Cardinal Seán O’Malley describes the day when 30,000 people gathered at The Catholic University of America to greet Pope Francis at a canonization Mass celebrated in Spanish as “extraordinary in every sense.”
Equally memorable was the reaction of students at Catholic University to the Sept. 23 visit, says Cardinal O’Malley, alumnus, archbishop of Boston, and chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees.
“Hearing the students talk about the Holy Father’s visit with such enthusiasm and joy was so telling,” notes Cardinal O’Malley. “His presence reinforced the sense of Catholic University as an institution with a very special mission.”
It’s a mission that’s very important to the cardinal, who studied and taught at the University and has served as board chairman since last July.
“Our Catholic identity, which is so strong, continues to be very central to the life of the University.” He notes that Catholic University is at the forefront of the Church’s discussion about new ways to be part of what’s taking place today in terms of evangelization, social justice, religious liberty, and the gospel of life.
As part of his vision for his alma mater, Cardinal O’Malley notes the importance of the University as “a community of intellectuals where people are committed to their faith. We need to attract people to the University with a sense of mission, who want to be part of the Catholic intellectual tradition and to share that with new generations.”
It’s a vision that has held true since the days when Cardinal O’Malley earned a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature and taught at Catholic University from 1969 to 1973.
“When I was a student, Catholic University was the go-to place for young religious,” notes the cardinal. “They all did their training at the University … and then left to make their contributions” to Catholic institutions. Out in the world, “they helped by moving people from poverty to the middle class and in evangelizing and passing the faith onto new generations.”
Cardinal O’Malley says that his University studies prepared him well for serving Hispanics, a ministry that dates back to his days as executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center.
It’s a ministry that is vital to the Church given that half of all Catholics under the age of 30 are Hispanic. Of those who are under 19, about 70 percent are Hispanic. The cardinal notes that about 15 percent of the students at Catholic University are Hispanic — a number that “has grown considerably, but still is not at the point where it’s commensurate with the overall demographics of young Hispanics in the Church.” Hispanic students make up 14.9 percent of the Class of 2019.
Cardinal O’Malley says that the University is committed to enrolling more Hispanic students. He cites the Spanish version of Catholic University’s website, the number of Hispanic student organizations on campus, and the University’s conferral of honorary degrees to notable Hispanics as “signals to our Hispanic brothers and sisters that Catholic University is their university.”