Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president, was quoted by Catholic News Service in a story about the Mass of the Conversion of St. Paul, which was held to open the new academic year. See the story below.

CUA opens academic year with new expressions of Catholic identity

From: Catholic News Service Date: September 3, 2008 Author: Chaz MuthWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tom Giuliani eagerly participated in the academic year opening Mass at The Catholic University of America in Washington Aug. 28, not because it's the start of his senior year, but for how it unifies his faith and intellectual development.

So, when Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl spoke about the university's significant role teaching church doctrine and its obligation to be in full communion with the Catholic Church, the 21-year-old engineering major from Coconut Creek, Fla., said the message was clear that he had a duty to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

It marked the first opening Mass at the 121-year-old pontifical university since Pope Benedict XVI met with U.S. Catholic educators on the campus last April and stressed that it was their responsibility to bring a Catholic identity to their schools.

Catholic University officials have embraced the pope's message with a new outward show of Catholic distinctiveness.

Pope Benedict made one specific reference to Catholic college presidents, near the end of his April address, telling them he wished to "reaffirm the great value of academic freedom." But, he also noted that any appeals to academic freedom "to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission."

In an effort to give special attention to its Catholic identity, Archbishop Wuerl -- who is also the chancellor of Catholic University -- ceremoniously handed out 'venia docendi' certificates to two non-Catholic professors on ecclesiastical faculties, as well as canonical mission certificates to six Catholic professors, officially granting them permission to teach in the name of the church.

It was the first time in the university's history the certificates were given to professors during the opening Mass and the first time the service was held in the upper church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, attracting more than 2,000 participants.

"In the past, I simply requested the authorization from the archbishop/chancellor and mailed a copy to the professor," said Vincentian Father David M. O'Connell, president of Catholic University. "With the renewal of attention paid to Catholic identity and, in light of Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to CUA, I felt that the conferral of this responsibility warranted more solemnization. I chose to introduce this custom into our opening Mass for this reason."

The document, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae" ("From the Heart of the Church"), issued in 1990, is an apostolic constitution that defines the "mandatum," or church authorization granted by the local bishop to teach theology.

Archbishop Wuerl presented the authorizations to seven professors from the School of Theology and Religious Studies and one from the School of Philosophy. Schools of philosophy, theology and religious studies and canon law play a significant role in the church, because they provide instruction in what used to be labeled sacred studies.

Giuliani welcomed the renewed focus on Catholic identity on the campus and said he didn't feel it was hindering academic freedom at Catholic University.

"In a lot of ways, I've always felt like if I wasn't involved in campus ministry, I would forget that I even attended a Catholic university," he said. "I really appreciated the archbishop reminding us that we had a mission to be true to our faith and the teachings of the church."

The opening Mass in the past had been celebrated in the lower-level crypt church of the national shrine, but with a seating capacity of about 400 the service had become a standing-room-only event in recent years.

University officials decided to move the opening Mass this year to the more spacious upper church, which can seat several thousand worshippers, and the pews were packed.

"In my 10 years as president, this is the largest turnout of faculty, of priests concelebrating, of our entire campus, for the opening Mass," said Father O'Connell after the service.

###2008 (c) Catholic News Service Reprinted with permission of CNS