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April, 2019

CUA Leaders Open Rome Center, Consult With Vatican Officials and Assist New Ukrainian University


Rev. Donald Harrington, C.M., president of St. John's University, and Father O'Connell sign an agreement for the two universities to share
an educational site in Rome. Click here to see more photos.

This October found representatives of The Catholic University of America on the other side of the Atlantic — in Rome, Italy, and Lviv, Ukraine. On Wednesday, Oct. 8, Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, led a delegation to the Eternal City to conduct momentous business for CUA. Accompanying him on the trip were university Provost James Brennan, Treasurer Julie Englund and Vice President for University Development Robert Sullivan.

Father O’Connell and Vice President Sullivan had scheduled visits with CUA alumni in Rome, among them Helen Bannigan and Gian Paolo Potsios, on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. “The visits were delightful," says Sullivan. “Helen Bannigan and Gian Paolo Potsios were eager to learn more about the university’s plans for growth over the next few years. Both Helen and Gian Paolo, who have built successful careers — Helen in communications and Gian Paolo in finance — expressed an interest in becoming more involved with the university through its alumni relations network in the UK and Europe.”

On Thursday, Provost Brennan met with David Dawson Vasquez, CUA alumnus and director of the university’s Rome-based global education programs, to discuss strengthening CUA’s global academic initiatives in Rome and elsewhere in continental Europe. The president and provost were joined by Treasurer Englund for a meeting with Roman bank officials to establish new financial protocols.

On Friday morning, the whole delegation visited the offices of the Congregation for Catholic Education. This was the first occasion for CUA administrators to visit with the recently appointed secretary for Catholic education, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, O.P. Father O’Connell presented the archbishop with copies of the triennial reports of CUA’s schools of philosophy, theology and canon law. As ecclesiastical faculties, these three schools are required by Church policy to present a report to the Holy See on their personnel, activities and operations every three years.

For the better part of an hour the archbishop engaged the CUA delegation in a lively discussion about the state of Catholic higher education in the United States and about CUA’s efforts to fulfill its unique mission as the national university of the Catholic Church in the U.S. “It is very important that The Catholic University of America has the opportunity to engage in such frank discussions with the Holy See,” says Father O’Connell. “We enjoy a privileged relationship with the Church, and the university needs to recognize and affirm that, and to find more ways to lift that up as a dimension of our uniqueness to which we must respond in the work that we do.” Joining the meeting was Rev. Eric Zimmer, S.J., the newly appointed staff member of the Congregation for Catholic Education who is charged with serving English-speaking academic institutions. Following the CUA delegation’s appointment, Father O’Connell met privately with congregation staff in his role as consultor to that body.

In the afternoon, the delegation traveled to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to tour the ancient church. Father O’Connell had invited CUA alumnus David Nerbun, currently a seminarian at Rome’s Pontifical North American College, to join them. David was an engineering major at CUA and graduated in 2005.

On Saturday, Father O’Connell traveled to the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to meet with its undersecretary, Rev. J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., for lunch.

On Sunday morning, Father O’Connell, Provost Brennan and Treasurer Englund joined a delegation from New York’s St. John’s University for Mass at the Vincentians’ Leonine College. St. John’s University has initiated a lease of property from the Vincentians and offered CUA the opportunity to sublease office and classroom space for its own Rome-based global education programs. Vincentian Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and recent recipient of a CUA honorary degree, presided at the Mass concelebrated by American Cardinal John Foley, also a past honorary degree recipient; Vincentian Superior General and former CUA student Rev. Gregory Gay; St. John’s University president, former CUA student and honorary degree recipient Rev. Donald Harrington; and Father O’Connell. Following the Mass, CUA administrators attended the dedication and blessing ceremony at the newly leased and renovated educational site and Fathers Harrington and O’Connell signed an agreement for sharing space in the building.

“Our partnership with St. John’s enables CUA to renew our global education program in Rome by supporting a stable academic base of operations and more options for student housing and co-curricular activities,” says Provost Brennan. Moreover, we can use the Rome location as the base to provide support services for students studying throughout Europe when assistance is needed.”

Father O’Connell stated that this collaboration is “the fulfillment of several years’ worth of discussions with St. John’s. It is my hope that we can expand our efforts even more, in ways that will mutually benefit both institutions.”

