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Editorial: Well Done! Fr. David O'Connell Retires as President of the Catholic University of America
By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 25th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
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.
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 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.
"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".
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..
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.
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.
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