The Catholic University of America is privileged to welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to campus during his first apostolic journey to the United States. As the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, our historic mission has witnessed a renewed vitality and sense of purpose in the 21st century. A comprehensive Catholic and American institution of higher learning, The Catholic University of America defines its identity as one of fidelity to the teachings of Jesus Christ handed on by the Church. Three of its schools — Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law — are ecclesiastical in nature, with the School of Canon Law serving as the only faculty of Canon Law in the United States. Dedicated to advancing the dialogue between faith and reason described so beautifully by Pope John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 12 schools of The Catholic University of America seek to discover and impart truth through excellence in teaching and scholarly research, all in service to the Church, the nation and the world.
Here the life of the mind, influenced and enriched by the Catholic intellectual tradition, is also illumined by our commitment to the life of the soul through a vibrant campus ministry that places the encounter with Christ through prayer and devotion at the forefront of the university’s institutional priorities. In the past 10 years, approximately 80 young men have entered seminaries and approximately 30 young women have entered consecrated religious life, along with several hundred other students serving in Catholic lay volunteer organizations throughout the nation and abroad. Hundreds of students regularly participate in university-sponsored retreat programs during the year. Weekly eucharistic adoration and prayer services, readily available sacramental confession, numerous student volunteer programs in the District of Columbia as well as annual mission trips to Third World countries provide the students with an opportunity to put their faith into action in visible ways. Student life also demonstrates a commitment to the university’s Catholic identity, as do the members of Knights of Columbus Council 9542 on campus.
As the only Catholic university in our country chartered by the Vatican and sponsored by the bishops of the United States, The Catholic University of America has a truly unique responsibility to fulfill: to assist the Church to reflect upon itself and its influence upon contemporary culture.
One example of that this year is the enthusiastic response The Catholic University of America has given to the 2004 request of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to host an international symposium on natural law as a common source for morality, which will be held shortly before Pope Benedict’s arrival on campus. The best and most compelling witness to all that The Catholic University of America represents are the students themselves: joyful, faithful, committed young people whose lives are changed because of what they learn and experience here. For them, “Reason. Faith. Service.” is more than just an institutional motto. These concepts are the paths that our students take in their encounter with and effort to bring “Christ Our Hope” to the world.
The Very Rev. David M. O'Connell is a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul and known popularly in the United States as the Vincentians. He is the 14th president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.