Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon Keith Fournier

5/25/2010 (6 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Catholic identity at a Catholic College requires that the academic community understand its ecclesial nature

The Catholic College President is at the service of the Catholic Church. He or she should understand the implications of the Catholic faith on the entirety of the educational mission. They participate in the saving mission of the Catholic Church. They must be properly formed in the faith and up to this task. Father David O'Connell is such a President.

The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

5/25/2010 (6 years ago)

Published in College & University

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - In an interview with one of my favorite religion reporters, Julia Duinn of the Washington Times, one of my favorite Catholic College Presidents, Fr. David O'Connell, showed his mettle - and the reason he was able to turn the Catholic University of America  around during his tenure as President. The article appeared in the Thursday May 20th edition of the Washington Times and was entitled "Vatican urged to guide Catholic schools." 

Father O'Connell displayed the candor needed in this desperate hour in this interview. The mission of the Church requires a new generation of properly formed Catholic men and women to engage what Pope Benedict XVI rightly called the "Dictatorship of Relativism." They need to offer a different way; the new and true humanism offered by the Christian vision of the human person, the family and society. They need to articulate truth claims and shine the light of truth in an age of shadows. It is those truth claims which have informed Western civilization. Those truth claims alone can rescue it from the abyss.They are being well prepared at Catholic University of America - and this Catholic College President has made sure of it.

Father O'Connell is a young man at 55 and has many years of service left. I do not know him personally. However, I have been a recipient of his authentically Catholic leadership. I just completed my PhD coursework and exams in Moral Theology at Catholic University. I am working on a dissertation. This program, in disarray several years before the arrival of Father O'Connell, is faithful to the Magisterium, academically excellent, and populated with outstanding professors who have changed my life, and the lives of many others. I know his leadership had much to do with that turnaround.

At the end of the article, Julia Duin referred to the past problems in the Moral Theology Department at the Catholic University of America. It was only one of the challenges the President faced when, out of a field of 100 candidates he was chosen, at 42 years old, to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). The Apostolic Constitution on Catholic universities was promulgated in 1990. It is filled with clear teaching on Catholic identity such as:

"The primary mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel in such a way that a relationship between faith and life is established in each individual and in the socio-cultural context in which individuals live and act and communicate with one another. Evangelization means "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.... By its very nature, each Catholic university makes an important contribution to the Church's work of evangelization. It is a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism, or where Christ and his message are still virtually unknown.

"Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic university are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church: research carried out in the light of the Christian message which puts new human discoveries at the service of individuals and society; education offered in a faith-context that forms men and women capable of rational and critical judgment and conscious of the transcendent dignity of the human person; professional training that incorporates ethical values and a sense of service to individuals and to society; the dialogue with culture that makes the faith better understood, and the theological research that translates the faith into contemporary language.Precisely because it is more and more conscious of its salvific mission in this world, the Church wants to have these centers closely connected with it; it wants to have them present and operative in spreading the authentic message of Christ." (Ex Corde Ecclesia, Par. #48, 49)

Father O'Connell mentioned the debacle at the University of Notre Dame and asked the correct question: "Obama goes to Notre Dame and everyone gets their pants in a twist; 80 bishops pile on saying Notre Dame shouldn't have done that; the president comes and gives a speech; [the university] still turns away 1,000 students; they still get a million dollars in contributions; they honor the [papal] nuncio. ... They're back in the good graces of the church - what happened as a result of this?" 

He is writing a book on Catholic Identity at Catholic Colleges. It is truly needed. He will continue his effort to see Ex Corde Ecclesiae implemented in every Catholic College and University. The rumor mill is heating up over his possible call to episcopal service. He would be a great Bishop! He told the Washington Times that 20 years after it was promulgated too many Catholic Colleges  are not following it, "I'd like the Holy See to say 'Ex Corde' is normative,not Land O'Lakes. To appeal to Land O'Lakes as a source of vibrancy in Catholic education is mistaken." To which I add a hearty "Amen".

