Behold, I make all things new (Revelation 21:5).” These words from the
Book of Revelation have certainly taken on great meaning for me as I return
to The Catholic University of America. Although I was a student here some 13 years
ago when, indeed, everything was “new” to me, I find that I am experiencing the novelty of CUA campus life all over again.
Much about the place seems the same: the grounds, the buildings, the classrooms, the library, even many of the professors. What is new and different for me, however, is the fact that I have returned as president and this new responsibility has caused me to view “all the old familiar places” in a new light.
In late August I had the marvelous opportunity to share three days of retreat with members of the senior administration on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was an occasion for us to voice concerns and expectations as we work together toward building a strong management team, identifying both short- and long-term priorities for the university. Not only did we have the chance to get to know one another and to discuss important issues facing CUA but we also had the opportunity to pray together, something I consider essential to any attempt to provide leadership at a Catholic institution. It is, after all, Christ who makes “all things new” in all of us.
The following week witnessed the arrival of the class of 2002 to CUA, the largest freshman class in nine years. It was really a happy privilege for me to welcome them and their parents to the campus. I was so deeply impressed by the efforts of “veteran” students who returned early to offer their support and assistance to the new freshmen.
New and returning graduate students followed on their heels and I was delighted to be able to offer them words of welcome and even a bit of advice as they undertake their research and study at the highest levels. In September, His Eminence, Cardinal Hickey, the archbishop of Washington and university chancellor, presided at our annual Opening Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Basilica of the National Shrine, adding his own special welcome to the university community. I was honored to preach to that gathering of administrators, faculty, staff and students as we called upon the Holy Spirit to renew us all.
Later that day, I addressed the new members of the faculty who are beginning their important work at the university. As their respective deans and chairpersons introduced them, I marveled at their credentials and, once again, realized how fortunate the university is to have such a world-class faculty.
In each encounter during these opening days, I took the occasion to refer to the Holy Father’s reflections on the life and work of Catholic universities in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. What a privilege for all of us at CUA to give expression to such an important message in the responsibilities that are uniquely ours.
Our Lord does, indeed, “make all things new” even in a place that has such a long and rich tradition within the American Catholic higher education community. It is my hope and prayer that The Catholic University of America will continue that tradition in new and even more exciting ways as we move into the next millennium. To that end, I dedicate myself as its “new” President.
In many respects, this New Year’s Eve was not unlike the past several for me.
Comfortably positioned in front of the television set, I watched the revelers in New
York’s Times Square count down the final moments of the past year until the city
exploded in a storm of confetti, ushering in 1999. Something was different this time.
The realization that this was the final year of the final century of the second millennium
figured prominently in my thoughts. It was not so much the impulse to make profound
resolutions as it was to reflect upon the century quickly slipping into history.
Could people 100 years ago have anticipated what would transpire in their world in the century to come? Could they, in their wildest imaginings, have envisioned the advances in communication, labor, travel, science, technology, economics, medicine and entertainment? Was it conceivable that their world would be immersed, not once but twice, in global wars and countless other conflicts? Could they have foreseen the tremendous social movements and cultural upheavals to be occasioned by the generations ahead of them? Such musings are most often the luxury of hindsight and only rarely the expectation of the most fertile imagination.
With all the discussion surrounding the dawn of a new millennium, I wonder if we are ever really prepared for the future. Apart from the logic of cause and effect, the future by its very nature is uncertain. And if we have learned nothing else from the past, I suppose, it should be that we must “seize the day — carpe diem!” At the same time, we cannot ignore the future.
To avoid making plans, to neglect our health, to exhaust our resources, to establish no security for our families and ourselves would be irresponsible.
The amazing world of technology, so reflective of the genius of the 20th century, has mounted a massive effort to become “Y2K compliant.” Perhaps there is a lesson in this initiative for other dimensions of our lives as we move into a new era.
I believe that higher education, and Catholic higher education in particular, must assume a similar, broader responsibility, in all its areas of endeavor.
In that respect, what is ancient is always new; what is present is always dynamic; and what is yet to be, need not always be an unwelcome advance. Plato phrased it this way in The Republic: “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.”
That is, indeed, our hope and our mission at The Catholic University of America. Let the countdown begin.
The contrast was striking. To the booming music of the ’80s — which they talked
about as though the ’80s are ancient history — our students at CUA jumped and
danced around the Caldwell Hall dining room at the recent end-of-the-year Campus
Ministry Bash! It was the last class day of the week and of the academic year, and they
faced the daunting prospect of final exams come Monday morning. Tonight they were going to relax together and have fun, and they certainly did. The energy and
enthusiasm of these joyful students as they celebrated the advent of summer vacation would make even the dourest face break into a smile. I kept thinking to myself with pride “these are our kids” and the reason we are here at CUA.
When I returned home, I turned on a late night news program only to see, once again, another group of young people in a very different mood than that which I had just witnessed. These were the horrified, tearful faces of students in Littleton, Colo., pouring out of their high school buildings. Instead of thrusting their hands high, “raising the roof ” as the CUA students were, these young women and men were fleeing for their lives as they escaped the insane violence of two of their peers. My heart broke as I listened to their cries. And I thought to myself, “these, too, are our kids ” and — although hundreds of miles away — they, too, are the reason we are here at CUA.
Young people, especially, should not experience such tragedy. Theirs is a time of life for dancing, for the joy that comes with uncovering life’s wonderful mysteries, for the happiness that derives from the companionship and support of one another. I shall never fully understand what happened at Columbine High School or why. I doubt if anyone ever will. But the occurrence must have some explanation, some reason behind it as bizarre as it might be. And there must be something we can do to protect our young people from such things happening again.
We hand on a world that was handed on to us. With each successive generation, human society bears the imprints of the generation that came before. How many wake-up calls do we need? How many Littletons? How many Kosovos? How many senseless, valueless situations must slap us in the face before we say, “this is not right,” “this is not working,” “there has to be a better way,” “this must change before we destroy ourselves and everything around us”?
This is our world. These are, indeed, “our kids.” Helping them to find the answers to these questions is truly the reason we are here at CUA. The Catholic University of American must provide the best quality education possible, to be sure. But we must do so in a way that prepares our young women and men to hand on to the next generation the best quality of life: one that recognizes and honors the presence of God in every heart that beats, born and unborn, rich and poor, innocent and guilty, healthy and sick, people who are similar and people who are different. And the God whom we encounter in the truths of reason must be the same God who calls out to us in the truth of faith. If there is a dichotomy, then truth has evaded our grasp; the contrast will remain striking, even sad; and we shall continue to struggle not only with the meaning of Catholic identify but also, and more fundamentally, with our reason for being.
It was a marvelous night in Chicago! Cardinal [Francis Eugene] George and I had just
finished dinner at his residence and I accompanied him to a local parish church
where he was scheduled to give a talk in an archdiocesan lecture series cleverly
titled “Theology on Tap.” It was an evening at the end of this summer’s unbearable
heat wave, one of those nights when most of us simply do not want to do anything. Much to my surprise, there were literally hundreds of people jammed into a classroom in the parish center and even more standing outside.
The parish church had to be opened and the lecture was moved to accommodate the crowd. For the better part of two hours, the Cardinal, who is a CUA trustee and alumnus, held the attention of the group as he spoke and then answered questions about great movements and trends in Church history. As I observed this enthusiastic audience, I noticed a few senior citizens, but the overwhelming majority of the folks present ranged in age from their early 20s to 40s. At age 44, I was clearly one of the “senior” members!
What was so evident was the desire of these people to learn more about their faith. Most had already put in a full day at their jobs, but they came looking for something more. Judging from their attention and from conversations with them afterward, they did not leave disappointed. The announcement had been made prior to the lecture that the group would celebrate Mass with the Cardinal in Holy Name Cathedral that coming Sunday, followed by a picnic at his residence. In the course of this lecture series, hundreds of people with different backgrounds, levels of education and life experiences formed “a community of learning.”
I have the privilege so often as President of CUA to attend lectures by our outstanding faculty and other visitors to the campus on a variety of subjects. I always walk away having learned something new, realizing how much I do not know and wishing I could learn more. It has always struck me that learning adds so much to life — and that it keeps people “young” regardless of their ages. A Vincentian confrere of mine in his 80s and for whom I have great admiration spends much of his day in the library or at his computer writing articles in psychology. He has never stopped learning or teaching. And he often goes to the theater or museum to experience more of what there is to learn. Although he lives simply, he has the luxury of lifelong learning. And what a full life he lives and shares with others.
A new school year begins at The Catholic University of America. I have often heard it said, “Education is wasted on the young.” Although I understand what is behind those words, I have never believed them. Education is never wasted on anyone. Take a class, go to a lecture or a play, read a book, watch a documentary, have a serious discussion with a friend! God has filled our world and our lives with so much richness that we could never exhaust His mysteries. Each opportunity to learn — formally or informally — is an occasion to encounter God and to glimpse His Truth. If we could succeed in anything as a university, I pray that it would be to instill in all who walk this campus a love of and a thirst for lifelong learning and an eagerness to seek and to find the Truth. What the Archdiocese of Chicago calls “theology on tap” is really “learning on tap.” Drink deeply!
Values, as the word itself suggests, are those intangible things in and about life that we prize. They motivate us to achieve, they sustain us in struggle, and they reward us when realized. Sometimes, unfortunately, the things that we might identify as “values” become evident only when they are compromised, lost or taken away. Ben Franklin said it well when he wrote, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”
One of the things most interesting to me about the turning of the century that we have just celebrated has been the identification of people or things or moments as “the greatest” of the past one hundred years. Although every one of us could come up with individual and different lists, the process by its very nature reveals the values that we consider important, exemplified as they are in a history in which we may have actually participated or about which we may have only heard. In either case, that history has had an impact upon us, together and as individuals.
