April 26, 2021
Susan Wessel speaks at the ceremony

On April 20, Susan Wessel, professor of Church history and historical theology, was formally installed as The James H. and Mary F. Moran Endowed Professor in the Origins of Church Teaching within the School of Theology and Religious Studies. The small, socially distanced ceremony took place on campus in Heritage Hall, in Father O’Connell Hall.

The University’s newest endowed professorship was made possible through a gift bequest from Alice Moran, who desired that the position be named in honor of her parents.

“Alice Moran was not an alumna. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1942. She then embarked on a long career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a microbiologist,” President John Garvey said at the event. “Alice had given small amounts — $50 and $25 — to Catholic University in the past, but left a sizable bequest in her will for this chair, with the intent that the money be used to fund scholarly research into the origins of Church teaching.”

Part of her connection to the University stemmed from a Bible study in which she took part that was also attended by Professor of Church History Nelson Minnich. Her involvement in the Bible study inspired Alice to learn more, and ultimately, to specify that the focus of her gift be on the years between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D.

In accepting the post, Wessel said Alice Moran’s gift ensures the study of early Church history will continue beyond the present and into the next generations. 

“It confirms the importance of this field of study to our School of Theology and Religious Studies, and to the University,” she said. “Dr. Moran wished to probe more deeply into the origins of Church teaching. What were the words of Jesus, as he preached to his disciples and to the crowds? How did the earliest communities bear witness to Jesus’ ministry? I find it easy to imagine, because these were the questions I had when I began to study the early Church a long time ago.”

About 10 members of the extended Moran family were present at the ceremony. Mary Ann Wall, Alice’s first cousin once-removed, spoke on behalf of the family. Wall explained that Alice was one of three sisters and, while their mother died young, their father encouraged their studies. 

“Their parents were devout Catholics and part of a close family of modest means. Unfortunately, Mary Higgins Moran died in 1931, leaving Uncle Jimmy to raise the three girls,” Wall said. She added that while extended family offered much-needed help raising them, “Jimmy emphasized to his daughters that they should get an education so that they could take care of themselves in the event that that became necessary.”

Wall shared that Alice, her twin Catherine, and their sister Winnifred exceeded the family’s expectations, becoming “accomplished scholars and dedicated career women.” Winnifred earned a law degree, passing the Bar in D.C. and New Hampshire; Catherine earned a degree in chemistry and spent her professional career working for Exxon; and Alice earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D., ultimately working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Alice settled in College Park, Md., which is where she joined the Bible study that led to her connection to Catholic University.

“Her commitment to her Catholic faith, her family, and education, as well as to understand the origin of the Catholic faith, led to Alice’s decision to select Catholic University and the study of early Church teachings,” Wall said. “We know that Catholic University will use Alice’s gift to study the early Church teachings and to teach those to others in order to advance the common good.”

Very Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, recalled interviewing Wessel before she first came to the University in 2004. He listed her accomplishments and publications before bestowing the professorship upon her with the help of University Provost Aaron Dominguez. “I am honored to have worked closely with her throughout that time and to call her my colleague and my friend,” Father Morozowich said.

Wessel, who in addition to her theological expertise holds degrees in music and law, focuses her teaching on Church history and historical and systematic theology. She works in a number of different languages, but especially Latin and Greek. “She regularly conducts seminars where students read the historical texts detailing the origins of Church teaching in their original languages,” Father Morozowich added.

Wessel said she is privileged to be the first to hold the position.

“Our academic area will continue this journey of inquiry today, and into the future. I am honored to be able to research important questions addressing the origins of Church teaching, and to be able to use the skills of 21st-century historiography to help deepen this understanding,” she said. “I hope that my initial efforts will begin a long tradition of research and scholarship to continue the legacy of Dr. Moran in honor of her parents, James H. and Mary F. Moran, far into the future.”