For the President’s Medal
Few individuals, and probably no one present at this commencement, have ties to The Catholic University of America that are as deep or as strong as our honoree’s. For all but about three years of the last six decades, Monsignor Robert Paul Mohan has been a presence, literally and figuratively, on this campus.
A native of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington since 1946, Monsignor Mohan came to Catholic University for undergraduate studies. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1942, he earned a master’s in philosophy the following year at CUA. In 1947, Monsignor Mohan capped his philosophy studies at the university with a doctorate.
These academic achievements alone are quite impressive. But Monsignor Mohan wasn’t finished with his education. In 1948, he headed off to the Sorbonne in Paris for more studies and, subsequently, to the University of Washington for additional postgraduate study. In 1954, he earned yet another Catholic University degree – a licentiate in sacred theology.
After teaching at two seminaries between 1948 and 1951, Monsignor Mohan returned to CUA’s campus for good. He was a member of the faculty in the School of Philosophy from 1951 until his official retirement as professor emeritus in 1990. But even after his retirement, he continued to teach one course each semester in biomedical ethics. Though he crossed the threshold of his 80th birthday in the first year of the new millennium, just two weeks ago he wrapped up yet another semester of steering 25 students through Philosophy 303.
During his distinguished academic career, Monsignor Mohan has taught philosophy, social and political philosophy, philosophy of history and ethics. He has written three books, contributed to numerous publications and spoken widely to professional groups, sharing his expertise at such places as the U.S. Department of State, Inter-American Defense College and the Kenyon College Public Affairs Forum.
One affirmation of Monsignor Mohan’s impact on the hundreds of students who attended his classes came in 1990. That year the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named him the District of Columbia Professor of the Year. At the time one of his former students observed that Monsignor Mohan “reaches for, and grabs, every little piece of life that he can and then turns around and passes all this knowledge and culture to his eager students and friends.” Indeed, Monsignor Mohan has a well deserved reputation for being erudite and urbane; his lectures and homilies have been sprinkled liberally with allusions from great literature, his insights informed by extensive travels and deep learning.
In addition to sharing the light of his profound knowledge with his students, Monsignor Mohan served The Catholic University of America through his administrative talents. Between 1960 and 1974, he was dean of Summer Session and director of workshops and special institutes.
Given Monsignor Mohan’s multifaceted tenure at Catholic University, it should surprise no one to learn that among his many roles on campus was even that of commencement speaker. Ten years ago this month, Monsignor Mohan addressed the Class of 1993. According to a press release issued at the time, Monsignor Mohan told the graduates that commencement does not mark students’ entry into the real world. He said, “You have been in the real world if you have cultivated what T. S. Eliot called ‘the permanent things’ – love, loyalty, faith and courage.”
Eliot’s words are an apt description of Monsignor Mohan’s life. During his tenure here, he has cultivated and unselfishly shared his love of knowledge and teaching. He has demonstrated in a truly extraordinary way his fierce loyalty to his alma mater. Monsignor Mohan has lived a life of faith in service to the Lord. He has displayed courage by speaking moral truths in a culture where the politically and socially correct positions often are deemed to be those occupied by advocates of secularism.
Monsignor Mohan has shown generations of students, faculty and staff members that it is indeed possible to live in the so-called ivory tower of academia, yet be firmly grounded in the real world and the permanent things. The Catholic University of America is profoundly grateful to Monsignor Robert Paul Mohan for the gift of his knowledge and his example, and is proud to confer upon him its highest honor, the President’s Medal.
Given at Washington, District of Columbia
May seventeenth, two thousand and three