Ask yourself, “Whom would you choose?” “What moment, what event?” And then, the more important question, “Why?”
I hear the phrase “value-centered education” often applied as the mark of distinction regarding the work of Catholic schools and colleges, as though any true education could be “value-less.” Again, I ask the question, “Why?” What is it about Catholic education that merits such a description? Most of what we teach or learn or study, especially at the university level, is also considered at other institutions that embrace no particular religious affiliation. Perhaps it is not so much the fact that these other institutions are “value-less” as it is that Catholic institutions are “value-more.
When they speak of academic freedom, their understanding suggests a “freedom from” the influence of any particular religious beliefs as though these are incompatible with true learning. When we speak of academic freedom, we include “freedom for” religious conviction in all areas of human endeavor. More, not less! Perhaps it is what we bring to the educational enterprise, what we seek to draw from it, what we hope it will accomplish that are our marks of distinction. Our “values” are not merely the result of a personal inventory that one is free to accept or reject but, rather, flow from the conviction of a living community of faith moving now into its third millennium.
Such values determine the manner in which we approach life. When they are compromised or absent the results make life difficult to understand. Conversely, when values are clear and present, life takes on purpose and meaningful direction. St. Matthew puts it this way, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” 6:21
It is a very quiet Sunday evening here at CUA as I write these words. Classes are over and students are scattered about the campus preparing for final examinations. The library lights are ablaze and small study groups are huddled together in many of our classrooms.
Members of our senior class and our graduate students eagerly await commencement and the conferral of their well-earned degrees. The “moment of truth” has arrived at CUA … again!
The year has been a good one for all of us at the University. About a month ago, the Middle States Association visited CUA for its ten-year accreditation review, another “moment of truth”! We were fortunate to have received the text of the preliminary evaluation, which was quite positive. And the needs of and challenges for the University were also identified, determining our agenda for the future.
In April, the University community celebrated groundbreaking for a new residence hall and for a long-anticipated and much needed university center, to be named in honor of Eddie Pryzbyla, B.A. 1925, our most generous benefactor.
In January, the University welcomed Richard Collins, who assumed the position of vice president for Institutional Advancement. His arrival could not have come at a better and more important time for CUA since our fund-raising activities need real direction if we are to grow and prosper as a superior institution of higher learning. In fact, the most frequently recurring observation made by the Middle States Association visiting team was the dramatic need for increased resources. The University has accomplished much with little; it was noted, when compared to similar institutions. Our uniqueness, however, as The Catholic University of America will require much more if we are to be all that we need and deserve to be. Another “moment of truth”!
Recently, I engaged a group of faculty, administrators and staff in an important strategic initiative to establish a list of institutional priorities that will serve as a focus of University attention and targeted fund-raising efforts. Every academic institution confronts such realities these days but few with the urgency of CUA.
Students, especially graduate students, need more financial assistance to truly benefit from the richness of Catholic University’s excellent faculty but limited resources. The library needs more serious attention. Technology makes daily demands that we cannot afford but cannot afford to ignore if CUA is to remain on the cutting edge of learning and research. And the soul of our campus, St. Vincent’s and Caldwell Hall chapels, need major renovations if they are to be real classrooms of our Catholic faith and spiritual life on campus. The needs are great and the list is long, “moments of truth” that awaken me, as President, every day and daily bid me good night.
As I complete two years in this position, I look back on significant changes, great momentum and wonderful accomplishments shared by many here at CUA. But our eyes cannot be distracted by the recent past and the “promise” of new beginnings. The present is the only time we have to build the future. And if truth is to “have its moment” now and tomorrow, I need many hearts and hands to join me today to ennoble our traditions, our history and the experience of legions of alumni by guaranteeing their continuity in the years that are ahead.
I would not recommend seeing the summer blockbuster “The Perfect Storm” if you are
planning an ocean cruise soon afterwards. From my perch in the front row of the balcony
in Washington’s Uptown Theatre, I felt drenched, as though a wall of water would
engulf me at any moment! The spectacular effects and unrelenting emotional charge of
the film almost convinced me that this heart-wrenching story of the lost crew of the fishing boat The Andrea Gail could not possibly have been true. But it was!
A few weeks later, I found myself sitting on the beach at Cape May, N.J. Perfect blue sky, perfect sun and air, and a perfectly calm ocean — no storm, “perfect” or otherwise, in sight. This could not be the same Atlantic Ocean depicted in the movie. But it was!
The ocean has always fascinated me. So extensive, so inviting, so filled with mystery! To me the ocean is nature’s representation of the human heart. In the same way that nature’s elements can churn up an incredibly damaging storm, those same elements can calm and heal and bring about a wonderful sense of well-being.
People flock to the ocean not because they are in search of the “perfect storm,” but because they seek its cool breezes, its soothing waters and its peaceful rhythms.
Vacations bring with them an opportunity for people to relax, to rest, to refresh themselves by the water’s edge. It is not unusual to find people rising even earlier than they do for work so that they can glimpse the sunrise on the horizon as they walk along a sandy beach. The ocean’s waves call out to them to begin another day, free from the burdens that they might otherwise experience or to which they must return. And as they dive into that rush of water or merely let its foam bathe their toes, the tides can carry out into that vast expanse of the deep whatever troubles people bring to the shoreline, sometimes only for the moment, sometimes for much longer.
The human heart invites the same possibility. Although it is the first part of the body to feel the storms of loneliness or disappointment or worry, it is also the place where joy wells up like a wave, where hope comforts us, where love soothes our distracted spirits.
The human heart is as deep as the ocean, as inviting, as mysterious. And although, like the ocean, life’s storms can take hold of it in the morning or afternoon or evening of our lives, there is always a strange attraction that draws us back to its inexhaustible depth, to its unfathomable wonder, to its awesome power, to its richness teeming with life. Like the ocean, there is always more of the heart to experience.
Some scientists believe that all life originated in the ocean and, because of that, our human body weight is mostly water. I believe that all real living originates in the human heart where God dwells who, alone, creates the oceans of love that help us weather any storm.
The year 2000 was a year during which I would say goodbye to several members of the CUA community. I wrote about Vincent Walter in the previous issue of this magazine. Another, the Rev. Jim Provost, died shortly before the school year began. In the final days of November, the university community lost still another great friend.
Seventy-five years ago, Edward J. Pryzbyla graduated from The Catholic University of America. Although he returned to his native Chicopee, Mass., “Eddie” never forgot his alma mater. In the years that followed, he frequently came back to the campus to participate in the university’s life. God was good to Eddie and he turned his CUA education into a career that witnessed great success. Eddie, however, was not a man who held on to his success. He shared it generously with so many people who touched his life. We at the university were fortunate to be among them.
Over the years, Eddie’s concern for the students who would come after him and for the campus that he loved so much was translated time and again into action. Whether it be the landscape or the athletic teams or scholarships or the Alumni Association, Eddie’s fingerprints were everywhere at CUA. In recent years, a new university center became his dream and the object of his special attention. On April 14, 2000, surrounded by students dressed in red “Thank you, Eddie” T-shirts, staff, faculty, administrators, board members and distinguished guests, Eddie turned over a shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking for what will become the new university center bearing his name. Without Eddie — CUA’s most generous benefactor — that event never would have happened.
On Nov. 3 last year, a few university administrators and I celebrated Eddie’s 96th birthday with him in my dining room. Eddie spoke about schoolmates with whom he participated in the CUA Alumni Association and remarked that he had not missed a Homecoming in the past 46 years!
The following evening, at the annual Homecoming banquet, Eddie confided to me how proud of CUA he was, as the alumni and alumnae gathered there rose to give him a well-deserved ovation. When I expressed how grateful the university and I were to him, he said with characteristic humility, “I am the one who should be grateful.”
The vice presidents, dean of students, chaplain and I traveled to Chicopee to say goodbye to this marvelous man at his funeral on Dec. 2. Everyone present, including his nephew and fellow alumnus, Bill Wegrzyn Jr., shared wonderful memories of him.
Death takes our friends and families and benefactors, and leaves a space that no one can fill. More than anything, Edward J. Pryzbyla wanted to walk through the doors of the university center named in his honor on its opening day. Though Eddie’s wish did not come true, our disappointment is tempered by the realization that, for generations to come, countless others will walk through those doors and remember the man whose generosity made it possible. Thank you, Eddie.
It’s funny how listening to music can transport you back to another time and place in your life. I had just left home to return to Washington. It was a rainy night and to pass the time I put in a tape that I had in my car. It was Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
Within seconds I was singing away, amazed that I remembered the words to all those songs after so many years. They made me think of life at home in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I was a high school teenager. “A time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be… Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.” My thoughts began to center on the two people I had just left behind, my mom and dad.
Although I am 46 years old, I still find it hard to say goodbye to them. When you are growing up, you never realize or appreciate how much your parents do for you or how important they are. As I get older, I miss them in a deeper and much different way than when I first went off to school. “When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy in the company of strangers.” They made my education possible through their sacrifices. They supported me when I succeeded and even when I failed algebra… twice! They were always there for me when I returned home for the holidays or for vacations. My mom prepared my favorite meals. My dad even gave me a summer job.
They were great years but they passed so quickly. “Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last.” Who realizes, at the time, just how quickly life passes?
My mom frequently says that she still feels like a 17-year-old girl until she looks in the mirror and asks, “Who are you?” I think of that often as I am surrounded by university students running about as I once did. I still feel like one of them although it’s been a long time. I see their parents drop them off or return for special events. I see the pride in their faces as their daughters and sons receive an honor or win a game or come forward to receive their diplomas. I see my own parents as if it were yesterday. “And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains within the sound of silence.” But where does the time go?
