Senior Greta Haussmann, of Laurel, Md., will always remember what it was like when Pope Francis arrived on the campus of The Catholic University of America last September to celebrate the canonization Mass of St. Junípero Serra.
In the hours leading up to his arrival, Haussmann had been working as a coordinator in a temporary “volunteer command center” set up in the foyer of McMahon Hall. She and the other student volunteers were told they’d get to watch the canonization Mass from a televised feed, but they were released to watch from the building’s front steps moments before the Pope’s arrival. As Pope Francis rode through the crowd of 30,000 people from around the country, Hausmann was shocked and grateful to realize she had a perfect view.
“We got to sit on the steps and be a foot away from him in the popemobile,” she said. “I cried, I was so overwhelmed, and when he passed by I didn’t know what to do so I ended up yelling, ‘I love you, Pope Francis!’”
For Haussmann and many other students like her, the papal visit was an unforgettable opportunity to encounter the Holy Father while witnessing the first-ever canonization on American soil. Even one year later, many believe that historic day has had a lasting effect on the University, including its academics and student life.
“I think it reinvigorated our campus,” Haussmann said. “I walk by the [Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception] on a regular basis and I think about the fact that Pope Francis was here, he came to my place, and celebrated Mass with me and all my really close friends. I don’t know how many people can say that.”
Junior James Walsh, of Nesconset, N.Y., remembers waking up early to stake out a good seat in the student section for the Mass. He said he was inspired by Pope Francis’s challenge to young people to go out and speak about their faith. A year after the papal visit, he believes the University’s Catholic identity is stronger than ever.
“To have him here and have everyone be excited for this Catholic experience, I think it reiterated our identity, our mission statement, and who we are,” he said. “It was a reminder for everyone of what we stand for.”
University President John Garvey said he has been inspired to see the University incorporate the wisdom of Pope Francis into its intellectual life. Last year, scholars gathered for three separate conferences discussing the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home. The University also received millions of dollars in funding for both a new Center for Human Ecology and the Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship.
“(The visit) has left a great impact and it almost feels like he’s still here with the work we’re doing every day,” said President Garvey.
“During his time in Brookland last September, Pope Francis challenged us to 'go out' and take action through service in the world,” said Andrew Abela, provost of the University. “One way in which the University has responded to Pope Francis’s visit was with the foundation of a brand new Institute for Human Ecology. Through rigorous multi-disciplinary research, the institute seeks to promote an integral understanding of human beings in their relationships with one another, with society, and with the natural world in the light of both reason and faith.”
President Garvey said he has also noticed an increase in the number of students participating in service activities. Earlier this month, more than 650 members of the Catholic University community participated in the Mother Teresa Day of Service.
“The Pope has been so focused in his writings on our obligation to go out and show mercy to other people, to show what the face of the Church looks like,” President Garvey said. “That’s an invitation our students have really taken up.”