January 06, 2023


As Catholics around the world mourn the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, faculty, staff, and alumni of The Catholic University of America are recalling his visit to their campus, the only university he visited during his 2008 Apostolic Journey to the United States. 

Catholic University hosted Catholic college presidents, diocesan school superintendents and other national education leaders for an April 17 talk by Pope Benedict on the power of Catholic education.. Some faculty and alumni who were present for the talk, held in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, reflected on how they carry the message forward today. More reflections will be shared at a later date.

Jonathan Lewis


Jonathan Lewis. Ph.B. 2008, was a member of the President's Society, a leadership team of students who assist at University functions. He served as a doorman during the Pope’s talk. 

Lewis thought he would be in the back of the room the whole time, but he was given a last-minute opportunity to sit in the front row, just feet away from Pope Benedict XVI. Lewis said listening to the Holy Father’s reflections changed his life.

As I look back after Benedict's passing, it was one of many moments that urged me to continue studies in theology. Pope Benedict was a person of deep faith who emphasized the intimacy between faith and reason but also with his great encyclical on social ministry Caritas in veritate emphasized that we are called to go out as missionaries and disciples. I think there is a connection between Benedict and myself but also everyone who was present,” Lewis said

Lewis later worked for the Archdiocese of Washington, where he helped plan Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C. 

“It was neat for me to experience two papal visits to Washington in different contexts,” said Lewis, who now serves as vice president of operations for Catholic Faith Technologies.


Jem Sullivan



Although Jem Sullivan, Ph.D. 1999, associate professor of catechetics, was not in attendance, Pope Benedict XVI’s address has influenced her teaching at the University. 

“The pope's words and vision for Catholic education find living embodiment in the work of administrators, staff, faculty and students who carry out daily the mission of this University,” she said.

While Pope Benedict XVI was speaking to a previous generation, Sullivan tells her current students to read and reflect on his words from that day.

“It seems that Pope Benedict was showing students that their intellectual formation is a journey that can lead them not only to success in professional careers, but to lasting happiness, hope for the future, and freedom found in the discovery of the harmony between faith and reason,” she said.

Sullivan said it was fitting that the pope addressed Catholic educators about Catholic education at this University. 

“By contextualizing Catholic education within the evangelizing mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict helped Catholic educators to see their vocation in the classroom as an integral part and extension of the life-giving mission of the Church,” said Sullivan. 


Lucia Silecchia



Lucia Silecchia has taught law at the University since 1991. She joined the large group of faculty, staff, and students who waited outside for several hours for the pope to greet them. 

“I was struck at the time with (the students’) deep excitement. Many had signs that, with irreverent affection -- or affectionate reverence -- proclaimed, "We love our German Shepherd" and I saw in them the importance the Pope had to them,” she recalled.

She said, “I was deeply touched by the fact that Pope Benedict — as did his predecessor and his successor — included a visit to Catholic University in his whirlwind, jam-packed visit to the United States. In a visit that included a visit with the President [of the United States], an address to the United Nations, and Masses in packed stadiums, he made time for us. It made me more aware of the importance that this University has in the life of the Church and I was humbled to be part of it.”

Silecchia also attended the papal address to educators, which spoke to her personally as she has devoted over 30 years of her life to teaching. Looking back, she said, “Most personally, however, were two other things. First, Pope Benedict, himself a former university professor, devoted his address in the Pryz to the important role of Catholic education at all levels. This is the project to which I have devoted over thirty years of my life. When he spoke of the critical role that Catholic education plays in the life of the Church, the world, and the students we serve it was a great inspiration.”

Note: Catholic University of America Press is the publisher of Pope Benedict XVI's books as well as his works as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.