He referred to the July 1967 statement of 1500 words issued by twenty-six Catholic men who gathered in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. Their ruminations on the nature of "academic freedom" have led to dissent and the loss of Catholic identity and integrity on too many Campuses. For example, "To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities." The real problem is, what does all that mean?

Catholic identity at a Catholic College requires that the academic community understand its ecclesial nature. In an institution, just as in persons, it begins from the inside and works its way throughout like leaven or yeast in a loaf. Catholic identity must become the beating heart of a Catholic College and provide the infrastructure for its entire educational mission. When it does, the building of a Catholic culture on campus becomes a fruit. This kind of Catholic culture helps to ensure the integration of the faith in every aspect of the academy, through both word and witness. It flourishes when all who are involved in this educational mission, from the Catholic College President to the Professor in the classroom, first view themselves as disciples, lifelong learners, followers of the Teacher, Jesus Christ.

In "Ex Corde Ecclesia" (At the Heart of the Church) we read, "Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics: 1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; 2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research; 3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church; 4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life..

"In the light of these four characteristics, it is evident that besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities, a Catholic University, by institutional commitment, brings to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message. In a Catholic University, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities. In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative"

The Catholic College is not a private College with a church affiliation. It is a Catholic College. In his masterful letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul calls all Christians to a "renewal of their minds". (Romans 12:2) This renewal of the mind is the essence of Catholic education. There is a constitutive connection between truth, freedom, education and the ability to form an authentically human and just culture. This commitment to truth characterizes the entire Catholic educational mission. 

Catholic Colleges are an extension of the teaching work of the Catholic Church. The living Christ still teaches and directs His Church. Through that Church he continues to influence all of human culture. The faithful of the Church are called to inculcate and live the truth as articulated under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the teaching office of the Church. Catholic Colleges should stretch students academically, promoting excellence and not minimalism, and form them in truth, calling them to fidelity to the Church which is the pillar and bulwark of truth.( 1 Tim. 3:15) 

In an authentically Catholic educational philosophy there is no dichotomy between "faith and reason" or faith and intellectual excellence. In one of the great encyclical letters of the Venerable John Paul II Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) he expressed this unity so clearly: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."

The development, articulation and implementation of this kind of vision are the primary responsibility of the Catholic College President. Such a President must understand his/her task as pedagogical, pastoral, catechetical and developmental. All leadership within the Catholic College is a part of the Catholic ecclesial community and participates in the leadership of the Church. Catholic College Presidents need to understand the uniqueness of Catholic leadership, believe it, and live it. Catholic identity should be the first criterion considered in choosing Presidents. It should motivate their service, and inform everything that they do in discharging their office.

The Catholic College President is at the service of the Catholic Church and then through her called to prepare leaders for the world. He or she should understand the implications of the catholic faith on the entirety of the educational mission. They are not simply secular professionals offering their skills in a Catholic College. As with leadership of any Catholic institution, they now participate in the saving mission of the Catholic Church. They must be properly formed in the faith and up to this task.

The students entrusted to their care are "living stones being built into a spiritual household" (I Peter 2:5) who have been called to build the future. Their call as Catholic College Presidents leaders is to articulate a compelling and profoundly Catholic vision and mission in word and deed and help the academic community placed in their care along the Catholic way of life and service to the Church and the world into which she is sent to carry on the redemptive mission of the Lord.

Father David O'Connell is such a President. For that he is to be commended. "Well done good and faithful servant." We encourage our global readers to pray for him as he continues to serve the Church in her mission to an age  desperately in need of her liberating message. We also ask our readers to pray for his successor. He or she needs to continue the momentum begun by this good priest and exemplary Catholic College President.


'Help give every student and teacher Free resources for a world-class moral Catholic education'

Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for DECEMBER 2016
End to Child-Soldiers: That the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.
Evangelization: Europe: That the peoples of Europe may rediscover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel which gives joy and hope to life.


