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July, 2019

One more time! A new academic year dawns as summer ’08 begins to fade, and I want to express a word of welcome to our newest colleagues and students and a grand “welcome back” to everyone else. I hope you had a wonderful and relaxing summer vacation and that you are ready to “greet the dawn!”

St. Paul (as portrayed by 18th-century painter Etienne Parrocel)

We will celebrate the new academic year with Mass in the Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday, Aug. 28, at noon. Archbishop Donald Wuerl will be the celebrant as we inaugurate “The Year of St. Paul” and I will share some thoughts as homilist. There are no classes or meetings scheduled for that time so that the whole community — Catholics and members of other faiths — can join together in prayer as we greet the year ahead. I hope that everyone will make an effort to attend, even if you have not done so in the past.

At the Mass, I am beginning a new tradition: the conferral of the canonical mission and the venia docendi required for all faculty in the ecclesiastical schools of philosophy, theology and canon law by CUA’s chancellor, Archbishop Wuerl. In the past, this was simply done through letters transmitted in campus mail. Our pontifical nature as The Catholic University of America argues for a bit more solemnity.

At 1:30 p.m., following the Mass, we will have our third annual CUA Picnic. The Student Restaurant will be closed that day from 1 to 3 p.m. as we need “all hands on deck” to prepare and serve the picnic. Classes resume at 3 p.m.

Speaking of St. Paul, the School of Theology and Religious Studies will present a symposium on his life and writings in March ’09, featuring the outstanding Scripture experts on our own faculty. Details to follow.

I ask your prayers for our faculty colleague Dean Hoge who has had a pretty rough summer health-wise. Dean has been a fixture at CUA over the years and has been in and out of the hospital. I know he would appreciate our best thoughts and prayers.

For several weeks in August, staff in the offices of the provost, student life and campus ministry trained our current students to welcome their newest counterparts. They worked incredibly hard and I am so grateful to them and Dr. James Brennan, VP Susan Pervi and Father Bob Schlageter.

Provost James Brennan and Father O'Connell welcome Jae Choi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and his wife, Ellie, at the faculty dinner on Aug. 20.

I attended one of my favorite activities with several hundred student leaders from these offices on Aug. 19: the annual “Lip-sync” contest. In addition to all their other talents, these dedicated students who return early from summer vacation to help get the campus ready are pretty good in the performing arts. Music and Drama, take note! It is always a great deal of fun watching our students enjoy the best times of their lives. And they even got “the old man” up on the dance floor! I celebrated a Mass for Student Leaders the day before in the newly air-conditioned St. Vincent’s Chapel.

Earlier on Aug. 19, Provost Brennan introduced 27 new faculty members to the “devout life” of teaching and scholarship at CUA. The two-day orientation program that he developed and began last year has been extraordinarily helpful to our newest colleagues on the faculty. Thank you, Jim, and all your staff for making such a great effort. And thanks to all the administrators, faculty and staff who contributed their experience and good advice.

The new student and parent Orientation began on campus Aug. 21 and the program was outstanding, as always. Enrollments are great this year, thanks to the work of our VP for enrollment management, Dr. Michael Hendricks, Dean of Admissions Christine Mica, Director of Financial Aid Don Bosse, the academic deans and faculty and their extraordinary staffs — too numerous to name here but incredibly dedicated, one and all. The freshman class will top 900, the third year in a row for record-breaking enrollments! Transfers will constitute about 100 new students. And graduate student enrollment looks strong at this point.

Father O'Connell speaks to parents and students at this year's student and parent Orientation.

The law school held its new-student orientation the week of Aug. 11 and, let me tell you, Dean Veryl Miles and her faculty and staff colleagues did a fantastic job. Dean Miles reported that CUA Law made its enrollment goals for this entering class: 200 new students in the day program and 101 in the evening program. She indicated that the law school maintained its LSAT and GPA statistics. Another element of good news is the diversity profile: the highest percentages of minority enrollment in more than eight years, with 23 percent in the day program and 27 percent in the evening program identifying themselves as members of a minority group. Congratulations, Veryl and everyone at the Columbus School of Law. We are off to another great start there.

General graduate school orientation occurred on Aug. 23. Amid all the changes that are occurring, it is important for CUA to maintain its historic graduate and doctoral character as we continue to implement our mantra: Reason. Faith. Service.

Theological College, our university seminary, welcomed 25 new seminarians to its programs of priestly formation. We continue to offer fine ministerial preparation under the rectorship of Father Mel Blanchette, S.S., his fellow Sulpician fathers, and the deans and faculty of the schools of philosophy and theology.

The challenge for all of us is STUDENT RETENTION and everyone plays a critically important role in that process. All the work that goes into enrollment and teaching mean little if we cannot keep students here and interested. To that end, especially on the undergraduate level, Dr. Brennan and Dr. Michael Mack, director of the University Honors Program, on the academic side of the house, along with Sue Pervi and Associate VP and Dean of Students Jon Sawyer on the student-life side, have developed some great initiatives that will be rolled out this year and next.

Enrollment and retention are important to maintain educational quality and for our own revenues. Increased revenues will help CUA reinvest in itself. We need to repair some leaking roofs — every building seemed to leak somewhere this summer (including Nugent Hall) — and some of the increased revenues will be set aside for infrastructure repairs. Other revenues will be added to reallocations to enhance our academic and other programs. We never seem to have enough to get everything done. Our strategic plan has identified some excellent projects that will receive my priority attention.

