CUA Office of Public Affairs

Oct. 7, 2003

University Pays Respects to Dean Stephen Happel at Memorial Mass


Monsignor Stephen Happel, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies of The Catholic University of America, was mourned by a standing room only crowd of family, friends, colleagues and students during a memorial Mass held Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2003, in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

More than 350 people came to pay their respects to the longtime administrator and member of CUA’s theology and religious studies faculty. The Most Rev. Daniel M. Buechlein, O.S.B., archbishop of Indianapolis, was the presider at the Mass. The Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, was the principal celebrant and homilist.  About 80 priests concelebrated the Mass with him.

“Our words, today, could not begin to express our heartbreak and our sadness at the sudden death of Stephen Happel,” Father O’Connell said during the homily. “Members of the Happel family and dearest friends of Stephen, I hope that our joining here together with the university community of which Stephen was such an important part brings you some comfort in this time of your great loss, our great loss.  I hope that we can all find some comfort and strength in the faith that we share.”

Happel died suddenly at his home in southeast Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2003, of a massive heart attack.  He was 59 years old.

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 1970, Monsignor Happel served on the CUA faculty from 1973 to 1978 and, after teaching at several other institutions, returned to Catholic University for good in 1983. He was appointed to a permanent position as dean in September 2000, following an international search. Prior to that appointment, he had served for more than a year as the school’s interim dean.

One of his significant accomplishments as dean was to lead the school through a reorganization to streamline the way it offers degree programs, allowing greater cooperation among faculty and making the school more “user-friendly” to students. The restructuring, which took effect in August 2003, included the replacement of the school’s four departments with seven “academic areas.”

After learning of his death, Father O’Connell remarked: “CUA has lost part of its soul today. And many of us have lost a beloved friend. Monsignor Happel was an extraordinarily gifted administrator, as he demonstrated in leading the School of Theology and Religious Studies through a complex reorganization. Throughout his many years of service as a faculty member, chair of the Department of Religion and Religious Education and, finally, as dean, he demonstrated an unwavering commitment to academic excellence. He was a man of great culture. I admired him for this and his many other talents, but most especially for his pastoral sensitivity and his deep and abiding commitment to the Church and the university,” said Father O’Connell.

A native of Indianapolis, Ind., Monsignor Happel received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, Ind., and a master of arts in English literature from Indiana University. He earned a Ph.B. in philosophy from the Higher Institute for Philosophy in Louvain, Belgium, and doctoral degrees in religious studies and theology from The Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain. He first came to CUA as a student in Theological College and, later, served as instructor and assistant professor of systematic theology in the School of Religious Studies.

He went on to hold posts in the St. Meinrad School of Theology, University of Notre Dame, Boston College and Gonzaga University.

An expert in systematic theology, foundational and fundamental theology, and religion and culture, Monsignor Happel was the author of several books including “A Catholic Vision,” with David Tracy, and “Conversion and Discipleship: Christian Foundations for Ethics and Doctrine, with James J. Walter. In conjunction with his appointment to a 10-year research project with the Vatican Observatory, his latest book entitled “God’s Journey in Time: The Use of Metaphors in Science and Religion” was published last year.

He served on the executive committee and the ecumenical committee of the Washington Theological Consortium; the arts, literature and religion section of the American Academy of Religion; and the core group for the Science and Religion project of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

In addition, Monsignor Happel was named by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, as his personal theologian in 2002.  Pope John Paul II honored him with the title “Chaplain to his Holiness” and Monsignor last spring.

In addition to today’s Mass in Washington, there will be a Mass of Christian Burial at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in his native Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ind., on Friday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.  Calling hours will be 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 9 at the Cathedral.

Monsignor Happel is survived by his mother, Jane of Indianapolis; and his siblings Kevin of Indianapolis, Maryliese of London, England, Chris of San Diego, Calif., and David of San Francisco, Calif. 

Those wishing to express condolences to Monsignor Happel's family may send them to Mrs. Jane Connor Happel, 4415 Wexford Road, Indianapolis, IN 46226.


In addition, those wishing to make contributions to honor Monsignor Happel's memory are asked to mail them to Office of the President, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, 20064. Checks should be made out to "Catholic University." The memo line at the bottom left of the check should read  "Stephen Happel Memorial Fund."