The Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M.


April 10, 2003


It was on Easter Sunday, 116 years ago today, that Pope Leo XIII signed a letter to James Cardinal Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore, authorizing the establishment of The Catholic University of America.  In that letter, Pope Leo wrote


We therefore most gladly welcome and heartily approve your project for the erection of a University, moved as you are by a desire to promote the welfare of all and the interests of your illustrious Republic. …Go on therefore, Beloved Son, together with all Our other Venerable Brethren the Bishops of the United States, to carry to perfection with one mind what you have begun; and let not any one of you be deterred by any difficulty or labor, but let all take courage from the assured hope that they will receive an abundant return for their cares and solicitudes (Quod in novissimo conventu).


The translated language from 1887 is stylized but the point is clear: The Catholic University of America was about to be born!


The official history of the University actually dates from 1866 when the Bishops of the United States, meeting in Baltimore, expressed their earnest desire to have under Catholic auspices a university where "all the letters and sciences, both sacred and profane, could be taught."  Meeting again in Baltimore some 18 years later in 1884, the Bishops proposed to establish with a gift of $300,000 from Miss Mary Gwendolyn Caldwell of Newport, Rhode Island, a school of higher studies in theology as "a kernel or bud from which, with the help of God's grace, there would blossom forth in its own time a complete university."  Fast forward to 2003 and here we are, the complete university that was only a dream in 1887.


On that first Founders’ Day, there were no buildings on the campus at all, just some rolling hills three miles from downtown Washington purchased by the Church adjacent to an area that served as a hospital and nursing home for the retired military personnel who had fought in the Civil War.  In fact, on that first Founders’ Day, the Bishops were still not even sure that they wanted to locate the university here.  Fast forward to 2003 and here we are, 144 acres and 54 buildings later at the national university of the Church in our country, a Catholic and American dream realized.


Today, Founders’ Day, we are about to dedicate the 55th building on our campus.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that it represents yet another dream realized.  For those of us who studied here or who walked these many acres in years past, CUA has come of age.  With this newest facility, the community that is The Catholic University of America has a place to gather, a “living room” for all us to share our campus life together, different from a classroom, library or lab; different from a residence or dining hall; different still from the old University Center or Rathskellar.  We no longer have to go somewhere else “just to hang out.”  We now have a place to call our own.


When I speak of a dream realized, I need to say that it is also a dream shared.  For the past 20 years or so, presidents and trustees, administrators and faculty, staff and students who went on to become alumni/ae have lamented the absence of a central location for our community to gather.  I think primarily of the late Edward J. Pryzbyla, Class of 1925, whose name this center proudly bears.  For years, Eddie contributed generously to the beautification of the campus and its athletic fields.  He wanted our students to have the best university possible and today he would be proud.  And although Eddie is not physically with us, he was there when we turned the first shovel full of dirt three years ago.  His spirit is with us and he is with us in the persons of the members of the Lynch family, his relatives, who join us here today.  We hope that there are students here who will be as generous to alma mater.  I think of administrators like Brother Patrick Ellis, Father Friday and Dr. Margaret Higgins, the chair of the great university committee that planned this project, even when it was not certain that the plans would ever come to fruition.  And they are here today.  I think of members of the Board of Trustees over these years who talked and debated the possibility, past trustees like Toni Bischoff, current trustees like Helene O’Neill and our own Cardinal McCarrick, our archbishop and chancellor, who are with us.  I think of Cardinal Law, former chairman of the board, who asked me one night in my house shortly after my arriving here five years ago, “Do you think we can do it?”  I knew we could.  I think of folks from the District of Columbia, like Michael Hodge and Councilmen Orange and Brazil representing the District, who helped us secure revenue bonds.  I think of the architects from Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and the construction engineers and workers from Clark Construction and our own Facilities personnel represented here today.  I think of my own colleagues in the administration who worked so hard and who today celebrate with us their contributions to the project.  I think of the countless faculty and staff, many of whom served on the committee, and especially I think of the students, represented by alumna Molly Bryson.  It is for you that this great accomplishment has today become your “living room.”  Enjoy this newest part of your university home.  


My heartfelt thanks are extended to every one and to all who have made this week of celebration and this day possible.  I cannot name you all but you are very much in my mind and heart.  Every one of you, and all of us gathered here today, should feel great pride, as we give thanks to God, that at The Catholic University of America, dreams do come true.  God bless you.


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