The Catholic University of America

Feb. 2, 2014

From the

Off to a Good Start

Welcome back. I hope you had a relaxing Christmas break and that your semester is off to a good start. We have packed a lot into these first three weeks. January is always a month when the University comes together several times and in significant ways.

We opened the semester with a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra in Hartke Theatre. The evening of Mozart was part of the NSO’s In Your Neighborhood program, which brought different NSO ensembles to perform in various locations in the NOMA (North of Massachusetts Avenue) and Brookland neighborhoods.

The National Symphony Orchestra performed at Catholic University on Jan. 12.

The free concert, which focused on Mozart’s work, was a unique opportunity for the University and Brookland communities to hear this incredible ensemble in an intimate setting. I have long admired the work of Christoph Eschenbach, the NSO’s musical director and the conductor for the evening, specifically for the clarity and precision of his performances. Our music students benefited not only from being able to enjoy the free concert but also from a smaller, more intimate session with a brass quartet from the NSO. Part of the music school’s weekly Studio X colloquium, the session included a performance and question-and-answer period.

The concert also marked the splendid beginning of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music’s 50th anniversary celebration. The anniversary events will include a performance by the CUA symphony orchestra and choruses at The Kennedy Center this April.

Even before our students returned to campus and classes resumed, work for the semester was well under way. On Jan. 7 there was a daylong meeting of the University’s Administrative Council. These meetings are opportunities for the administration to share updates and developments with all the deans, vice presidents, and other senior administrators of the University who, in turn, can share information with their schools, departments, and offices.

The purpose of our January meeting was to emphasize the mutual responsibility we all have for the University’s success, and to discuss ways in which the various constituent parts of the University might collaborate to achieve our goals. To give you just one example: Improving our student retention rate must be a University-wide endeavor. It requires the work of the faculty to make sure our students are engaged and supported in the classroom. We need the work of Student Affairs to ensure that students feel at home at CUA. I was pleased to see this Administrative Council meeting so well attended. I look forward to continuing the conversation about University-wide collaboration.

I am proud to report that on Jan. 19, more than 700 students, faculty, and staff participated in our Martin Luther King Day of Service. Participants volunteered at 23 sites across the city, cooking, cleaning, and more. It’s a wonderful way to begin the semester. I was also pleased to join more than 500 members of the University community for the 42nd Annual March for Life on Thursday, Jan. 22. As in years past, the University hosted more than 1,200 teenagers who travelled to Washington and stayed on campus overnight before participating in the march. More than 200 of our students volunteered to register visitors, serve meals, and chaperone throughout the night. The generosity of our students and their commitment to serving and defending human dignity never cease to amaze me.

On Jan. 27 we celebrated our annual Mass in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, our University patron. I was pleased to see a good turnout of faculty and students, many of our Dominican neighbors across the street at the Priory of the Immaculate Conception, and our brothers and sisters from other neighboring houses of religious study. Our St. Thomas Aquinas Mass marked the beginning of National Catholic Schools Week, and we were joined by delegations from the National Catholic Educational Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Mass was celebrated by the Very Rev. Ken Letoile, O.P., prior provincial for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, and broadcast on EWTN and CatholicTV.

The annual Mass in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas was broadcast on EWTN and CatholicTV.

On Jan. 29, we received a visit from the Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University (ACU), Greg Craven, accompanied by ACU Provost Pauline Nugent. The vice chancellor is the chief executive officer at ACU and Professor Craven is, like me, a lawyer and academic. So we found quite a lot to talk about. We have been working with ACU to create a new joint Rome Center and the purpose of Vice Chancellor Craven’s visit was to commemorate this collaboration with ACU with a formal signing of our memorandum of understanding. David Dawson Vasquez, director of the Rome Center, was also present and administrators from both universities engaged in fruitful discussions about the operations of the new center. It will open in September and will provide housing for undergraduate and graduate students as well as visiting faculty. It will also provide opportunities for academic collaboration with ACU.

On Feb. 3, the undersecretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, Rev. Friedrich Bechina, will visit the University to meet with me and a group of faculty and senior administrators, and to tour our campus. The Congregation for Catholic Education is the office of the Roman Curia that oversees Catholic universities and schools of theology. The purpose of Rev. Bechina’s visit is to experience firsthand the reality of Catholic higher education in the United States.

Rev. Bechina’s visit will also coincide with the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. The three-day meeting (Jan. 31–Feb. 2) provides an opportunity for Catholic university leaders from across the country to discuss the challenges facing their institutions, and to share ideas for living more fully our Catholic identity. While I’ll be attending these discussions, my wife, Jeanne, will lead an excursion for the spouses of attendees to see the “Picturing Mary” exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I want to highlight two pieces of good news that came to us in January. One was the Jan. 22 announcement that our School of Business and Economics has received a $3 million grant to fund four faculty positions focused on principled entrepreneurship. It came from multiple sources: the Charles Koch Foundation; Tim Busch and Michael Millette, two members of the University’s Board of Trustees; and Sean Fieler and Frank Hanna, both members of the school’s Board of Visitors. This comes on top of a $1.5 million grant announced in December 2013 for much the same purpose. Congratulations to Dean Andrew Abela on this latest grant. It’s another sign of the remarkable growth of this young school.

The other bit of news concerns Pope Francis. On Jan. 19, during his plane trip home from the Philippines, the Holy Father confirmed that he will be visiting Washington in September. Though he said that details remained to be worked out, it appears that he will travel to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra. If it comes to pass, it will provide a wonderful opportunity for all of us to share in the joy of the Holy Father’s visit. I am eager, as I suspect you are, to learn the final details.

I’ll conclude with a word about Lent. This year Lent begins on Feb. 18. It’s a time to make sure that God remains at the center of our lives. The Church has always commended prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to us as practices that can help us do this. I’d like to mention two upcoming opportunities for prayer. First, on Friday, Feb. 20, the School of Music will host the stations of the cross at the Church of the Little Flower, in Bethesda, Maryland. The faculty, students, and alumni of the music school have composed 14 short string quartets that will accompany the 14 stations. Second, Campus Ministry will host a series of retreats throughout the Lenten season, including a silent retreat for faculty and staff at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, Feb. 27–March 1.

The semester is now in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier to have everyone back on campus.