Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. , university president, appeared on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on June 13 to discuss the death of journalist Tim Russert. See his comments in the transcript below.
From: CNN Date: June 13, 2008 Host: Wolf BlitzerJoining us now on the phone is Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington, D.C.
Father O'Connell had the privilege to host Pope Benedict XVI at Catholic University just a few weeks ago.
And talk about, Father O'Connell, Tim Russert, because we're remembering Tim Russert, we're thinking about him. You got to know him over the years. He was a very devout Catholic and he was about as excited as anybody could be when you invited him to have that little meeting with the pope.
FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Yes, Wolf. This is just heartbreaking news. I'm so deeply saddened.
As you know, you were there in the room. You were standing right next to him at that great privileged moment. And both of you were so -- so moved by the occasion. And, you know, here are two great men, great newsmen, great journalists and in the presence of the Holy Father, just silence, really. And just so impressed in that moment.
And it really said something great about both of you, but about Tim -- his great faith, his love of family, his love of the church -- just wonderful qualities that were always and everywhere evident in this man.
BLITZER: The pope gave him a gold medal. He gave me one, as well.
How excited, though, was Tim Russert, as a Catholic?
I know he had lobbied you big time to get an invitation to come to that meeting.
O'CONNELL: And he was very excited. You know, I knew that Tim was looking for an opportunity to greet and to meet the Holy Father. And he was being turned down, it seemed, at every -- at every turn in the bend. And I know when I called him, he was ecstatic and so grateful. He wrote to me afterward expressing his gratitude. He wrote to my vice president and my staff. And it was just a -- I know the occasion meant something great to him.
You know, Wolf, Tim is -- was a great friend of the Catholic University. He was on the campus many times. He was a commencement speaker, as you were, a recipient of an honorary degree, as you were. He served on the opus jury, you know, that prize, the Opus Prize, the million dollar prize that the university awarded through the Opus Foundation.
I mean there's so many things that we had in common and there was a closeness there. We just feel terrible and feel so sad for his wife and his son Luke, who just graduated from Boston College.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Father O'Connell, to these statements that are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the two presidential candidates right now, John McCain and Barack Obama.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Lieberman and I would like to just make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the ultimately death of a great journalist and a great American, Tim Russert.
Tim Russert was at the top of his profession. He was a man of honesty and integrity. He was hard, but he was always fair. We miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity, of the highest level of journalism and we'll miss him and we'll miss him a lot.
Again, he was hard. He was fair. He was at the top of his profession. He loved his country. He loved the Buffalo Bills. And most of all, he loved his family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Yes, we all, I think, have heard the news about Tim Russert. I've known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist, but a friend. There wasn't a better interviewer in television, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics. And he was also one of the finest men I knew -- somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family.
I am grief stricken with the loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope that even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want to go back to Father David O'Connell, the president of the Catholic University.
Father O'Connell, are you still on the phone with us?
O'CONNELL: Yes, I am, Wolf.
BLITZER: Talk to us a little bit -- you're a man of great, deep faith. And so many people out there are probably asking how could this happen, someone as good and decent as Tim Russert, whose life was cut short, 58-years-old, a devout Catholic, someone so passionate in his work, so committed to the community and family, who did good deeds. Help us understand what's going on.
O'CONNELL: Well, Wolf, you know, there are no easy or simple answers to questions like this at difficult times. We all know we have (INAUDIBLE), that our time on Earth is limited and that the obligation we have in life is really to do as much good as we can as often as we can and as completely as we can.
I think we see that in all of the outpouring of sentiments and feelings about Tim. This was a, truly, a good man a man of deep faith, a man who could reach across the aisle, talk to Republicans, to Democrats, conservatives, liberals, to the high and mighty as well as to the common man. The tributes that will be forthcoming in the days ahead, I think, will bear witness to, really, a man of personal integrity, deep faith and real greatness.
BLITZER: I know one of the great moments in his life was not only meeting Pope Benedict XVI at Catholic University a few weeks ago, Father O'Connell, but meeting John Paul II in Rome and then in Denver, when he was here in the United States. And whenever I would see him, he would talk about that. And I'm sure he discussed it with you, as well.
O'CONNELL: Yes. I think Tim was one of the few journalists that actually had the opportunity to interview Pope John Paul II. In fact, as you remember, when we were going into the -- to that little room to meet Pope Benedict, you know, Tim was still looking for the interview. And you recall I said to you both, you know, one question each. BLITZER: I remember. He -- I said, I don't think you're going to get this guy to join you on "Meet The Press" this Sunday, as much as you would like to do that.
Father David O'Connell of the Catholic University, thank you so much.
Thank you for your support during these difficult times, as well.