Every time I go home, which is more infrequent than ever, my parents seem to get smaller. A few more wrinkles, gray hair turning to white, slower getting up from their chairs or walking, having more difficulty hearing the television or other conversations. I grow sad, at times, dreading the day when they will not be there to pick up the phone or to meet me at the door. I asked my mom once, “What was it like for you?” And she replied, “It hurts at first but it gets easier because it’s the way it has to be. And as long as I’m alive, they’re never really gone.” Gentle wisdom and a profound love that only our parents could explain or provide.
Music prompted thoughts that seemed to shorten my trip. As I wind my way down Michigan Avenue toward the university, with the basilica looming in the distance, my thoughts shift from my parents to my students at CUA. I just hope they know how much their parents love them. And I pray they will always love them in return. Simon and Garfunkel sing me one final song, “Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound.” The tape ends and I arrive home, so blessed and so grateful to God for the home I left behind.
I did not notice that they had no shoes on until they stood for the Gospel reading. In this small chapel, more than 50 Missionaries of Charity gathered one summer morning for 6:30 Sunday Mass. I was the “priest by default,” a “pinch hitter” since the ordinary celebrant was not able to be present. And I was glad he wasn’t by the time the Mass had ended.
In addition to being overwhelmed by their number, I was inspired, even humbled, by the sight of these religious women with no shoes – each wearing their now-familiar “Mother Teresa” habit of white and blue. The Gospel reading presented the story of the Good Samaritan. I tried to talk about and analyze it. They lived it.
“Compassion,” I preached, “is a natural human reaction that one can either permit or repress. The Gospel notes that the Samaritan ‘approached’ the victim and did not just pass by. That is the key to understanding Jesus’ message of compassion.”
After giving the sermon, I sat down and thought to myself, “Who am I to preach this message to these women? Compassion is their life.”
I get this feeling often as a priest when I encounter the wonderful people with whom I have contact. I give many sermons and homilies, but I truly believe that such “feelings” and encounters are God's way of preaching to me. If only I would listen! If only I would heed his message like those Missionaries of Charity have!
Of course, we all have different stories, different vocations and different situations. The beauty of our faith is the realization that God speaks to each of us individually in the different experiences of our lives.
I saw a young student on campus one day wearing a T-shirt imprinted with the initials “WWJD.” When I asked him what those initials stood for, he responded enthusiastically, “What would Jesus do?” What a great motto for our Christian lives! Again, God speaking through others. It reminded me of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentians and Daughters of Charity, who used to ask himself “Quid nunc, Christus?” (What now, Lord?) whenever he faced a difficult choice or situation. He recommended that his followers establish a similar practice for themselves.
Compassion is such a fundamental human response and virtue – the ability, as the etymology of the word suggests, “to feel with” (literally “to suffer with”) another human being. But compassion, like the charity that is at its root, is not merely an emotional response to sadness, hardship or suffering.
Emotions pass easily. Compassion endures. It seeks only what is good for another and not merely what a person wants or asks for at any particular moment. It takes some thought. It is an active virtue and it only becomes a characteristic or defining element of human life when we allow it to, when we “approach” the situation or person calling for it as the Good Samaritan did.
That is, indeed, what Christ would do. If the expression of compassion were to become a goal with which we welcomed every day and every interaction with another human being, we would all become true “missionaries of charity.”
And we would all remove our shoes, for the place where we would stand would be holy ground.
It was wonderful to hear him laugh so heartily as I recounted some of my adventures and misadventures during these past few years as president of Catholic University. Many of the things I described would not mean much to the ordinary listener, but to a person who once held CUA’s presidency, their telling brought back so many memories. I recently met with Clarence Walton, president of this university from 1969 to 1978, and it was one of the most delightful afternoons I have spent in a long time.
I have always admired Dr. Walton. An alumnus himself (Ph.D. 1950), he served as president here during one of the most tumultuous decades in the university’s history. When he began his presidency, he took the helm of an institution not merely in transition but in turmoil. The acceleration of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and a wider cultural revolution found expression everywhere on campus. Within the first few years after the Second Vatican Council, controversies about the Humanae Vitae papal encyclical and the teaching of theology were also keenly felt at CUA.
Into this environment walked Clarence Walton, dean of Columbia University’s School of General Studies. He was the first layman to lead the national university of the Catholic Church in America. He worked with vigor and determination to bring CUA into academic prominence and fiscal solvency, all the while maintaining a firm commitment to the institution’s Catholic character and heritage. And the university grew because of him.
Today, Dr. Walton lives with his wife, Betty, in a beautiful home filled with reminders of his years of service at CUA. He was eager to hear everything I had to tell him about the university, and I was just as eager to listen to his stories.
Although the effects of a stroke have slowed his physical movements, his spirits continue to soar. During a short walk, he greeted neighbors and friends cheerfully and with great humor. He told me that he is working on a book about his experiences at CUA and the challenges he and the faculty faced. He spoke with much love about his family and especially about the sacrifices Betty made to support him in his role as president.
It was so clear to me in those brief three hours that Clarence Walton loves The Catholic University of America. Before leaving, I gave him a blessing and he quietly said, “Father, I pray for you every single day.” How humbling and how profound!
Whatever good we are able to accomplish in life, it is because of those who walked the path before us — parents, teachers, mentors — people whose names may be known to the world or only to a very few. Their conviction, their labors and their commitment show us the way. And after a wonderful visit, Dr. Walton’s promise of prayers reminded me once again that God’s wisdom, guidance and loving care really make the difference.
How fortunate we are at CUA to have that belief at the center of all we are and do!
There is great truth in the old saying that “the eyes are the windows of the soul.” They reflect a host of feelings that run deep and, perhaps, never quite make it to the surface of one’s lips or to someone else’s ears. Since I was ordained 20 years ago, I have had the occasion to look into the eyes of countless people as they approached me to receive Holy Communion. Their love for Christ in the Eucharist, the intensity of their devotion, the distraction that might be in evidence, the pains and burdens they carry, their longing for peace of mind and heart are but a few of the feelings I can sense. All of them, however, are looking for God to come and take hold of their lives.
Recently, at an end-of-the-year campus Mass for about 50 students, I spoke about Jesus’ gift of peace mentioned in the Gospel of John. The situations within our troubled world and our troubled Church were very much in my mind. For some strange reason — certainly not my homiletic brilliance or eloquence — the students’ eyes were fixed on me and you could have heard a pin drop. I hit a chord with them and was overcome with a profound sense of their longing for some message that would bring peace.
Those of us who have lived longer than these college students and who have experienced more of life know how precious and how fragile peace is. More than a slogan, the quest for true peace lies within us all. True enough, we all would rejoice at the end of war and terrorism. True enough, we all would celebrate a real feeling of security as we walk the nation’s streets or go about our daily lives. But peace, lasting peace, begins somewhere deep within each person, where God whispers in a voice that only the individual can hear.
Peace comes as a gift when truth is sought and found. Peace comes as a gift when our lives reflect that truth. Peace comes as a gift when our attitudes and relationships with others acknowledge the truth that all people are created in God’s image and are worthy of our love and respect. Peace comes as a gift when we strive to make the Father’s love for Christ and the Trinity’s love for the world our very own.
When we turn to our neighbor at Mass to exchange a sign of peace, this is what we hope and pray for — a peace that the world cannot give but that Christ, alone, can. Each time he appeared after his resurrection, “Peace” was his greeting and peace was his farewell gift. But peace, like all good gifts, is only true and real when we give it away. Peace be with you.
Sometimes it is just hard to believe. For some people, the difficulty might develop into a deeply felt crisis of faith. For others, a person or event simply makes us shake our heads in disappointment and say, “That should never have happened.” There is, of course, a huge gap between those two reactions. There are significant differences in the ways we approach challenges to our believing.
For those of us living in the United States this past year, Sept. 11 was a horrific introduction to what would become a seemingly unrelenting series of blows to what we believe. The security that we felt, that we so often took for granted as a nation, was devastated by terrorist attacks. Still reeling from that senseless brutality, the security that we felt and also took for granted as Catholics was shaken to the core by public revelations of unthinkable behavior among our own clergy. Day after day, we confronted some of the ugliest possible portrayals of those who betrayed their sacred trust.
Then, on the heels of those violations, the security that we felt and likewise took for granted in our financial stability seemed to crumble before our eyes in the vice-like grip of human greed. And in the midst of all of these heart-wrenching experiences, a federal court ruling challenged the part of our American credo that proclaims we are “one nation, under God.”
This past year, indeed, has been a time when it was just hard to believe.
It should come as no surprise that our first human reaction is to blame someone else when our beliefs are shaken. Did government agencies know and do nothing? Did church authorities know and do nothing? Did CEOs and accounting firms know and do nothing? As horrible as these events have been to confront and understand, I find myself asking the question, “What was it that we believed in that now appears to have given way?” And the next question follows quickly: “Where do we go from here?”
Part of what makes us human is the need to believe, to trust, to depend on something larger than ourselves. Take that away and we lose something fundamental to our humanity. A nation, a church, an economy, even a country’s credo all exist to help us fulfill our human destiny. But our human destiny is not merely our work or the product of human effort. It has its origins and its ultimate fulfillment in God. And when we lose sight of that fact and of a vision of something larger than ourselves, any beliefs that we embrace can be shaken and crushed, can become empty and meaningless.
Whatever the reason that 9/11 was able to happen — and we might never know the reason — it was not God’s doing. Whatever the reason the Church finds itself embroiled in scandal, it was not God’s intention. And whatever the factors that blinded institutions to irresponsible greed, they were not God’s plan. Yes, he created this world, but he gave it to us to steward for him. And he showed us the way. It is up to us, in every age and with all the problems unique to each moment in history, to seek and to find our way — his way — again. And if we believe that, we can believe in him again.
“Lord, we believe. Help us in our disbelief.”
Thank you.” Two tiny words that constitute, without a doubt, one of the most important and powerful phrases in the English language! They speak volumes both to and about the person on the receiving end, and from and about the one using them. Although they may emerge from our lips, at times, without much thought, they reveal a disposition that is fundamental to being human. Gratitude. Appreciation. The recognition of what we receive from those who give it to us.
