The Catholic University of America

Inside CUA Nameplate

From the President's Desk


  The roof of McMahon Hall needed repairs after the earthquake that struck the area in August.

When I completed my previous column for Inside CUA in late August, we were coming off an earthquake and hurricane. The full implications of those two acts of nature weren’t clear at the time. So I want to begin with a brief recap of what I told the faculty members who were able to attend the fall faculty lunch on Sept. 13.

Two (13 ton) chimneys were weakened by the earthquake and threatened to fall through the roof of McMahon Hall, so we had to vacate that building. This made it especially tough for the people in Enrollment Management (Admissions, Financial Aid, Registrar) who had to give up their offices just as the freshmen and their parents arrived. Several departments in the School of Arts and Sciences also had to move out: Business and Economics, Modern Languages and Literatures, Greek and Latin, and Mathematics, as well as the Center for the Study of Early Christianity, and Medieval and Byzantine Studies. We also had to move Alumni Relations, Global Education, Graduate Studies, Postal Services, the Provost, Public Affairs, Sponsored Programs and Research Services, Undergraduate Studies, and the University Honors Program. Hurricane Irene’s arrival a few days later further complicated the recovery process.

And the very day we moved back into McMahon (Sept. 1) we had to evacuate Marist Hall. The earthquake had weakened the southwest corner of that building. We’ll need at least four months to fix Marist Hall. It requires that we build a supporting wall under the existing brick wall, and then probably re-lay some of the brick on the southwest corner. The Departments of Anthropology, English, Media Studies, Politics, the School of Library and Information Services (SLIS), and several Development offices all had to clear out of Marist on very short notice. Theological College generously lent us space and the Knights of Columbus are allowing us to use the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The Columbus School of Law has offered a temporary home to Media Studies. SLIS has moved its main office and faculty offices to Aquinas.

The response of the Catholic University community to these dislocations was remarkable. Our crews in the Office of Facilities, the Department of Public Safety, and CPIT worked diligently, day and night, weekdays and weekends, to assess damage, clear the buildings, find alternate space, move people, switch communications platforms, and so on. Our faculty and staff have remained patient and good humored in spite of significant inconveniences. I have been a teacher for three decades, and I know how much work there is at the beginning of a semester. To do all that while losing your office, teaching in a strange space, being deprived of your books and notes, switching phones and computers, and doubling up in makeshift offices is heroic. Our students have impressed me with their ability to adjust. A new academic year is a busy time. Moving classrooms only makes this harder. I want to thank everyone for their patience.

We continue to move forward on preparations for a new Strategic Plan and a new Master Plan. A new draft of the former will be ready for review and comment in mid-October. As for the latter, a draft of the plan can be found at

Our annual Board of Trustees retreat was at the end of September. That took place in Rome. We met with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewsky, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Ambassador Miguel Díaz, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See who spoke on campus earlier in September, hosted a reception for us. We also toured Catholic University’s facility in Rome (which we share with St. John’s University), and had dinner with the students who are studying there. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, our chancellor, celebrated a Mass at his titular Church, Saint Peter in Vincoli, which is home to the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. Michelangelo’s Moses is also there.


Back on this side of the pond, we have two important weekends coming up. They both involve the broader Catholic University community. Family Weekend is on October 7-9. It’s an important occasion for students to reconnect with their families, and for families to feel connected to their children and to us. I’m all for doing everything possible to make our students comfortable with adjusting to their home away from home. That’s why we decided to revive Family Weekend this fall, after a hiatus of some years.

We also want our alumni to be connected to the University. A solid base of support from among our alumni makes the University stronger in multiple ways. Homecoming and Reunions Weekend kicks off on October 21. Last year, we had our highest turnout in history for Homecoming and Reunions Weekend. We are hoping to see even more alumni attend this year.

The unusual events that accompanied the beginning of the school year allowed us to grow as a community. In the next few weeks, we will welcome members of our extended community — family and alumni. Let us pray that God blesses our efforts to continue to grow together.