More College & University

BREAKING: UCLA on lockdown after shooting on campus Watch

Image of UCLA is on lockdown.


The UCLA campus has been put on lockdown after reports of a shooter in the university's Boelter Hall were released via social media. Police reported a shooting on the UCLA campus, issuing a tweet to say that the school's Westwood campus was on lockdown following a ... continue reading

Christian students in U.S. not allowed to speak to other students without permits Watch

Image of Christian liberties denied at North Carolina State University (Wikipedia).


In a move reminiscent of the early 1900s, North Carolina State University segregated a student Christian group from the rest of the student population. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Grace Christian Life is a registered student Christian group on NC State's ... continue reading

Benedict XVI Centre approved by Holy See, but what will they be doing there? Watch

Image of The center will focus on religion and social sciences (CDJ).


St. Mary's University in Twickenham, London has been formally approved to name one of their buildings after Benedict XVI. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to its website, St. Mary's University will name one of their buildings the Benedict XVI Centre for ... continue reading

Alarming University campaign threatens First Amendment rights Watch

Image of The University of Portland asks students to report discrimination, interactions of intolerance and incidents of discomfort (Stefan Redel/


The University of Portland recently launched a "Speak Up" campaign designed to put an end to discrimination, intolerance and "incidents of discomfort." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The University's Speak Up website specifies inclusion is a top priority - one ... continue reading

Comparing some students to 'Catholic jihadis,' Mount St. Mary University president comes under fire Watch

Image of Mount St. Mary University President Simon Newman said in a memo,

By Adelaide Mena and Matt Hadro, CNA News

Amid uproar over comparing struggling students to bunnies that should be drowned or shot, Mount St. Mary's University president is now under fire for criticizing expressions of the Catholic faith at the school. Emmitsburg, Md. (CNA) - Already facing turmoil, the ... continue reading

The fight for religious liberty: How one Catholic college deals with threats Watch

Image of

By Matt Hadro (CNA/EWTN News)

The future of religious freedom in the United States will one day be in the care of today's college students, so one Catholic college is working to equip them for that struggle. Washington D.C., (CNA/EWTN News) - Wyoming Catholic College is trying to form a "community ... continue reading

4 reasons Catholic education needs your help this year Watch

Image of Are America's Catholic schools being attacked? (Wordpress)


The Catholic education system is coming under attack by a plethora of policies designed to make the hiring process, acceptance of anti-Christian viewpoints, transgender issues and Catholic identity concerns. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Cardinal Newman ... continue reading

Catholic identity or education: Are the top Catholic universities falsely rated by secular standards? Watch

Image of


A list of the top 40 traditional Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America was created, but were they rated fairly? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Newsmax revealed their top forty Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America, but what were their standards?The United ... continue reading

Becoming Divine Mercy: A Mission of Mercy Watch

Image of

By Jessie Tappel, Communications Director at Divine Mercy University

God, the source of all mercy, provides us with an experience so great that we have no choice but to reflect it to our own brother and sister. Mercy calls for an outward response, which is made clear in the examples of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. You can ... continue reading

UST Breaks Ground on New Center for Science and Health Professions Watch

Image of

By Darnell Miller - University of St. Thomas

The University of St. Thomas, a member of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, broke ground on a new Center for Science and Health Professions on Nov. 12, 2015. The new facility, containing more than 100,000 square-feet of modern lab space and classrooms, will meet ... continue reading

All College & University News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 8:23--9:3
23 For is not everything dark as night for a country in distress? As the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 [Of David] Yahweh is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 4:12-23
12 Hearing that John had been arrested he withdrew to ... Read More

Reading 2, First Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
10 Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 22nd, 2017 Image

St. Vincent Pallotti
January 22: St. Vincent Pallotti, Priest (Feast - January 22) ... Read More