Peter Kilpatrick installed as new Catholic University president
Peter Kilpatrick is formally installed as the 16th president of the Catholic University of America at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11, 2022. | Credit: Patrick G. Ryan, Catholic University photographer
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington and Catholic University's chancellor, delivers the homily during the installation Mass for President Peter Kilpatrick at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11, 2022. | Credit: Patrick G. Ryan, Catholic University photographer
John Paul Abela and Jamie Cochran, freshman studying philosophy at the Catholic University of America, attend the installation Mass and ceremony for President Peter Kilpatrick at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11, 2022. | Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA
Twenty-year-old Noah Slayter, a sophomore studying politics at the Catholic University of America, attended the installation Mass and ceremony for President Peter Kilpatrick at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11, 2022. | Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 11, 2022 / 17:46 pm
Peter K. Kilpatrick was formally installed as the 16th president of The Catholic University of America on Friday during a solemn but joyful ceremony where he emphasized the importance of dialogue and love while announcing an ambitious plan for the school’s growth.
“Within 10 years, we need to be a university of 10,000 students, undergraduate and graduate,” he said, his words echoing throughout the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. “Our nation and our world needs the students that we deliver to them: bright, enthusiastic, committed, and knowing themselves and how to love each other.”
The D.C. university is the only higher education institution founded by the U.S. bishops. Established in 1887 as a papally-chartered graduate and research center, it houses 12 schools and 31 research facilities with 2,929 undergraduate and 2,130 graduate students.
Students and faculty wearing their colorful regalia flooded the pews of the basilica’s Great Upper Church during the installation Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington and Catholic University’s chancellor.
Several bishops, including Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., and more than 50 priests attended the Mass — a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom. Both Gregory and Kilpatrick asked for Our Lady’s intercession.
“We pray for the gift of wisdom for [Kilpatrick] as he guides this venerable institution into a bright future,” Gregory said during his homily, as clouds of incense hung in the air. “Mary, Seat of Wisdom, accompany him each day as he goes about his responsibilities.”
Wearing his gold and white presidential academic robes — the papal colors and the university’s official colors — Kilpatrick took an oath of fidelity before Gregory and received the symbols of his office. He accepted the university’s mace, or scepter, and a presidential medallion made of pewter that presidents have worn since 1969.
While delivering his address, Kilpatrick stressed the importance of asking the “big questions.”
“Today I want to ask two very big [questions]: Number one, why do we exist? Number two, what is the purpose of our university?” he began. “These are big questions but they are crucial to define who we are as human persons and what unites us together as a university community.”
The first, he said, is answered by faith: that each person is created by God to know, love, and serve him and one another. Kilpatrick answered the second by highlighting the importance of the university’s mission — advancing dialogue between faith and reason — and encountering all with compassion and love.
“Loving God and loving neighbor should be a guidepost for us here, at The Catholic University of America,” he said, after revealing that he has met with some students who feel like outsiders.
He called on the university to take three steps: helping students to understand their purpose while exemplifying how to love, to integrate faith and reason to comprehend truth, and to integrate the disciplines in order to contextualize their learning to become the best of American citizens.
Kilpatrick, a Catholic convert, succeeds John Garvey, who led the school for 12 years. The 65-year-old chemical engineer 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.
‘Incredibly loving and kind’
John Paul Abela, a freshman studying philosophy, found the installation Mass and ceremony beautiful and moving. The 18-year-old from Great Falls, Virginia, told CNA of the new president: “Whenever he’s talking, he just seems incredibly loving and kind. It just comes across so clearly.”
Another freshman studying philosophy, Jamie Cochran, also called the installation beautiful, while noting the sweeping music and grand procession of faculty and priests.
“I agree that he’s always just very loving and he obviously always wants to be where he is,” the native of Catonsville, Maryland, said of Kilpatrick. “And his love for his wife is very sweet.”
A politics major, 20-year-old Noah Slayter from Dumfries, Virginia, also used the word “beautiful” to describe the ceremony and said that he was very optimistic about Kilpatrick.
“I think he is a very intelligent and effective man at helping a university grow,” the sophomore said, also calling Kilpatrick down-to-earth and kind. “And I think, like he said, the greatest years of Catholic University are only ahead of us.”
Father Aquinas Guilbeau, a Dominican friar and the chaplain at Catholic University, called Kilpatrick “a man of deep faith, a scholar, a man of family and friendship, fraternity” who infuses all of this in his work.
“What has impressed me most is just his attention to students,” he said, while also noting Kilpatrick’s attention to detail as an administrator.
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He remembered when Kilpatrick first addressed student leaders on campus back in August. In the first 30 minutes, the new president quoted everyone from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Therese and Father Jacques Philippe.
“And that’s when I knew,” Father Aquinas said, “we’re in good hands.”
Katie Yoder is a correspondent in CNA's Washington, D.C. bureau. She covers pro-life issues, the U.S. Catholic bishops, public policy, and Congress. She previously worked for Townhall.com, National Review, and the Media Research Center.