Every once in a while — and not often enough, I must confess — I am struck by how dependent and interdependent we really are in this world. So much of what we experience in life is truly a gift from others.
In the early hours of the morning, before the sun rises, I sit in the darkness of the little third-floor chapel of my residence and watch the flickering of the sanctuary lamp reminding me that I am not alone, that God is present with me. “Thank you, God, for giving me another day of life. Thank you for being with me. Thank you for your word to guide me, for the Eucharist to nourish me. Thank you for giving me the strength to face whatever the day may bring, for the people whom I will meet and with whom I work, for the mysteries and opportunities yet to unfold, for the family and friends and others who share your love with me.” And the day begins.
I live in a house and work in an office that someone else built. I eat food that someone else prepared. I wear clothes that someone else made. I drive a car that someone else designed on roads that someone else laid out. And the list goes on and on. Yes, I believe I work hard. Yes, I believe I do many things for others — sometimes they are grateful, sometimes not. But how much more is done for me, has been given to me?
I think of my parents and brothers and friends and teachers and co-workers. Do I thank them enough? Can I ever thank them enough? And then there are the countless people who do those countless “little things” all throughout the day, every day, often without any acknowledgement at all. They just do and give because doing and giving is the way “being human” is or should be.
St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the community to which I belong, once told his priests and brothers that gratitude is the most important virtue. It does not take much mental effort to realize the truth of his words. Conversely, it is easy to see and feel how ingratitude — that “marble-hearted fiend” of King Lear — minimizes humanity.
The day goes on and draws to a close. Students return to their dorms, folks go home, the university shuts down, the dust settles. I find myself, once again, watching that tiny flame in my chapel, aware of the Presence that surrounds me in the dark. Everything today has been God’s gift: the good, the difficult, the strange, the wonderful, the incomprehensible. As my body tells me that it’s time to call it a day, the candle continues burning its silent reminder. And my mind and heart and soul whisper one last “thank you, God” … until tomorrow.
I spend a great deal of time and energy as president linking CUA’s past to its future. It probably does not sound like much of a job but it keeps me pretty busy.
After 116 years, CUA has demonstrated itself to be the “full university” envisioned by its founders, the bishops of the United States. Originally established as the only Catholic graduate research institution in the country, a “think tank” for the Church, CUA has certainly become that and much more. But, then, so have many other Catholic colleges and universities. Yet it is also true that CUA has educated many of the leaders of those institutions over the years and up to the present, as well as countless alumni who have gone on to prominent positions of responsibility “in service to the Church and nation.” But after our students graduate and become alumni, the questions linger, “What have they left behind at CUA? What lies ahead for our university?”
So much of every university president’s time is devoted to fund raising, preceded, of course, by the important, time-consuming activity of “friend raising.” These activities, without a doubt, can be labeled “linking the past to the future.” As institutions grow and their services expand, so do their operational budgets. The needs are greater than ever before and the revenues generated by escalating tuition often fall far short of meeting those needs. The difference must be met by the generosity of donors, especially alumni, who see value in the past — their past — and the promise of the future.
Gone are the days when university presidents spent their time thinking the “great thoughts” that uniquely influenced government, society and culture. That responsibility now falls primarily to faculties. They generate new ideas and approaches to life on our planet while presidents attend to the less noble yet essential business of running their institutions while facilitating the work of the academy and ensuring its fiscal health and solvency. This is not an “either/or proposition” but, rather, a partnership where the division of labor is distinct but interrelated.
This year, CUA opened the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, the long-awaited “living room” of the university community. In a very short period of time, this great new building has truly become the center of campus life. It was made possible because an alumnus from the class of 1925 never forgot his past and all that CUA meant to and did for him, while also never losing sight of what CUA needs to mean and do for the students of the future. Eddie Pryzbyla died without seeing his dreams realized. But his efforts will endure for generations to come, linking the past to the future.
There is so much more that CUA needs to do: so many hopes and dreams, so many plans and accomplishments yet to be. CUA needs to find those generous people, especially among its alumni, who can help make that happen. Are you one of them? If so, we have never needed you more.
You do not think that it can happen to you; in fact, you usually do not think about it at all until it does happen!
As a priest, I have visited sick people in the hospital more times than I can count. Now it was my turn to be sick. It happened in New York City during one of those rare occasions when I could spend some time with a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. I ended the evening much earlier than planned, however, excusing myself as an excruciating pain suddenly jabbed through my lower back. My friend departed without knowing my difficulty. I became quite ill and quickly found myself in the back of an ambulance moving much too slowly, as far as I was concerned, toward the hospital.
The staff members in the relatively empty ER were not particularly impressed by my pain from what would later be diagnosed as a very large kidney stone. I lay on a gurney writhing and moaning until my ID and insurance cards were produced and the appropriate information was entered into the computer. It seemed like an eternity of agony. Periodically, medical personnel would stop by to ask me questions. I begged God and anyone else who would listen for relief. Blood was drawn; X-rays, scans and more questions followed until I was given a shot of morphine.
I was alone in New York in the middle of the night until the arrival of a Vincentian confrere of mine, whose name I had given to the staff, and his presence was such a comfort.
As the morning came, I was discharged with the news that I had “passed the stone.” Unfortunately, I had not. Some five hours later, I found myself repeating the same agonizing experience at a different hospital, this time learning of complications that would require hospitalization and two surgical procedures.
Perhaps it sounds overly dramatic, but the whole nightmarish experience had a profound effect on me. As I began to move around again, albeit very slowly, I realized how life can change in an instant, how fragile and dependent on others we “independent” creatures really are, and how much control over things we really do not have. Sickness humbles a person. In the recognition of our own weakness and desperate need for care, we understand how important it is to care for others, how important it is just to “be there” for others.
It is a lesson that I hope and pray I do not forget as this episode passes into my memory. It is a lesson that I hope and pray will not require such a painful teacher again. The words of the familiar “Prayer of St. Francis,” patron of our Franciscan priest chaplains at CUA, now come alive in a way they never have before:
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are
born to eternal life.
The sky was gray and threatened rain. It was March 18, 2001. I could sense great excitement in the air as I stood on the steps of McMahon Hall with our men’s basketball team, the very first NCAA national championship team of The Catholic University of America.
A throng of students had gathered to congratulate them. Though there were no parades and no invitation to the White House, that day we were the darlings of the local media — TV, radio and print reporters took up positions in our midst. It was a great victory. It was a great ceremony. And, then, everyone went back to class. CUA is a Division III school and proud of it.
Fast forward to Feb. 5, 2004. Another gray and damp day. Excitement fills the air again as I stand with our men’s football team and a number of coaches, administrators, students and alumni at the Raymond A. DuFour Center. We’ve come to hear the announcement that Tom Clark is returning to CUA as head coach of the football team. Since Clark led the Cardinals during a seven-year period (1994 to 2000) that was the most successful in the program’s history, electronic and print media are there to capture the moment. Another great day and great ceremony. And then, once again, everyone goes back to class. Our students are students first, but also outstanding athletes.
Catholic University has fielded athletic teams for more than a century and has an incredible record of accomplishment. In 1982 the university moved from Division I to Division III athletics, a difficult decision that was not well received by many within the larger university community. The Department of Athletics today sponsors 21 NCAA Division III sports teams and we are proud of each and every one of them.
Considerable pressure is brought to bear on many college athletes today. Unlike their counterparts in Division I programs, however, our Division III student athletes face only one pressure: to experience excellence in their sport while pursuing success in their studies. Our student athletes have an opportunity to do it all. And they accomplish this, in the words of Tom Clark, “within a tightknit university community that embraces faith and strong values” — the reason he left his position in a Division I-AA program to return home to CUA.
This year, our women’s basketball team led by Coach Maggie Lonergan tears up the court just like the men’s team. And the record books in recent years bear witness to our great success, on both sides of the gender line, in swimming, lacrosse, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, tennis, and track and field. CUA has been recognized for success in athletic competition, but also — and more important in Division III — for graduating student athletes who leave campus proud of their accomplishments and ready for the challenges that lie ahead of them.
I watch our athletes carrying their books into buses and locker rooms, clasping hands in prayer before each competition and returning to class tired but determined to succeed there as well. All this makes me grateful that Division III emphasizes the right balance in collegiate athletics and student life. We need to support these young women and men. Our alumni need to step up and support them so that they can continue to “do it all.” Go Cardinals!
It was not only an enjoyable evening but also an inspiring one. Earlier in the day, our university chaplain, “Father Bob,” called to ask if I would like to have dinner with some of the CUA students who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
When I first arrived at CUA, Father Bob and I had talked frequently about the importance of promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Almost immediately, students established two groups focused on finding their vocations, one for young men and one for young women. The response was incredibly positive, but interest ebbed and flowed over the years. The students gathered together in their respective groups, praying together and socializing. Periodically I would host them for Mass and dinner, but one of our priest chaplains or a religious sister would keep up the regular contact.
CUA is the kind of place where young women and men can discern where God is calling them in life. That has become true only because of an environment that promotes and supports vocations. Never before has the Church had a greater need for young women and men to respond to such a call. Young people need to be invited to discern their vocations, by people who are happy in their own response to God and who aren’t afraid of sharing their experience with others. That is not only the job of priests and of religious brothers and sisters: It is the job of everyone in the Church.
The thing that struck me about the group Father Bob invited me to meet that evening was that they were filled with real joy: a sense that God is alive and at work in their lives here at CUA. If statistics prove true, only a handful of these young folks will ever be ordained or profess religious vows. But those who don’t are not diminished at all by the process of discernment. They lead lives full of joy here, and will continue to do so in whatever path they choose to walk.
