The Catholic University of America

March 26, 2010

CUA President’s Meeting with Pope Highlights University’s Relationship with Vatican

  Pope Benedict XVI greeted Father David O’Connell in St. Peter’s Square. (Photo by L'Observatorio Romano)

The president of The Catholic University of America, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., met briefly with Pope Benedict XVI after the pontiff’s general audience March 24 in St. Peter's Square.

The meeting was arranged by Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the papal household, at Father O'Connell's request. James Brennan, CUA’s provost, and his wife, Mary, also were present at the audience.

“I wanted to express my gratitude to the Holy Father for his visit to campus on April 17, 2008 — the highlight of my presidency and a great source of joy and pride for the university,” Father O'Connell said later.

According to Father O’Connell, Pope Benedict XVI told him, “I enjoyed my time at Catholic University very much. It is a beautiful place and much good is being done there for the Church. I send my greetings to everyone.”

Father O'Connell said, “I also indicated to His Holiness that I thought his address to Catholic educators that day was very inspiring, encouraging and very helpful to us. I, once again, offered the services of Catholic University to him."

The university has hosted several symposia in recent years devoted to themes important to the Church. In 2008, CUA’s Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture presented a symposium, “A Common Morality for the Global Age: In Gratitude for What We Are Given,” in response to a request by the pontiff himself when he was serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his election as pope.

Although the meeting at the Vatican was brief because of the number of other visitors waiting to speak with the pope, Father O'Connell observed that “the ability to place The Catholic University of America before His Holiness' attention once more — if only for a few precious moments — is an opportunity that helps highlight our unique and special relationship with the Holy See as the national university of the Church in our country. His memory of his pastoral visit to CUA is clearly a happy one for The Holy Father. It certainly remains that for all of us at CUA.”

The meeting capped a week of travels in which CUA’s president and provost journeyed more than 9,000 miles to strengthen the university’s ties abroad and to update the Vatican on higher education in the United States.

On March 23, Father O’Connell and Provost Brennan met in Rome with officials with the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. They shared reflections on CUA and its future with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect, and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P., secretary.

Students studying in Rome this semester joined CUA’s president and provost for dinner.

The congregation has authority over Catholic seminaries and universities. Father O’Connell, who has served as a consultor for the congregation for the past five years, also met privately with congregation officials.

Cardinal Grocholewski expressed the Church's gratitude to CUA for its enduring commitment to Catholic identity and mission in American higher education.

The president and provost began their European journey in Belgium, where Father Connell gave the keynote address at a March 19 colloquium celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Brothers of Charity’s founder.

About 300 religious, social workers and other professionals attended the event in Gent, Belgium, honoring the Brothers of Charity founder, Canon Peter Joseph Triest. Father O’Connell address was titled “And the Greatest of These: Charity at the Heart of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

The Brothers of Charity collaborates with CUA in the education of brothers, both at CUA and in Belgium. In 2007, CUA awarded the $1 million Opus Prize to Brother Stan Goetschalckx to honor and support the humanitarian work he leads on behalf of the Brothers of Charity in Tanzania.