In his final report to the bishops before stepping down at the end of this academic year, the president of The Catholic University of America in Washington expressed satisfaction with steps taken to reinforce the school’s Catholic identity and heal the breach of a “certain alienation” from the bishops in years past.
Speaking Nov. 16 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell said it was “no secret that Catholic University struggled with its identity at times in the not too distant past and that these struggles resulted in a certain alienation from you – the bishops who sponsor the university – for many years.”
“I think the greatest progress that the university has made in the past 12 years is in the area of Catholic identity and its clear, public and unapologetic expression resulting in the re-engagement of the bishops in the life and work of their university,” he added.
Father O’Connell announced Oct. 2 that he would resign as Catholic University president next August after 12 years at the helm. He said at the time that he was considering several opportunities for the future but had made no specific commitments.
The priest recalled his prediction at his inauguration that a clear focus “on who and what we are would yield more students, more support and more recognition among our peers.”
“I believed it then and it has proved true, with three of the past four years having the largest entering classes in history,” Father O’Connell said, adding that enrollment this year is “slightly down from our first-year projection due to the economy.”
He thanked the bishops for the annual national collection that has brought in more than $63 million over the past 12 years for scholarships and financial assistance. Last year almost $6 million was raised, he said, noting that the university’s total financial aid disbursement from its own budget is $33 million, “so you can see how critically important the collection is to us.”
Father O’Connell said Catholic University “is not the largest Catholic university” nor “the most famous or often regarded in the popular mind as the premier Catholic university.” Neither is it “the wealthiest by any means nor the most substantially endowed.
“But it is the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, unique in its origins and in its continuity as the only Catholic university sponsored by the national hierarchy,” he said.
At the end of his talk, Father O’Connell received a standing ovation from the bishops. Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, USCCB president, said the bishops were “proud of the progress you have outlined” and thanked him for his 12 years of service.