The Catholic University of America

Oct. 2, 2009

CUA President Announces Intention to Step Down

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

Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., president of The Catholic University of America, announced today that he has notified the university's Board of Trustees of his decision to step down as president in August 2010. He is completing his 12th year of service at CUA.

A member of the Eastern province of the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), at age 42 Father O'Connell was unanimously elected 14th president of CUA from among more than 100 candidates in March 1998, becoming the second youngest president in its history. He is currently CUA's second longest serving president and is also second in seniority among the presidents of colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C. area.

During his presidency, the university has witnessed record growth in enrollments, fundraising and endowment, the construction of a university center and three new residence halls; the addition of a fitness center; major renovations in a score of campus buildings; the introduction of multiple smart classrooms and wireless technology; and transformative improvements in the campus landscape and athletic fields. Father O'Connell was responsible for the creation and implementation of the first two university-wide strategic plans in CUA's history. Under his leadership, CUA has distinguished itself in environmental stewardship, in 2002 becoming the first university in the Washington area to purchase a portion of its electricity through wind power. In addition, under his tenure the university, which already had the largest campus, in acreage, among all Washington, D.C. institutions of higher education, purchased 49 acres of new property on the west side of campus, increasing CUA's size by more than a third. (See backgrounder for more information on the university's achievements during the O'Connell presidency.)

In his monthly newsletter to the university community issued earlier today, Father O'Connell wrote: "That I have had the privilege of serving as the 14th President of The Catholic University of America is an experience that I shall treasure as long as I live." He added, "As I reflect upon my tenure and service at the helm of the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for what we are and have become and what we do - thanks to the dedication, commitment and hard work of so many people here - and for the many lives we have touched in so many ways over the years."

Recognized nationally for his public commitment to strengthening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools and institutions of higher learning, Father O'Connell hosted Pope Benedict XVI at CUA in April 2008, during his trip to the United States. "His pastoral visit here, with all my fellow Catholic college and university presidents," O'Connell reflected, "was, without a doubt, the highlight of my academic career."

In his inaugural address 12 years ago, Father O'Connell committed himself to reinvigorating CUA's Catholic identity, strengthening campus ministry and student life, and vigorously pursuing the recruitment of excellent faculty for all the disciplines of the university, especially encouraging their commitment to the university's mission.

Father O'Connell has sought to raise the profile of the bishops' university by making himself accessible to the media as an expert on Catholic issues generally and Catholic higher education specifically. During his tenure he has been one of the most media friendly university presidents in the country: giving more than 60 interviews to TV and radio outlets, he became a fixture on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" and was a frequent guest on ABC's "Nightline," PBS's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," National Public Radio's "The Diane Rehm Show" and others.

Three members of Catholic University's Board of Trustees who are all also CUA alumni commented earlier this week on his success as a strong leader who has championed the university's mission.

"The trustees of The Catholic University of America are deeply indebted to Father David O'Connell for his 12 years of devoted service to the national university of the Catholic Church in the U.S.," said Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, archbishop of Detroit and chair of the university's Board of Trustees. "He has achieved notable success in advancing the university's mission of truth as it is known by faith and disclosed to natural reason. He will leave CUA a stronger and more vibrant institution, poised for a great new chapter in its history."

"Father O'Connell has served CUA exceptionally well as president," said Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington and university chancellor. "During his tenure he brought the university to a renewed sense of its Catholic identity and a high level of academic achievement. I rejoice that he also focused on the quality of student life, promoting the appreciation of students for their faith."

"Father O'Connell has been the most consequential president of The Catholic University of America since I began as a student there 30 years ago. The dramatic improvements he brought to the university in the areas of development, academics and student life leave a strong foundation on which his successor will be able to build," said communications strategist Edward Gillespie, founder of Ed Gillespie Strategies.

Father O'Connell has lived on campus during nearly all of his tenure and has been a highly visible presence, known for traveling on foot throughout campus or, as he puts it, following a "'management by walking' approach to administration." He has made a special point of interacting with undergraduate students, listening to their concerns, visiting them when they are sick or accompanying them to events.

CUA's Board of Trustees met in Denver earlier this week to discuss strategies for succession and the establishment of a search committee. Archbishop Vigneron has chosen to chair the search process himself, assisted by fellow trustee Paul Chiapparone of Palm Beach, Florida, as vice chair. The Board hopes to have a new president in place by Sept. 1, 2010.

Father O'Connell has indicated that he is considering several opportunities for the future but has made no specific commitments at this time.