Fr. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of the Catholic University of America, has announced that he will step down as president in August 2010 after 12 years in office. Catholic leaders praised his “devoted service” and what they said was his “notable success” in strengthening the Catholic identity of the school.
The Vincentian priest was elected as the 14th president of CUA in March 1998, becoming the second youngest president in the school’s history. He is now the school’s second longest serving president.
In April 2008 Fr. O’Connell hosted Pope Benedict XVI at CUA during his pastoral visit to the United States. The event was “the highlight of my academic career,” he said.
He has lived on campus throughout nearly all of his tenure and has been highly visible. He has made a point of interacting with undergraduates through listening to their concerns, accompanying them to events, and visiting them when they are sick, a CUA press release says.
CUA reports that under Fr. O’Connell the school has witnessed “record growth” in enrollments, funding and endowment. He has also overseen construction projects, renovations and the introduction of new technologies in classrooms on campus.
Under his presidency CUA purchased 49 acres of new property on the west side of campus, increasing its size by more than a third.
“That I have had the privilege of serving as the 14th President of The Catholic University of America is an experience that I shall treasure as long as I live,” Fr. O’Connell remarked in his monthly newsletter to the university community.
“As I reflect upon my tenure and service at the helm of the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for what we are and have become and what we do — thanks to the dedication, commitment and hard work of so many people here — and for the many lives we have touched in so many ways over the years.”
In his inaugural address, CUA says, Fr. O’Connell committed himself to reinvigorating the school’s Catholic identity, strengthening campus ministry and student life, and pursuing the recruitment of leading faculty who are committed to the university’s mission.
The priest has also made media appearances, giving more than 60 interviews to TV and radio outlets.
Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl commented that Fr. O’Connell has served “exceptionally well” and remarked that he has renewed Catholic identity on campus while bringing a “high level of academic achievement.”
“I rejoice that he also focused on the quality of student life, promoting the appreciation of students for their faith,” the archbishop said.
Communications strategist and CUA alumnus Edward Gillespie, founder of Ed Gillespie Strategies, called Fr. O’Connell the “most consequential president” in 30 years.
Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron, chairman of CUA’s Board of Trustees, said the trustees are “highly indebted” to the outgoing president for his “devoted service.”
“He has achieved notable success in advancing the university's mission of truth as it is known by faith and disclosed to natural reason. He will leave CUA a stronger and more vibrant institution, poised for a great new chapter in its history.”
The Board of Trustees met in Denver earlier this week to discuss strategies to search for a successor. Archbishop Vigneron will chair the search process and will be assisted by fellow trustee Paul Chiapparone of Palm Beach, Florida. The board hopes to have a new president by September 2010.
Fr. O’Connell reported that he is considering several opportunities for the future but has no specific commitments at present.