We live in a Church that has experienced some rather damaging revelations in recent years. These youngsters know that well. But they recognize, perhaps better than most of us, that what has been does not always have to be. The pages of life can and do turn and new chapters begin. To pursue a vocation in the Church today requires special courage, especially in the midst of a culture that often seeks everything and anything other than the expression of faith. Being true to oneself, in an open relationship with God, makes the sacrifice both intelligible and worthwhile. And, what’s more, it brings a special peace and joy.
No matter what one’s calling — priesthood, religious life, marriage or living as a single person — or even one’s particular faith tradition, the answer is not to turn away from God, but rather to turn more fully toward him and what he seeks for our world. In so doing, generous and courageous sacrifice turns into loving commitment. And loving commitment turns into a life recognized by the joy it possesses and gives away.
I don’t know if any of them will be stars of the stage or screen someday, but I do know that I have a lot of fun watching them perform.
Every year in August, male and female upperclassmen return to campus early to work on the freshman orientation program, and at the conclusion of their training, these upperclassmen put on a show. Whether it’s lip-synching popular songs, choreographing their own dance numbers, poking a little fun at me or just hamming it up in outrageous costumes, the CUA students make me laugh. I look forward to this night every year.
Fast forward a few days: More than 600 freshmen, along with a number of “veterans,” jam the parking lot in front of Mullen Library for some good ol’ fashioned country-western line dancing. I must confess, I find my way into the middle of them as the caller barks out his orders. It’s a blast!
After this year’s festivities, I walked back to my residence on campus thinking about our students and all the wonderful opportunities they enjoy here in Washington, D.C. The campus looks beautiful and we are making steady progress renovating the facilities and landscape that become their “home away from home.” I also reflected upon those who walked these paths in years gone by: tens of thousands of young women and men who came to CUA to learn, to grow, to deepen their faith and to prepare themselves to take their place in the world. I have a great feeling of satisfaction that CUA does a very good job. From its excellent academic programs to its dynamic campus ministry; from its new and vibrant student-life activities to its welcoming environment; from its superb faculty to its outstanding staff — things are working at CUA better than ever. Like any other place, like any family or community, CUA has its share of struggles, but in the end the struggles are well worth the effort as the university moves forward.
I stopped in the Caldwell Hall Chapel on the way back to Nugent Hall. There in the quiet, in the peace of the evening, I noticed a young man in the front pew kneeling in prayer. After a few moments he got up, genuflected and made his way to the chapel doors. In the dim light he stopped at my pew, smiled and said, “Good night, Father” as he left. I didn’t know his name but I recognized his face. He and so many young people like him are our privileged responsibility at CUA during their college years. They come from all over the country, with backgrounds, experiences, hopes and dreams as varied as can be. But they chose CUA. And CUA will leave a lasting impression upon them.
As I lingered a bit longer, I looked at the great stained-glass window above the altar, illumined by an external light. During the day, I can see the marks of age and weather on it and on all those chapel windows so desperately in need of repair. At night, their age and condition seem to disappear, a silent reminder that, despite their need for renovation, they will always be there … that CUA will always be there for those who come to us.
I hand this great university and all those who are here or who support us over to God, confident that he and so many others who love The Catholic University of America will keep us going — stronger, brighter, better into another new day.
When I first began teaching, some faculty “veterans” told me not to be surprised if, during the middle of my classroom presentation, I started to remind myself of my own former teachers. Almost without effort, it seems, what we absorbed in various classes included not only “content” but also the manner and style of the teacher. Of course, my being a bit of a mimic didn’t hurt!
I was blessed to have some extraordinary teachers, beginning with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Philadelphia and continuing through the seminary and my graduate studies here at The Catholic University of America.
Sister Mary Pacis, I.H.M., was certainly the kindest teacher I ever had. She had a warmth and ready smile that made you want to learn, even in the eighth grade. I give her much of the credit for encouraging my vocation to the priesthood. Father William Bamber, C.M., taught Latin in my high school and displayed an extraordinary gift for making difficult passages in Virgil easier to translate. He also spent a great deal of time with us outside of the classroom, teaching us through his words and through his example of hard work around the campus grounds. His class trips to New York City were legendary! If anyone made me realize the meaning of educating the “whole person,” it was Father Bill.
At Niagara University, Brother Augustine Towey, C.M., really inspired me to read and appreciate literature. As director of the theater studies program, “Bro” was a phenomenal educator who provided just the right support and encouragement to many of us who thought we might make it on the stage, only to find our “stage” a bit different than we imagined. In seminary, Father John Gouldrick, C.M., an alumnus of CUA, was probably the most engaging teacher I had experienced. Punctuated with great humor, his lectures in moral theology and social justice still form a large part of my consciousness and conscience.
Here at CUA, Father Jack Lynch, C.S.P., was the one professor who really made a difference in my intellectual life. His unfailing example as a dedicated priest and his gentle manner, civility and incredible insight served as models that I hoped one day to imitate, as did his depth of knowledge about canon law and Church history. I continue to be blessed by occasional conversations with him around Catholic University’s campus. When I happened to bump into Jack on campus in December 1997, he asked me, “Why don’t you apply to be CUA’s president?” Little did he know nor could I tell him that I was on campus for precisely that reason!
We all have memories and stories of our great teachers and it’s fun to think about them and the things that make them stand out in our memory. That’s exactly what nine alumni have done for the cover story of this issue of CUA Magazine.
For me, it is kindness and civility, encouragement and support, clarity and humor, knowledge, experience and authenticity that describe the very best among my teachers. If I could truly imitate even a fraction of the qualities demonstrated by them, I would consider myself blessed in my profession.
Who were your favorite CUA professors? After you read the cover story, I invite you to share your memories of them, following the instructions on Pages 17.
Sometimes, when you have been in the same job for an extended period of time, you run the risk of boredom or burnout. As I move forward in my eighth year as president of Catholic University, however, I feel the opposite. I am more excited than I have ever been about the state of our university and the continuing promise of its dynamic growth.
My enthusiasm springs from a number of intersecting sources. One is the core academic component of our university. I wish you could have been with me at our retreat in early June when each academic dean presented a status report and laid out concrete plans and a vision for the future. Without exception, the presentations were inspiring as the deans demonstrated how their schools continue to excel in academics but have the potential to become even better.
Data confirms this academic excellence. Soon after he arrived last year, W. Michael Hendricks, our vice president for enrollment management, conducted a careful analysis of our prospective and current students. The data he presented to university trustees and administrators showed that CUA continues to compete with top-tier universities for excellent students — but that we must continue to work hard to remain among the best.
Another reason I feel so energized is that over the past 18 months we have strengthened our already stellar senior management team with the addition of Julie Englund, our treasurer and vice president for finance and administration; Robert Sullivan, our vice president for university development; and Mr. Hendricks.
And, finally, last year’s 49-acre land acquisition is making us think about how we will use our space. We have so many wonderful options to ponder for our 193-acre campus.
All of these factors put a spring in my step. Taken together they lead me to this conclusion: CUA is on the cusp of profound, positive change. As long as we continue to be wise stewards, the only question is how quickly this historic change will transpire.
I know that many of you care deeply about the university. You have given generously to the “Competitive Edge” campaign to upgrade our athletics facilities and programs, so important to all of us at CUA. Some of you ask me how we intend to use the land we have acquired, how the university is evolving, how solid its academic offerings continue to be. I want you, as alumni, to understand and share my enthusiasm. I wish that I could take each of you on a personal tour of campus and into planning meetings. Since I can’t, I am doing the next best thing.
In the pages of this magazine we are kicking off an occasional series of articles called Pride of Place, so that you as alumni can better know the state of your alma mater. In this issue, on Pages 10–15, we focus on our core academic mission as seen through the eyes of our provost and several deans, on CUA’s place in the business of higher education and on some preliminary plans for the university’s campus of the future.
In the next issue of CUA Magazine, our Pride of Place article will make the case for the transformation of Cardinal Hall (the former University Center, shown on the cover of this magazine issue) into the university’s new gateway building. This is a transformation that is imperative for our future success, but one that will not occur without alumni support.
Why are we calling this series Pride of Place? To demonstrate how proud we continue to be of Catholic University and to let you know that your CUA degree continues to be as valuable as it was when you graduated. We hope you will reciprocate by giving support of Catholic University a highly prominent position — pride of place — among your own priorities.
Fundraising is probably the single most talked about topic among university presidents. The reason is simple. The costs of higher education continue to increase, as does the competition for students. Many institutions that are tuition dependent — as CUA is — need other major sources of revenue to sustain their operations. Donor contributions are one such source.
The more a university is able to grow its endowment and increase its Annual Fund returns, the more the school can provide for its students and faculty. Increased giving brings other benefits as well, since the major college guides take alumni giving rates into account when calculating their annual rankings of universities.
Gone are the days when university presidents were able to think “great thoughts” and spend their time contributing to the intellectual vibrancy of our society. While some may lament that passing, others know that the time the president spends raising funds from generous donors enables the life of the mind to flourish in and through others within the university community.
Although the experts say there is plenty of money “out there,” fundraising is not easy. Specialists in fundraising indicate that the culture of philanthropy has changed significantly in recent years, with donors taking a much more active interest in how their contributions are spent.
With respect to CUA, there is a perception among potential donors that the university is financially supported by the Church. While it is true that CUA receives proceeds from a national collection, they total less than $6 million annually, all of which goes into our $30 million student financial aid budget. Obviously, for scholarship assistance and so many other important initiatives, we simply need to find more money. Without significant fundraising success, CUA will lose its momentum and its ability to compete successfully with the very best institutions. Without significant fundraising success, our excellent reputation as one of the top universities will begin to fade. And without significant fundraising success, our aging infrastructure and campus facilities will begin to deteriorate. We need such success.