CUA administrators toured the facilities throughout the afternoon and met informally with representatives of St. John’s University’s administration and board of trustees. On Monday morning, the CUA delegation returned to the facility and discussed other possible areas of cooperation with St. John’s administrators.

Also that morning Father O’Connell traveled to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to pray. “It was very important for me to go to this great basilica dedicated to Christianity’s Apostle to the Nations and to bring with me the intentions of the university community during this Pauline year,” he said.

Later on Monday, the CUA delegation met with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former CUA trustee, at the offices of the congregation. Cardinal Levada was pleased to learn of CUA’s progress and initiatives and assured the university officials of his support and prayers. He indicated that Pope Benedict XVI was very happy with his visit to Catholic University’s campus last spring. The group then briefly stopped by the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall, where the Synod of Bishops was occurring, before taking CUA students currently studying in Rome to lunch at Da Roberto’s on the Borgo Pio. The evening was spent with American Cardinal Frank Stafford, apostolic penitentiary, CUA alumnus and former trustee.

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 14, Father O’Connell and Provost Brennan left Rome for Lviv, Ukraine. Rev. Mark Morozowich, associate dean and associate professor in the CUA School of Theology and Religious Studies, traveled with them. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv and to engage with faculty and staff in a discussion of ways to strengthen the management and academic activities of UCU. An invitation had been extended to Father O’Connell last spring by Rev. Borys Gudziak, UCU rector.

On Wednesday afternoon, Father O’Connell, Provost Brennan and Father Morozowich met with a large group of administrators at the university to discuss their needs and the challenges they face in a post-communist society. The meeting was followed by a tour of the Cathedral of St. George and a dinner with faculty and staff.

Father O’Connell concelebrated and preached the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom on Thursday at the university chapel in the presence of students and staff. Later that day, he and Provost Brennan toured the university’s facilities and addressed representatives of the UCU community on the topics of Catholic identity in contemporary higher education and strengthening academic initiatives. They toured the university seminary and had dinner with university personnel in the residence of the rector.

On Friday, Oct. 17, the CUA group returned to the United States. Upon his return, Provost Brennan remarked that “with few resources, great faith and a noble vision, young, enthusiastic faculty and staff at Ukrainian Catholic University witness extraordinary commitment to a Catholic mission, when less than 20 years ago the Church was persecuted and underground. We share that mission and our extension of support could make a real difference for this Catholic university within an emerging democracy.”

One of the possible areas of collaboration mentioned during meetings was helping UCU envision a broadening of their academic offerings. UCU asked if some guidance and support from CUA would be possible. Father O’Connell responded that he would work with Provost Brennan and others to see how CUA could help.

“I was profoundly affected by what I experienced in our brief visit to Ukraine,” observes Father O’Connell. “Here in the U.S., we take so much for granted. There is often evidence, even on our own campus, of a sense of entitlement. In Lviv, I saw young people full of life and energy, creating a new Catholic university with little more than a dream and the hope that fills their hearts. Their faith is so strong, so vibrant that I have no doubt they will realize their hopes and dreams. Perhaps CUA can share in that realization in some way.”

Father O'Connell with CUA alumna Helen Bannigan in Rome.


Julie Englund, James Brennan, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, Father O'Connell and Rev. Eric Zimmer, S.J., meet in the offices of the Congregation for Catholic Education.


Father O'Connell with fellow Vincentians in Rome, from left: Father Harrington, Mother General Sister Evelyne Franc, D.C., Cardinal Franc Rode and Rev. Gregory Gay.


At the dedication ceremony for the new Rome center: James Brennan, Father Harrington, Father O'Connell, Julie Englund and David Dawson Vasquez.

The facilities that CUA will be using for its academic program in Rome.

This classroom at the Rome center is assigned for CUA’s use and can hold up to 60 students.

David Dawson Vasquez (far left), Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Father O'Connell meet for lunch with CUA students studying in Rome. 


Provost Brennan, Father O'Connell, Rev. Borys Gudziak and Rev. Mark Morozowich chat in Lviv.

Representatives from CUA meet with leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic University to discuss ways to strengthen the management and academic activities of that university.


Provost Brennan speaks at the Ukrainian Catholic University.    

Rev. Borys Gudziak and Father O'Connell celebrate Mass in the Ukrainian university's chapel.      






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Last Revised 31-Oct-08 11:37 AM.