Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M ., university president, announced on Oct. 2 that he would step down as president of The Catholic University of America in 2010. An Oct. 2 Washington Post article detailed his tenure and departure.
From: The Washington Post Date: Oct. 2, 2009 Author: Nick AndersonThe Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, president of the Catholic University of America, announced Friday that he will step down in August after 12 years as leader of what some call "the bishops' university."
O'Connell is one of the longest-serving college or university presidents in the Washington area. In his tenure, the university's enrollment has grown 23 percent, to 6,768. The Northeast Washington campus has expanded 34 percent, to 193 acres, with many buildings added or renovated. And Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit to the school in April 2008.
O'Connell, 54, called the visit the highlight of his academic career. He said in an interview that he felt somewhat tongue-tied as he rode an elevator that day with the pontiff.
"Gee, what do you say to the pope? But I didn't have to say a word," O'Connell recalled. "He turned to me and said, 'Father, I know what you've done here and the church is grateful.' I looked up to the sky and said, 'Take me now. It doesn't get any better than that.' "
Asked why he is resigning, O'Connell said: "To be quite frank, I feel tired after a very active 12 years. But more important than that, I think it's good for leadership to change at institutions." He said he has no plans yet for what he will do after he leaves the post. "I'm waiting for God to show his hand," he said.
Catholic University was opened in 1889 by U.S. Catholic bishops under a papal charter. That link to Rome -- the school's colors, like the Vatican's, are gold and white -- gives it a unique status among more than 220 Catholic colleges and universities nationwide.
Among the surprises of his tenure, O'Connell cited "resistance" he felt among some parts of the campus community to his drive to reinvigorate the university's Catholic identity and mission after he took over in 1998. "That surprised me most," he said. "But that has melted away." He added that any resistance to that core mission "has given way to an appreciation for it."
Among disappointments, he cited a discovery he made after taking office -- that the university had not been aggressive enough in securing its financial base. He said the university historically had been slow to tap into the goodwill of alumni. "Now we're playing catch-up," he said. O'Connell raised about $180 million in his tenure.
Bishops who oversee the university praised O'Connell.
"Father O'Connell has served CUA exceptionally well as president," Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, the university chancellor, said in a statement. "During his tenure he brought the university to a renewed sense of its Catholic identity and a high level of academic achievement. I rejoice that he also focused on the quality of student life, promoting the appreciation of students for their faith."