Where will we find these funds? We turn to those who have the most obvious reason to invest in CUA: our alumni/ae. Contributing with pride each year to the Annual Fund and to other capital fund drives makes all the difference in the world to the university. Our average alumni giving rate stands at roughly 13 percent compared to Notre Dame’s 49 percent, Georgetown’s 33 percent, Providence College’s 27 percent, Boston College’s 25 percent and Villanova’s
In the eight years that I have been president of CUA, I have awakened each day with a great sense of our “potential.” The only thing that keeps us from leaping forward as a university is the need for an infusion of new funds.
To those who have been faithful contributors to the university’s Annual Fund and other fundraising initiatives, I express my sincere thanks and hope that you will continue to be as generous as your means allow. To those who have not given anything, I challenge you to demonstrate the value you attach to your CUA degree by making a contribution this year, and every year. The time is long past due for us to double the rate of alumni giving, putting us in the same league as Boston College, Villanova and Providence College. You, our alumni, need to do this not just as a tangible demonstration of pride in CUA. Your help is crucial if your alma mater is to realize its true potential.
As he put on his comfortable sweater and slippers each day, children’s television icon Fred Rogers sang the words, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” for more than 30 years on his show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Most of us have heard the lyrics at one time or another and could probably hum the melody with a little encouragement. Although frequently the source of humor among adults, Fred Rogers had a beautiful, simple message for children and adults alike. “We all long to be lovable and capable of loving,” he once explained. “And whatever we can do through the neighborhood or anything else to reflect that and to encourage people to be in touch with that, then I think that's our ministry.”
For 119 years, The Catholic University of America has existed “in the neighborhood” of Brookland in Washington, D.C., an anchor to this area once referred to as “Little Rome” because of all its Catholic institutions. Much has changed in this neighborhood since the United States bishops first purchased the property of James Middleton in the mid-1880s. And yet, CUA remains a stable, vibrant, active part of the local community.
University and college campuses all over our country often find themselves at odds with their neighbors for a variety of reasons. At times in its history, CUA has experienced similar “town and gown” tensions, sometimes of its own creation, sometimes not. But, for the most part, the university and its neighbors have enjoyed an enduring, healthy and mutually supportive relationship. In return for the educational and economic advantages that a university and its employees, students and constant stream of visitors provide to the neighborhood, the neighborhood provides a sense of “family” and “community” to students who are far from home.
Being part of a major metropolis, Brookland has not been spared some of the difficulties that often arise in such urban areas. At the same time, the neighborhood has been quick to respond and to join forces with the university when problems arise. Known for its commitment to civic activism, Brookland is a wonderful setting for putting CUA’s mission and values into practice, an experience that students can take with them wherever they go.
A national university, drawing its students and faculty from all 50 states and beyond, can sometimes forget or ignore its neighborhood identity. That is certainly not the case at CUA, as we demonstrate in this issue of CUA Magazine. We consider it a privilege to be a presence “in the neighborhood” and hope that the experience will, indeed, prepare our students to create “beautiful days” in whatever neighborhood they eventually call home.
My father died around this time last year. I did not want to let him go, but he had suffered too much. Along with my mother and brothers, I was fortunate enough to be with him in his final moments on earth. No matter how “grown up” we may be, when a parent dies, the child dies within us. No matter how “ready” we think we will be, in a parent’s death we lose a part of ourselves that no one can ever replace.
I have thought of my father often these past many months, sometimes in ways and at times that took me by surprise. An old song that he liked. A phrase that he used to say. The smell of the after-shave he used. The sight of his empty chair. My reactions in those moments were often equally surprising. The tears welled up quickly. He was my dad. I loved him. I miss him.
What we lose when a parent dies is not simply a presence in our lives, someone who was hopefully a loving presence. What we lose when a parent dies is a person who from our earliest days taught us — again, hopefully, with love — the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, between what will help us in life and what will hurt us. A parent is supposed to nurture and protect us, to teach and guide us, to help us form our response to the world and, ultimately, to let us go free.
This time of year, on the first anniversary of his death, the memory of my dad looms large in my mind and heart. Because of its timing, I do not believe I shall ever begin a new academic year without also thinking of him. I say that not to be maudlin or sad but, rather, to recognize that life brings moments and people and events together in a way that — if we allow it — can teach us something.
Our time on earth is brief, no matter how many years measure it. We need to live each day to the full. There is no time to waste on pettiness or past hurts or anger. There is no time for grudges or the unwillingness to forgive. Death freezes in an instant everything that has gone before it in the changeless span of human history. Perhaps that is why Our Lord wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus, and gave him another chance. Life, and life alone, affords us the opportunity to change, to make things better, to grow, to give, to love. No one, to my knowledge, has ever been more fortunate than Lazarus. Perhaps that is why Our Lord proclaimed in John’s Gospel, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” If only we realized the depth and breadth of those words.
No one can ever replace those who leave us in death. But if love, true love, is the characteristic that fills our living, no one will ever have to. Thanks, Pop.
We hear a great deal about marketing today, even in the world of higher education. Although the trend toward incorporating business principles and practices meets with great resistance, even revulsion, within the academic community, the fact of the matter is that universities and colleges have a product to sell — namely themselves and the education they impart — and it’s a buyer’s market! Intense competition among institutions of higher learning, along with the ever-increasing costs involved in their operations and activities, make it essential that academic institutions promote and “brand” themselves in such a way as to garner their market share.
To that end, much like commercial enterprises, American universities and colleges have taken to the practice of identifying “taglines,” marketing tools intended to draw quick attention to themselves. Almost three years ago, CUA settled on a tagline that we thought was catchy and descriptive: “Do it all. Discover excellence. Experience success.” The idea was that CUA gives its students the opportunity to combine an excellent education, growth in faith, personal development and appropriate social experiences, as well as opportunities to take advantage of living and working in our nation’s capital. “Do it all.” Of course, the announcement of the tagline was met with the usual “tsk-tsking” in some corners of the university, while some students were quick to give it a less than noble interpretation. Recently, one student suggested that CUA’s tagline should have read “Do it all*. *Certain restrictions apply!”
At any rate, taglines have a shelf life and the time has come to introduce another one, the result of a competition involving hundreds of our undergraduate and graduate students. The new catchphrase selected for CUA is: “Reason. Faith. Service.”
Those three words capture, in a simple, direct, yet profound way, both what we are and what we do at The Catholic University of America. True enough, they could be the mantra of any good Catholic or religious institution of higher education. But, when attached to this particular institution, with its unique mission and its history, they take on a special meaning:
Reason. The purpose of university education is to enlighten the mind in the deepest possible ways to the mysteries of the world in which we live. Reason seeks truth.
Faith. Reason, even when stretched to its furthest limits, only provides a partial view of truth. There is more to be known, more to be experienced and more to be revealed in a world created by God, whose wisdom and truth are without limits and remain accessible only to a person who understands that there is more to life than the mind, alone, can grasp. Catholic education, when it imparts and strengthens faith, enlightens the soul.
Service. Reason and faith, in and of themselves, make precious little difference in the world unless they motivate us to action on behalf of our neighbor. And action that puts reason and faith at the service of our sisters and brothers in this world fulfills the Lord’s command: “Love one another.” Service enlightens the world.
Marketing is important for any and all enterprises that depend on people to keep them going. CUA is no exception. And, in the process of fine-tuning our “brand,” we have, once again, settled upon a trademark that is both timely and timeless for us — a tagline that will “keep the customer satisfied” if we live up to it in all that we say and do and are.
Family. I grew up watching shows like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet” and “The Donna Reed Show.” The television families portrayed regularly had a couple of mischievous yet happy kids, two loving parents who always had the right answers, and situations that were as simple as they were comical and sweet. It was a great image of American family life in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Although my family did not look anything like these television families, we continued to tune in week after week to follow their adventures. Looking back, I think we subconsciously related to the ideals of happiness, stability, love and support that these shows tried to present — qualities that were very present in my own family’s adventures despite the differences in appearance. I mean, my mother never cleaned our house or cooked our meals in a dress; my father never came to the table in a long-sleeve white shirt and tie; my brothers and I never had cookies and milk after roughhousing with the neighborhood kids.
When I occasionally watch these shows in syndication today, 40 or 50 years later, they seem unreal and hokey. I ask myself, “Was family life ever really like that? Do we have anything in our contemporary society to connect us with the portrayal of family life from two generations ago?”
Long before the politically charged expression “family values” was invented, families lived those values. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers — even extended-family members — placed value on being together, loving one another, passing on traditions and
helping one another succeed in life. Although the way families look today might not match the appearances of two generations ago, family is still valued as the cornerstone of our American society and our Church.
That is never clearer to me than at graduation time. The pride and joy that families feel about their graduating senior or graduate student is contagious! So much sacrifice and love has gone into making this event possible in their lives. One cannot help but feel a thrill watching the graduates march across campus to the majestic strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The importance of family is so real and so evident.
Writing to the Corinthians about virtues and values, St. Paul declared that “the greatest of these is love.” It is so sad to witness families in which the absence of love was or is felt, for whatever reason. Past hurts, harsh words, carelessness, jealousy, selfishness or greed — family members hold on to these things, at times, as though they were treasures of gold. But they are not. They destroy family life and family love. They are the opposite of anything of worth or value. Sometimes, we just have to swallow hard and let go. Forgive no matter what the offense or deficiency. Begin a new chapter before it is too late, before the book closes altogether.
You only get one family and you do not get a choice as to who its members are. Life is far too short to let old family wounds fester even one more day. You do not have to be Ozzie or Harriet or “the Beaver” to recognize and realize that your happiness in life depends upon you. Your family may not be “television perfect” but it is your family, God’s first gift to you. Love them as much as you can!
There are virtues and then there are virtues. Here’s one you don’t see a lot of today: civility. In a world in which instant information, instant messages, instant solutions and instant gratification are not only expected but presumed and, indeed, required, precious little room and time are left for the virtue of civility. Like the virtues of meekness and humility in human interactions, civility — when observed or detected — is often mistaken for weakness. It is, sad to say, more often mocked than valued.
