapel. I quickly discovered that they were in those positions not because they were slow at moving into the Chapel. They were there because there was no room in the Chapel, so many had come to pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the end of their day. It was at that moment that I realized the difference that The Catholic University of America was making in their young lives. It was at that moment that I realized how important The Catholic University of America was for our future in the Church. It is that moment that I ask you to keep in mind when you think of The Catholic University of America: a university filled with faith and eager for more!

Thank you all so very much.

Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M.