Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, new Catholic University president urges students

Peter Kilpatrick Peter Kilpatrick, the new president of The Catholic University of America, addresses students, staff, and faculty at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 1, 2022, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. | Courtesy of Patrick Ryan, The Catholic University of America
Catholic University Students, staff, and faculty of The Catholic University of America fill the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Sept. 1, 2022, in Washington, D.C., for a Mass of the Holy Spirit inaugurating the new academic year. | Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University Michael Bellacicco, 19, from Stamford, Connecticut, stands outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2022. He is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at The Catholic University of America and was an altar server at the school's opening Mass. | Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University Students, staff, and faculty fill the pews at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2022, for a special Mass of the Holy Spirit inaugurating the new academic year. | Courtesy of Patrick Ryan, The Catholic University of America
Catholic University A 15th-century chalice from Ireland was used in the Mass of the Holy Spirit that inaugurated the new academic year on Sept. 1, 2022, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. | Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University Brigid McGraw, 18, from from Alexandria, Virginia, brought up the gifts during the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2022. She is a freshman studying nursing at the Catholic University of America, which held the Mass to mark the start of the new academic year. | Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University Andrea Canenguez, 19, from Fairfax, Virginia, speaks about the special Mass of the Holy Spirit held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Sept. 1, 2022, to inaugurate the new academic year at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. | Katie Yoder/CNA

Peter Kilpatrick has a background in the hard sciences but on Thursday, the new president of The Catholic University of America spoke about matters of the soul.

Addressing students, faculty, and staff for the first time since assuming his new post on July 1, the 65-year-old chemical engineer discussed the importance of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“For each of you, regardless of where you are along the way, today is a chance to look at yourself, to ask who you want to be, and how the Holy Spirit might help you get there,” he said. “Let this be a moment to nurture something new and life-giving in your soul.”

Kilpatrick spoke at the conclusion of a special Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located on the university’s campus.

Catholic universities traditionally hold such liturgies to inaugurate a new academic year, a tradition that dates to the 16th century, the university said.

Faculty donning academic attire and other members of the university community filled the pews of the basilica’s 3,500-seat Great Upper Church. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, concelebrated the Mass with dozens of priests.

A 15th-century chalice from Ireland was used in the Mass of the Holy Spirit that inaugurated the new academic year on Sept. 1, 2022, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Katie Yoder/CNA
A 15th-century chalice from Ireland was used in the Mass of the Holy Spirit that inaugurated the new academic year on Sept. 1, 2022, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Katie Yoder/CNA

Lending added solemnity to the occasion was a 15th-century silver-gilt chalice from Ireland used during the Mass. One of the few to survive the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, when many sacred objects were melted or taken by soldiers, the chalice has been used only on rare occasions over the course of hundreds of years, the university said.

“Be sure, throughout this new academic year to be prayerful; to encourage and lift up one another in faith; to do what is right; to love, and to walk humbly with your God,” Burbidge said during his homily. “Then, you will remain in him and your joy will be complete.”

Seek the meaning of your life

Kilpatrick struck a similar chord in his remarks.

“The Spirit will not prey upon your insecurities or make false and overblown promises. Nor will the Spirit shrink your soul to fit worldly purposes,” he said. 

“Instead, the Spirit of the Lord will show you your authentic worth and guide you toward true happiness.” 

He encouraged students to ask “life’s big questions.”

“Who are you? What is the meaning and purpose of your life? Where will your happiness lie? How do you become the person you most want to be?” he said.

“These questions will determine the trajectory of your life,” Kilpatrick said, adding his recommendation to “ask them of the Holy Spirit.”

The university’s 16th president, Kilpatrick, a Catholic convert, succeeds John Garvey, who led the school for 12 years.

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Kilpatrick previously served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Illinois Institute of Technology from 2018 to 2022. Before that he was a professor and dean at the University of Notre Dame and was a longtime faculty member at North Carolina State University.

A 'beautiful way' to start the year

Students who spoke to CNA Thursday said they were moved by the Mass and the new president’s words.

Brigid McGraw, from Alexandria, Virginia, brought up gifts during Mass. An 18-year-old freshman studying nursing, she felt blessed that the first school Mass of this year was held in the “amazing basilica.”

“It's just a really, really beautiful way to all come together as a school and start the year out right, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout the semester,” she said, “especially for us freshmen, since we’re brand new to the whole thing.”

She also expressed excitement about the new president.

“I can't wait to flourish under his guidance,” McGraw said. “He seems like he really, really cares about us and our needs and our wants academically, spiritually, emotionally, socially.” 

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Andrea Canenguez, 19, from Fairfax, Virginia, said that the Mass and the homily’s message about joy moved her. The freshman, who is currently undecided in her major, also commented on Kilpatrick’s remarks.

“It was really inspiring because you don't hear a lot of presidents who put aside worldly things and talk about living and studying with eyes always looking at God,” she said.

“It was really inspiring and honestly calmed my anxieties a lot because, you know, the world is telling me quite the opposite,” she said. “It was a nice experience.”

Michael Bellacicco, 19, from Stamford, Connecticut, stands outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2022. He is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at The Catholic University of America and was an altar server at the school's opening Mass. Katie Yoder/CNA
Michael Bellacicco, 19, from Stamford, Connecticut, stands outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, 2022. He is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at The Catholic University of America and was an altar server at the school's opening Mass. Katie Yoder/CNA

Michael Bellacicco, 19, from Stamford, Connecticut, was an altar server at Mass and held the bishop’s miter. 

“That Mass was beautiful, and it's always great when we can worship Our Lord in a beautiful way to make people remember what's happening: the sacrifice of Calvary,” he told CNA. “It saved us all.”

A sophomore studying mechanical engineering, Bellacicco also commented on the new president’s background in engineering.

“With President Kilpatrick, he's a fellow engineer, so I'm very excited that he's going to do good things with our program,” he said.