As president of a university identified so clearly with the Catholic Church, I receive more than my fair share of exposure to the lack of civility. Instead of asking questions or raising issues or voicing concerns, some people are just not satisfied until they brutally rub your nose in their view of reality, leaving your senses reeling.
Why is it so easy today to forget that there is a human being on the other end of the conversation or letter or e-mail or phone call? Where did basic respect, politeness and civility go? Whoever decided that it is good to be cruel or unkind in the expression of an opinion? Whoever decided that there are no longer boundaries to be observed, rules to be followed, courtesy to be shown in the articulation of a point of view? Are we at that point in human existence when “I” has so totally replaced “we” that the common good has ceased to be a compelling foundation for life together in this world and a goal to be pursued? Since when am “I” always right and everyone else always wrong? The topics people bring up may range from the sublime to the ridiculous but they are all treated the same, with no distinction, no gradation of importance, no recognition of what really matters, no sense of “the other,” not to mention no sense of humor — that precious quality which, along with intellect and free will, distinguish human beings from animals.
Civility is not only a virtue that reveals good citizenship — it is also a virtue that reveals good Christianity and good humanity. Maybe people just tire of “turning the other cheek” so much; maybe they grow weary of forgiving “seventy times seven times”; and maybe, just maybe, people think there is another meaning to Jesus’ great command to “love one another as I have loved you.” No one ever said it would be easy. Certainly, our Lord did not when he cautioned, “Enter through the narrow gate.” A little civility in life and in human relationships would go a long way, even if it is only a first step. The time has come for everyone to take that step for a change.
Did you ever notice how often we use the word “hope” in our ordinary, everyday conversations or correspondence? “Hope you are doing well” … “Hope to see you soon” … “Hope to see you there.” We frequently begin our sentences with “hopefully” or respond to comments with “I hope so.” Hope constitutes a big part of our daily lives, so much so that we might not even notice its presence. Perhaps that is because hope has as its object something that is yet to be. In the truest sense, then, we live in hope.
For those who believe in God, however, hope is much more than a natural or human longing for something. It is the intersection between faith as “confident assurance” (Hebrews 11:1) in the power and love of God for us and what that power and love can create in our lives if we do, indeed, possess such faith and confidence and conviction. That idea is repeated over and over again in the sacred Scriptures. And that idea took on flesh and blood in the Lord Jesus Christ, once and forever!
The Catholic University of America is privileged to host His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on campus this spring. His historic visit to the United States — to Washington and New York City — has as its central theme “Christ Our Hope.” His message will be one of hope and renewal for the Church in our country.
On Nov. 30, 2007, the Holy Father published the second encyclical letter of his pontificate, fittingly entitled Spe Salvi (“On Christian Hope”). “For the great majority of people — we may suppose,” he writes, “there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God” (paragraph 46). That openness is the grace and gift of God, not only for us as individual believers but also for us as a human community created by him. “A world without God,” he observes, “is a world without hope” (paragraph 44).
Reflecting on that idea, I am drawn to a new understanding of the very purpose and mission of Catholic universities and colleges: the opportunity to reveal in the lives of those on our campuses such an “openness to truth, to love, to God.” That encounter will give them and all of us as alumni hope in what can and will and must be. If we miss that, nothing that we study or celebrate in life — no subject or discipline or experience or career — will make sense.
Yes, we live in hope, both as individual people of faith and as a community. For, in the midst of wars and injustice and inhumanity, as our Holy Father reminds us, “our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me, too …We should never limit ourselves to asking: How can I save myself? We should also ask: What can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them, too, the star of hope may rise?” (paragraph 48).
For us at The Catholic University of America, these are the questions we ask. And hope is the answer we seek to provide.
I was not nervous at all, at least not until I saw that first limousine pull into the driveway. The day and the moment had finally arrived after these many months of preparation. Pope Benedict XVI was now here at The Catholic University of America. The students chanted and cheered as the automobile, adorned with the flags of the United States and the Vatican, made its way to the entrance of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. They had begun gathering eight hours earlier, lining up to get this glimpse of the Holy Father.
As the limousine door opened, I approached our special visitor. Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl was making his way alongside the entourage to join me, but the Holy Father was a little quicker than anyone anticipated. He turned immediately to the thousands of students on the lawn between the law school and “the Pryz” to wave to his newest friends. As the cheering continued, he turned to me, smiled and said, “Father, how have you been?” I felt immense joy as I said, “Your Holiness, I cannot thank you enough for being here with us at The Catholic University of America.”
Although the Holy Father’s purpose in coming here was much larger than CUA, the fact that our campus was part of the original plan for his trip to the United States was an honor beyond measure. He had been here before, in 1990, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when he came to address the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the neighboring Dominican House of Studies. And his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had also visited our campus, first as a cardinal and later — in 1979 — as pope. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had asked to address Catholic university and college presidents and other educational leaders at this, the national university of the Catholic Church. A papally chartered institution of higher education — the only one sponsored by the bishops of our country — CUA is certainly a most appropriate place to do that. And Pope Benedict XVI’s address was masterful, indeed.
The Holy Father began his visit, after greeting all of our assembled students, by meeting graduating senior Peter Osgood, who had won an essay contest on the topic “How Catholic Education Has Changed My Life.” Headed to medical school in the fall, Osgood asked the Pope to bless his hands — a touching moment for all of us who witnessed it. The Holy Father then turned quickly and entered the building to greet seminarians and formation faculty from the university’s seminary, Theological College. When I introduced the group to him, the Pope said, “So many! And so beautifully dressed,” referring to the sea of Roman collars.
His Holiness took the elevator upstairs to greet some special guests and the educational leaders assembled there. I was privileged to have some moments alone with him before processing into the Great Room for his address. Our conversation is a truly moving subject for another day.
When the Holy Father got into the popemobile to depart campus, I saw a thousand tears welling up in the eyes of those who saw him and to whom he waved and smiled as we sang “Regina Coeli.” For a Catholic university, it does not get much better than this. For The Catholic University of America, the fact that “Peter” chose to walk among us — if only for a short while — is a dramatic and awesome reminder of the unique identity, mission and responsibility that belong to us. May we ever be faithful to our name and all that it represents!
Used by itself, the word “passion” can evoke any number of ideas. Study its roots and you will find that the English word derives from the Latin root “passio” — from the verb “patior,” meaning “to suffer.” The word “patience” has similar roots.
Often enough, we relate passion, though, to some intense emotion, usually feelings of desire or affection. We find such a definition in Webster’s dictionary.
In his treatise The Philosophy of History, the German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel (1770–1831) wrote, “We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” We do not have to be philosophers to understand what he means. Think about his idea, however, not merely in terms of emotional intensity but, rather, in terms of the root meaning of the word “passion”: suffering. Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without suffering.
Suffering for its own sake is rather pointless, really. Suffering for the sake of something “great in the world”; for something significant, positive or noble; for the sake of someone else, for the community and its good — that is another story.
We speak of people having a “passion” for this or that cause: for education, for justice, for sports or politics or the arts. If we were to be true to the root meaning of the word, we would acknowledge that people with passion are willing to suffer, to sacrifice for these causes. When such people cross our paths, they can inspire and excite us. Passion has an infectious quality. But passion can also frighten us if we are not ready or willing to move or be moved. Either way, passion — when it is observed or encountered — always yields some response.
As we approach tasks required or expected of us every day, it is sometimes hard to generate passion about them. The job will get done, sooner or later. But just inject a little passion, and see what happens. It can change you, it can change those who work or live with you, it can change the routine, it can even change the outcome.
Take a moment to think about yourself, your life, your family and friends, your work, your goals, your world. You can simply let things happen without much energy or investment; they’ll get done as they always do. Or you can determine what it is you hope to accomplish in this world and why, and, then, what you are willing to give and give up to accomplish these things. Suffering to create something good, sacrifice to make things better — that’s the element of passion. It can make ordinary things extraordinary. It can make routine things anything but. Try it! If the only change that occurs is within you, it’s worth the effort!
No one needs to be reminded that we are living in difficult economic times, perhaps the most difficult since the Great Depression. The news is all around us all day, every day, and we cannot escape it. Not only has the current financial crisis affected individuals and families, it has also had a profound impact upon organizations, agencies and institutions. Institutions like colleges and universities. Institutions like The Catholic University of America.
As president of CUA, I would be less than honest if I did not say that these difficult economic times worry me. I am deeply concerned about our students and their families and their ability to finance their education here. While sacrifice has always been part of the picture, it is even more so now.
At the same time, I look at plans and decisions we have made to renovate campus buildings and to introduce innovations in our academic and research programs, and I find myself putting a hold on these plans and altering these decisions, hopefully for the time being only. Although not much of a consolation, the fact is, no one has been spared these worries. We all find ourselves in the same boat and in the same difficult-to-negotiate waters.
In the past year, CUA has lost $70 million in its portfolio — nearly a third of its value and almost twice the total of the endowment that I found upon my arrival here 11 years ago. The loss impacts the operations that depend upon endowment income and, even more, it has slowed down the great momentum CUA has witnessed over the past decade.
By nature, I am a realist. But my realism has never tarnished or deterred my optimism as I look to the future. We will recover, albeit slowly. Students and their parents will continue to seek the excellent education and commitment to faith that CUA provides as they make even harder sacrifices. And generous people, believing in our unique mission of “service to Church and nation,” will continue to invest in the university and its future. Why? Because hope springs eternal and CUA offers hope in all that it stands for and does and creates. “Reason. Faith. Service.” — these three living realities that define CUA have always transformed lives, turning what is possible and “hoped for” into a determination and conviction that the stars are not beyond our reach.
