Dr. Peter Kilpatrick was formally installed as Catholic University’s sixteenth president on Friday, Nov. 11, at a Mass of Installation celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In his remarks toward the end of the Mass, Dr. Kilpatrick shared his vision to grow the number of students to 10,000 - undergraduate and graduate - within the next ten years by building on efforts to make a Catholic University education more accessible, noting that there are more scholarship students than at any point in the institution’s history and the campus is “more diverse than ever.”
“Our nation and the world needs the students that we deliver: bright, enthusiastic, committed and who know themselves and how to love others,” said Dr. Kilpatrick, who thanked his family, his many mentors over the years, the Basilica, the University, and clergy for their support.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, University chancellor and archbishop of Washington, served as the principal celebrant. During the homily, Cardinal Gregory congratulated Dr. Kilpatrick and said that “we are all quite fortunate to have this wise and faithful man” as the new leader of the only university founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops.
“We pray for the gift of wisdom for him as he guides this venerable institution into a bright future,” said Cardinal Gregory. Among the many bishops, Cardinals and clergy representing multiple rites within the Catholic Church who concelebrated the Mass was the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Christophe Pierre.
Dr. Kilpatrick has been serving as president since July, but the ceremony marked his formal acceptance of his role and responsibilities as the new leader of the only university founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Cardinal Gregory received the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity from Dr. Kilpatrick, which are pledges to uphold the teachings of the faith in his role as the leader of the national university of the Catholic Church. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Victor Smith then presented Dr. Kilpatrick with the University’s Mace and Presidential Medallion as symbols of his stewardship that are used at formal academic functions.
In an interview after the Mass, Dr. Kilpatrick said that he was overwhelmed by joy and gratitude by the presence of the many who have supported him throughout the years. He said during the ceremony he thought about all the people in his life who helped shaped his journey. Dr. Kilpatrick said that the memory of his World War II veteran father was especially on his mind since the Installation was held on Veterans Day.
“I’m an emotional person, it’s just the way I’m wired. I think when you experience that kind of joy I think it’s pretty natural that it bubbles over,” said Dr. Kilpatrick as he reflected on the moment he was installed.
After an afternoon full of meeting the many guests including the previous two University presidents, bishops, and representatives from other universities, Dr. Kilpatrick and his wife Nancy spent Friday afternoon at a campus community showcase and an Installation gala. According to Dr. Kilpatrick, both were organized in response to student demand.
The Kilpatricks said they were impressed with the variety of performers at the showcase who showed off their skills spanning from cheerleading to playing mariachi music.
Little did the students know that the couple, who have been married for over four decades, had been preparing for a performance of their own. Namely, the first dance at the Installation gala.
“We're not very good dancers. In fact, we're pretty bad dancers. We practiced a little bit, but I am not sure if that showed,” said Dr. Kilpatrick with a laugh.
The Kilpatricks dance at the Installation Gala held at the Columbus School of Law Atrium.
The Kilpatricks also put a lot of thought into selecting the right song for the occasion. Their four adult children thought their parents should dance to the song that played during their first dance as husband and wife at their wedding reception. There was only one problem, explained Nancy.
“We got married at 10 a.m. in the morning, had a brunch, and left town,” said Mrs. Kilpatrick. “We didn’t go to a dance!”
Nancy finally settled on “I Say a Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick for the gala because “I thought it was a good message for each other and for the students.”
A major theme of Dr. Kilpatrick’s speech was servant leadership, a message that he, his wife, and several of their visiting family members put into action during the Installation Day of Service on Saturday.
“I really wanted the installation to not be about me. I wanted it to be about the University and our commitment to loving our neighbor,” said Dr. Kilpatrick, who said he and his wife joined volunteers on campus in the morning to help put together food and care packages.
The volunteers then split into groups to six sites across Washington, D.C. to serve and get to know our neighbors. Each location was selected to address the needs of a particular populations: McPherson Square, to engage with those suffering from homelessness, Armed Forces Retirement Home, Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home to visit the elderly, a home improvement store parking lot where many day laborers wait for work, and an inn to meet migrant families and play games outside. Later in the day, volunteers served dinner to families living at Ronald McDonald House at nearby Children’s National Hospital.
Both of the Kilpatricks said the day was an opportunity to explore continuing service opportunities in the area, especially for Nancy who considers it her “vocation to do very hands-on service work.”
She joined the group that went to the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing facility, which she hopes will be the first of many future visits especially as she and her husband now live right across the street at Nugent Hall.
Reflecting on the weekend as a whole, Dr. Kilpatrick said listening to the speeches given by each of his children and some of his longtime friends at several of the events was a highlight.
“I told people it was like a eulogy except I'm still alive,” said Dr. Kilpatrick with a chuckle.
Nancy said a highlight for her was after their service projects their three young grandchildren over Saturday afternoon and had a “giant game of sardines all over Nugent Hall.”
Dr. Kilpatrick said his youngest son Charlie found him “pretty quickly” and joined him in hiding in the dark of the downstairs bathroom. He said a staff member unaware of the game afoot unexpectedly came in, flipped the lightswitch on, suddenly saw them, and jumped with surprise. They all had a good laugh, but Dr. Kilpatrick said he apologized later for accidentally giving the staff member a fright.
Dr. Kilpatrick recalled that he and his son waited a little while for the others playing sardines to find them, but “the rest of them were having a lot of time finding us...so Charlie and I started making loud noises,” said Dr. Kilpatrick, who then made a birdlike call as an example. “It was hilarious.”
“It was an unofficial (Installation) event,” said Nancy with a laugh.
Prior to his arrival at Catholic University, President Kilpatrick served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Previously, he served as professor and McCloskey Dean of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. For 24 years, President Kilpatrick served on the faculty of North Carolina State University in chemical engineering, the last years as the department head.
Originally from Alabama, President Kilpatrick received his A.B. in chemistry from Occidental College (summa cum laude) and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife, Nancy, are the parents of four adult children and have three grandchildren.