[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

O’Connell Inaugurated 14th President of Catholic University;
New President Takes Oath of Fidelity

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia,university trustee, and Father O'Connell
(see bottom of document for more photos)


WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 — The new president of The Catholic University of America at his inauguration today left no doubt about the course the university will take under his leadership.

Speaking at his inauguration as the 14th president, the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, a Vincentian priest, said that The Catholic University of America must be "unambiguously Catholic" in the manner in which it exercises its leadership among other academic institutions that claim a Catholic origin and character. He referred to the discussions surrounding the papal document on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, since its release in 1990.

"Now is ‘our time’ to lead the discussion and model the relationship between Catholic universities and colleges and the Church," he said. The Catholic University of America possesses a "unique responsibility" in this regard because of its foundation by the U.S. Bishops and approval by the Holy See.

O’Connell spoke from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, adjacent to Catholic University, to a very large audience that included six cardinals of the Catholic Church, dozens of bishops and educators from colleges and universities nationwide.

The investiture ceremony was performed by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and chairman of Catholic University’s Board of Trustees, and by Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington and university chancellor.

In accordance with the provisions of the Catholic Church O’Connell recited the Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity.

Clarifying his vision for the university, the new president quoted Pope John Paul II stating that in addition to its religious responsibilities, the institution must support "an authentic intellectual inquiry that is free." "Questions raised," he continued, "are not always confrontations."

O’Connell cautioned, however, that "academic freedom must evidence academic responsibility, both of which seek truth through fidelity within the Catholic university."

Frequently quoting from recent papal documents, he highlighted the counter-cultural nature of the Catholic university, which must "speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion" for the good of society.

He emphasized that the university’s prominence must include an active student life and campus ministry. "Could we as a Catholic university possibly share our knowledge with students without sharing our faith?" he asked. "Could we talk about ethics and then fail to support it in the activities that we promote on and off campus? Could we ask [students] to serve without first serving them?"

Quoting Pope John Paul II, he said, "As a natural expression of the Catholic identity of the university, the university community should give a practical demonstration of its faith in its daily activity."

O’Connell, 43, is the second youngest president in Catholic University’s history. He has a distinguished record of leadership in higher education and in the Catholic Church. An expert in the field of canon law, he holds doctoral and licentiate degrees in canon law from Catholic University, the nation’s only university with an ecclesiastical faculty that grants canonical degrees in the field.

O’Connell is already active in the Washington community as a trustee of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and of Archbishop John Carroll High School. He is a trustee and member of the executive committee of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and a member of the Federal City Council.

Before joining Catholic University, O’Connell, a native of Philadelphia, served as academic dean and dean of the faculty at St. John’s University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in New York.

Earlier in his career he held academic positions at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pa., Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, Pa., and at Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y. He has served as a tribunal judge for canon law cases in the dioceses of Scranton, Harrisburg and Birmingham and is author of numerous articles, including 19 published in the Encyclopedia of the Vatican and the Papacy.

President David M. O'Connell, C.M., J.C.D.


President O'Connell and bishops.



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Revised: January 8, 1999

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