If there is any silver lining to what presently appears to be a very dark cloud, it is this: We have the opportunity now to re-define our priorities, to change what we must, to concentrate on what is truly essential, to re-think our purpose and to re-commit ourselves to a timeless mission that, by necessity, must do more with less. Sacrifice is not, by its very nature, a negative. It can — no, it must — mold and shape character and give witness to courage, integrity and hope. For in the end, The Catholic University of America and all who believe in it must hearken to the words of the Lord Jesus who is the reason this university exists: “In the world you will have troubles, but take courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). That — He — is the reason for the hope.
I have often heard it said, “Youth is wasted on the young,” usually by more senior folks lamenting something that their juniors could or should do but are not doing. They seem to forget that we were all young once, that we all had some wonderful opportunities staring us in the face that we simply let pass by. Such is life and we should not waste precious time pondering John Greenleaf Whittier’s poetic regret: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ ”
The fact of the matter is that, at some point in all our lives, we did grab hold of an opportunity and we ran with it.What “might have been” ceased to be important and gave way to what could be and now is: faith, family, career, service, commitment and giving back.
One of the greatest things about working at a university is seeing the energy and potential of the young people whom we serve. Contrary to the sentiment quoted above, the young people I have come to know here at CUA and elsewhere are full of life and enthusiasm, eager to make their mark on the world. This generation is not “wasting” their youth. Rather, they are spending it, using it to real advantage.
Talk to some university students sometime. Sure, they are young and idealistic, even a bit naïve. But they are involved. They care. They want to do the right thing. They want to be part of something great. It is our responsibility as their parents, professors or mentors to direct them to something “greater than themselves.”
All of us have witnessed firsthand what laziness and lust, greed and self-interest can do, not only to ourselves but to an entire nation, indeed, to the entire world. Youth is the time to learn and to grow. But who will teach them, who must teach them? Who needs to open the door for them to adulthood and citizenship, responsibility and recognition of the common good?
Cognitive psychologists tell us that most of what is learned in a classroom passes from memory quickly. The most enduring lessons, however, are learned through the example one generation gives to the next, the values one generation passes on to the next, the service one generation inspires in the next.
That phrase quoted by such polar opposites as Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan comes to mind: “If not us, who? If not now, when?” What today’s and tomorrow’s youth become is largely dependent upon us who bear the heat of the day now, and how we bear it. And if we do it right, youth will not be “wasted on the young.” Our heat will become part of their light, a light that will yield a “fire in the belly” of the young that will make for a better and more promising future, a better and more promising world.
Optimistic? Absolutely. Unrealistic? Not at all. The steady and unrelenting march of time through generation after generation has shown us so. None of us, young or old, can afford to waste a moment.
It was a beautiful but hot and humid day, the day I was ordained a priest. The chapel was filled to capacity and the heat inside was probably due to that and a number of other factors: the lack of air conditioning, the vestments in which my classmates and I were robed and the nervousness we all felt after many years of seminary formation. We had observed this ceremony so many times before but now it was our turn.
So many images of that day run through my mind, but one is particularly memorable. An impressive part of the ritual calls for those who are being ordained to prostrate themselves on the ground before the bishop and those gathered. Although the vestments had grown damp and sweat was pouring down my face, the tile floor felt so cool and refreshing, a moment of blessed relief from the heat. The congregation was singing the “Litany of the Saints” as we lay facedown on the chapel floor. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us,” they sang. “St. Joseph, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us.” For what seemed like an eternity, the community gathered in that chapel asked the communion of saints in heaven to pray for my classmates and me.
As I lifted myself up from the ground (something that would not be as easy 27 years later!), I turned and saw the joyful, tearful faces of my mom and dad and my entire family. I did not notice the heat anymore. The singing stopped. I approached the bishop, knelt down and he placed his hands on my head, ordaining me to the priesthood.
I have thought of that day a thousand times since.
The years between then and now have found me teaching high school, studying canon law here at CUA, returning to the seminary to teach, preaching retreats, working in canon law tribunals, advising women and men religious as well as bishops and priests on the intricacies of Church law, serving as a professor and administrator at two universities and, now, leading CUA, my alma mater, as its 14th president — all as a priest.
Through it all, I have reflected again and again on the holy card I chose long ago to commemorate my ordination and first Mass. It features a woodcut print by Albrecht Dürer of Jesus washing the apostles’ feet, along with the words “He has come to serve and not to be served” (Mark 10:45). And during those countless moments, I have always asked myself, “Have I lived up to Jesus’ words and actions?” Truth be told, the answer is, unfortunately, “Not always.” But, truth be told, I still keep the words on that holy card before my mind and in my heart as a goal, a motive and an inspiration.
Pope Benedict XVI has declared this to be the “Year for Priests.” He did so not in any way to denigrate or downgrade the priesthood of all the baptized faithful. No, he offered this year to priests and the entire Church — especially considering the experience of unimaginable scandals and our own imperfections — as “a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift” shared by so many “generous pastors” (Benedict XVI, June 16, 2009).
These 12 years of being president of CUA have introduced me to many “generous pastors” among the alumni, faculty and staff of the university. What a great contribution CUA has made to the Church, as have the thousands of wonderful, faith-filled female and male alumni who look to these priests for guidance, prayer, preaching, teaching and the sacraments.
Although we exercise different roles and responsibilities, we are “one bread, one body,” “one Church,” called by the Lord Jesus through our varied roles, but especially in the priesthood, “to serve and not to be served, to give our lives in ransom for the many.”
It was the toughest day of my life and the most difficult decision.
My youngest brother lay comatose in a hospital, ravaged by swine flu and pneumonia in both lungs. He had been my mother’s principal caretaker since my father’s death five years ago. I brought Mom to Washington to care for her awhile. She is 83, has great difficulty walking and suffers from dementia, the result of several strokes suffered during hip surgery a few years back.
I loved every minute of the almost two months we spent together, from early November until after Christmas. For the past 12 years I have lived alone, so the company of my mother was a joy! There were challenges with the arrangement, given my schedule and obligations as president, but this time of year required me to be on campus more than off. Our students were wonderful, offering to stay with her when I had to travel or attend an evening function. And she enjoyed their company and conversation.
Many of us in the baby-boom generation face the situation of caring for elderly parents. I know I am not alone. Suffice it to say, that doesn’t make it easier.
For me, just the sound of her voice when we spoke, the smile on her face when I brought her some hot tea or candy, the stories she told me about her early life are memories I shall treasure forever. It saddened me to see her in a state of steady decline, though, knowing that my once vibrant, happy and loving mother was slipping away. She would ask a thousand times a day, “How old am I?” “Why am I here?” “When can I go home?” She wasn’t always sure who I was or what connection she had with me. At times, she wasn’t sure who she was. Other times, she was as bright and lucid as I remembered from years ago. Those moments gave me great hope — maybe she was getting better! But they didn’t last long and she would slip back into confusion.
In the morning, I would dispense her multiple medications. “Why am I taking these?” she would ask. I cooked her meals, washed her clothes, made her bed, prepared her shower, helped her dress, and then I would disappear for the day’s work. Lucky for me, I could pop in on her during the day, join her for lunch and supper, and just simply sit and watch TV with her at night.
I often thought about the reversal of roles, becoming a “parent” to my mother. I didn’t mind it, but I could feel some melancholy come over me. As I put her to bed at night, I would sit on the edge of her bed to put her at ease. It never failed, as I turned out the light, that she would say, “I love you, hon.” Many nights, those words would be greeted by my tears as well as my own, “I love you, too, Mom.” I knew the arrangement could not last and it broke my heart.
I was able to find a place for her, closer to home and closer to my three brothers, the youngest of whom was now recovering. D’Youville Manor in Yardley, Pa., sponsored by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, is a beautiful, clean and wonderful facility for assisted living, but when the day came to take her there, it was like a dagger pierced my heart. My mind told me that this was a good place for her, offering every comfort and care. Every other part of me wanted to bring her back to Washington. But she needed care that I could not really provide.
“Why am I here?” she asked as I walked to the door of her room, the same question as before. I knew that my feeble answer would not matter and that she would not remember it. She had no memory at all of being with me for the past two months. But I do and always will. And I will always be grateful for it.
As I left her behind that first day, sad beyond all telling, I passed a statue of the Blessed Mother. I thought for a moment, Your Son had to leave you once in the care of others. And I prayed with all my heart, Take good care of her. And my brothers and I will, too.
Index to Father O'Connell's CUA Magazine columns
A complete collection of the President's Forum columns written by Very Rev. David M. O'Connell for CUA Magazine.
"All Things New" – Summer 1999
"Counting Down to 2000" – Winter 1999
"The Wake-Up Call" – Summer 1999
"A Thirst for Knowledge" – Fall 1999
– Winter 2000
"The Moment of Truth" – Summer 2000
"The Human Heart" – Fall 2000
"A Generous Soul" – Winter 2001
"Homeward Bound" – Summer 2001
"Living Out Compassion" – Fall 2001
"He Still Teaches" – Spring 2002
– Summer 2002
"Hard to BELIEVE" – Fall 2002
"Much Obliged" – Spring 2003
– Summer 2003
"An Excruciating Lesson" – Fall 2003
On and Off the Field" – Spring 2004
– Summer 2004
"Light Through the Window" – Fall 2004
"Thanks to the Teachers" – Spring 2005
"Pride of Place" – Summer 2005
"Help CUA Leap Forward" – Fall 2005
– Spring 2006
"A Father's Final Lesson" – Fall 2006
"Reason. Faith. Service." – Spring 2007
"Value Family" – Summer 2007
– Fall 2007
"Hopefully" – Spring 2008
"Peter Among Us" – Summer 2008
"Passion" – Fall 2008
"Reason for the Hope" – Spring 2009
– Summer 2009
"The Greatness of God's Gift" – Fall 2009
– Spring 2010