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July, 2019

  Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, and Father O'Connell in Santa Paula, Calif.

Well, the Farmer’s Almanac was right this year: it’s been quite a winter! Hopefully, as February melts — and I use that word intentionally — into March, the promises of spring will start to appear!

Today, Monday, March 1, finds me in Naples, Fla., where I am giving a keynote address at a convention. I celebrated Mass for the convention attendees Sunday and, following my speech today, Vice President for Development Bob Sullivan and I will drive to Tampa to continue our “friend raising/fund raising” efforts begun here in the Sunshine State on Saturday. I should be back on campus March 3 — albeit briefly.

These trips are pretty busy. Usually, when I am requested to speak somewhere, I ask the development office to surround the event with visits to alumni, donors and potential donors to CUA so that I can get as much as possible done while on the road.

In mid-February, Bob Sullivan and I traveled to Los Angeles where I spoke at the inauguration of Dr. Michael McLean, the new president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. What a gorgeous campus and chapel — not to mention the surrounding mountains. The weather was fantastic — sunny and 80 degrees the whole time. I almost forgot that I had just left two blizzards behind me!

I concelebrated Mass with Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, who is also a CUA alumnus and trustee. Later that Saturday, I caught up with another alumnus, actor Jon Voight, for dinner. We had a great time. His memories of the CUA of 40-plus years ago are vivid and happy ones.

On Sunday, I presided and preached at the 11:30 a.m. Mass at St. Monica’s Parish in Santa Monica. About 40 alumni joined the regular parishioners for Mass and we proceeded afterward to Il Fornaio Ristorante where we were joined by still more CUA grads for a wonderful alumni brunch. The alumni seemed to enjoy the event very much and spoke so positively of their CUA experience. I am grateful to the Office of Alumni Relations for helping to organize the brunch. Assistant Director of Alumni Relations for Athletics and Chapter Events Patrick Dwyer, class of 2007, did an outstanding job, especially considering the fact that he had just flown in from Boston, where he and Vice President for University Relations Frank Persico attended an alumni chapter event the night before! Oh to be young again!

For the next three days, Bob Sullivan and I caught up with other alumni and donors. Alumnus John Carvelli arranged a lunch in Newport Beach with about 14 business associates so that I could talk about CUA and the great work being done here. It was an extraordinary opportunity to make some new friends for the university. We also visited the Doheny Foundation to thank the folks there for their past support and to investigate the possibility of future grant applications. Mardi Gras was uneventful and Lent began for me on a late plane back to D.C. on Ash Wednesday.

When I returned, as you already know from our Web site, I hosted a dinner for our “unsung heroes of the blizzards of 2010,” the maintenance and grounds personnel, the officers in the Department of Public Safety, and the employees of ARAMARK who served 2,700 meals (despite the fact that only nine of those employees were able to make it to work). I can never thank them enough for keeping the campus safe, secure and operational for our students under very challenging circumstances.

Father O'Connell with actor Jon Voight in Los Angeles.

Now that March is here, we’ll blink and it will be time for Spring Break ’10, following midterms! This year, I gave everyone Monday off so we can all enjoy a little break. Our provost, Dr. James Brennan, and the deans developed a good plan to make up the school days we lost in the storms. I hated to give up Easter Monday but we really didn’t have much of a choice since so many folks had already made Spring Break travel plans. Hopefully, we won’t have to do that again. I am grateful for everyone’s understanding and cooperation.

On March 15-16, the Board of Trustees will gather on campus for its third quarterly meeting of the academic year. Big-ticket items on the agenda are next year’s budget and the first review of all tenure cases. The schools and deans, the Academic Senate and the faculty all do a great job preparing the cases to be presented, with the final determination made by the Board in June.

Plans for South Campus continue on schedule, with all our partners working very hard alongside Vice President for Finance Cathy Wood and her staff. Although I won’t be here to see the process unfold, the South Campus project will make a great contribution to life in Brookland. I cannot wait for a return visit after it has all been completed.

The Search Committee of the Board continues to review nominations for my successor. I am told that we have a very good group of candidates for president. With interviews beginning soon, the hope is to have a new president elected in June and in place by Sept. 1. The new academic year will begin with real excitement!

On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, Dr. Brennan and I are heading to Ghent, Belgium, where I will give a lecture at a symposium on the social teachings of the Catholic Church. On March 20, we will travel to Rome for some meetings, returning to campus on March 25. I will hardly be back when I leave again on March 26 to preach at the Cathedral Mass for Palm Sunday in Rapid City, S.D., and give a talk at the Annual Palm Sunday Brunch for Catholic Social Services. About 700 will attend, I am told by our alumnus, Bishop of Rapid City Blaise Cupich.

Returning on March 29, I will bring most of my spring travels to a close as we begin Holy Week. And that’s my March!

Recently Father Jack Lynch, C.S.P., former CUA canon law professor and graduate dean, had a nasty fall and is in the hospital for hip replacement surgery. Say a prayer for his recovery and rehabilitation.

I have appointed Sarah Phelps, Esq., current associate general counsel, to the position of general counsel, replacing longtime General Counsel Craig Parker, and I am grateful for her generous acceptance of this important position. She brings 15 years of experience to the job. Congratulations, Sarah! The work of community relations, previously handled by Craig Parker, will be assumed by the university’s Division of Student Life.

CUA Athletics continues to enjoy an exciting year. I’d like to congratulate senior Kate Robinson for being recognized as the preseason National Player of the Year by Lacrosse Magazine and Coach Meghan McDonogh and the women’s lacrosse team for their preseason top-10 ranking. We wish all of our spring sport teams luck as they begin their seasons (assuming the snow ever melts on the fields). I’d also like to congratulate our men’s basketball head coach, Steve Howes, for earning his 100th career victory at CUA and for tying the late Jack Bruen for fourth place all-time on the school's career victories list. Congratulations, Steve, and good luck to the team in the postseason.

The university is at full steam as we progress toward the end of the year and the graduation of our undergraduate, graduate and law school students. About 150 undergraduates requested on Facebook that I deliver this year’s commencement address, so I will conclude my tenure at CUA with that great and humbling honor.

These days I am beginning to think back on 12 years at the university’s helm. My most frequent reflection is one of gratitude to so many students, staff, faculty, administrators, board members, alumni and donors over the years. It has been a great period in my life and I hope I have served you all well and with kindness. And so, as March begins, I look forward to catching up with you on campus, if not this month, then soon thereafter. God bless you all and God bless The Catholic University of America!

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Last Revised 26-Feb-10 01:07 PM.