We had the best fundraising year ever in 2007-2008, thanks to VP for Development Bob Sullivan and his great staff. Even with these additional funds, we still need to work harder than ever before. To that end, I’ll be continuing and increasing my own travels to visit donors and alumni around the country.

A statue of Rev. Michael J. McGivney, the new namesake for the former Keane Hall, sits outside the building.
I am leasing property in Rome to anchor our study abroad programs there, with a view toward similar sites around the globe. Provost Brennan, VP for Finance and Administration Julie Englund and I will travel to Rome in October for the dedication of this space, in collaboration with my former haunt, St. John’s University in New York City. While there, we will also visit alumni who are potential donors as well as offices in the Vatican with which CUA has direct relationships. Afterwards, Dr. Brennan and I will travel to Lviv, Ukraine, to provide some guidance to the Catholic university there.

Global education has become increasingly important to universities and colleges around the country and the world. I have been very impressed by our own Assistant VP for Global Education Tanith Fowler Corsi, as she has been focusing our academic efforts in that direction.

On Monday, Sept. 8, the university will dedicate McGivney Hall, the renovated Keane Hall. The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies at CUA will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a Mass at 2 p.m. in the basilica, followed by the dedication of its new home in McGivney. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson who, together with his wife, Dorian, were our 2008 commencement speakers, will be on hand to help dedicate the building, made new by the incredible generosity of the Knights of Columbus. More than $8 million dollars was given by the Knights for this purpose. We welcome our colleagues to their new, permanent location.

On Sept. 9, the provost and I will greet all our faculties for the annual fall luncheon.

On Sept. 10, the freshman class will be inducted into the university world at the annual Freshmen Academic Convocation, this year sponsored by the provost and the undergraduate deans.

Father O'Connell and Jim Abdo discuss South Campus development plans.

VP Julie Englund and I will host a Town Hall meeting for the university community on Monday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. in the Pryz Great Room to present the future plans for South Campus. Jim Abdo, CEO of Abdo Development, will be on hand to talk about those plans. Everyone is invited to get a glimpse of the future! A notice will be sent out later.

On Sept. 24, I will host Cardinal Franc Rode, the Vatican’s prefect of the Congregation for Religious, on campus. I will confer university honors upon him that evening. We will then travel to Boston for an International Symposium on Religious Life on Sept. 27, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentians, the community to which I belong. Cardinal Rode is also a Vincentian.

Speaking with Dr. Mike Allen, director of athletics, Dr. Gail Beach, chair of the drama department, and Dean Murry Sidlin of the music school, I get the impression that the year ahead promises great things for CUA athletics and the performing arts. Stay tuned for details on our Web site.

Apropos our Web site, great strides are being made and funds expended to enhance its quality and usefulness to the university. It is the principal source of information for and about CUA and I encourage the university community to consult it often. Hats off to all who are working on these improvements, especially CPIT for its great professionalism and innovation. We have a wonderful staff there.

I wish to take a moment to thank Dr. John Convey, education professor and former provost, for his generous service as director of the Life Cycle Institute this past year. As always, John has contributed greatly to CUA.

Kudos to Amelie Brogden and Harriet Nokuri and their staffs for another great season of  hosting summer conferences and programs as well as summer sessions! Guests and students really enjoyed and took full advantage of our campus during the summer months.

Father O'Connell thanks members of the custodial and maintenance staff (above) and public safety staff (below) during picnics held over the summer.

Gratitude is owed to everyone in the facilities, maintenance, housekeeping and landscaping departments of the university. The place has never looked better and our appearance seems to improve almost daily. Alumni and visitors, as well as prospective students and their parents, comment positively about our campus all the time. By the way, congratulations to Executive Director of Facilities Operations Carl Petchik on his recent marriage! Many happy years, Carl and Marsha!

This year is the 25th anniversary of the ordination of our university chaplain, Franciscan Father Bob Schlageter. You have been a real blessing to us for 11 of those 25 years! Ad multos annos! Father Bob will celebrate his anniversary Mass on Sept. 28 at 11 a.m. in St. Vincent’s Chapel.

The month will end with the Board of Trustees retreat here on campus. We welcome two new trustees: Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Paterson Diocese in New Jersey and Dr. Anthony Tersigni, president/CEO of Ascension Healthcare.

Lots going on these days and lots more to come! I am looking at some new properties and considering other initiatives for the university’s future as I begin my 11th year as president. We have fantastic momentum going and a joyful, peaceful spirit on campus which makes decision-making more thoughtful and our work together more effective, more positive and more enduring.

As evidence of that momentum, I would point to the news we received recently from an external source. Moody’s Investors Service has confirmed the university bond rating at a solid “A2 with a stable outlook.” This is due to the great work of Cathy Wood, associate VP for finance and budget. It’s wonderful news for CUA and is a real affirmation of the steady improvements made in the university’s financial operations over the past few years. My thanks to Dr. Englund, Cathy Wood, Controller Sheri Hardison and their staffs for a job well done (once again!).

For the year ahead, permit me to close with the thoughts of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI when he visited this campus last April 17:

To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy. With St. Augustine, let us say: "we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher" (Sermons, 23:2). With these sentiments of communion, I gladly impart to you, your colleagues and students, and to your families, my Apostolic Blessing.

To everyone, grace and peace! Have a wonderful, blessed academic year!

Editor's Note

Shortly before the new academic year began, Father O’Connell sat down for an interview to reflect on his 10 years as Catholic University’s president. To watch the interview or read a transcript of it, click here.

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Last Revised 22-Aug-08 02:50 PM.