Monday, May 04, 2009

On the "Dinner" Circuit

As the surveys bear witness to the seismic shift of Stateside Catholics toward points South and West, the trend was highlighted even further last week as, for the first time, the Lone Star State hosted one of the high-points of the church circuit's annual calendar.

Marking its 20th year, the American Cardinals' Dinner for the Catholic University of America saw the biggest-ever descent of the red-hats on Texas -- seven, to be precise, hosted by the South's first prince of the church and junior of the group: Galveston-Houston's Dan DiNardo, a recipient of the DC school's prestigious Basselin Scholarship in his younger days, now head of the nation's youngest archdiocese, whose Catholic population has quintupled to 1.5 million over the last three decades.

(On a side-note, DiNardo -- the youngest American the papal senate's seen in two decades -- turns 60 later this month.)

The number of cardinals heading US sees might be at a modern low of five, but it's a swell season for the university chartered by the nation's bishops in 1887; four of the lead flank are CUA alums, while the country's top three red-hats-in-waiting -- Archbishops Timothy Dolan of New York, the church's "chief justice" Raymond Burke and Washington's Donald Wuerl (the university's chancellor) -- each have a Catholic degree to their name. And, of course, the Brookland campus was the place where the Pope specifically wished to address the nation's Catholic educators on his East Coast visit last year.

Adding to the dinner's lifetime take of nearly $25 million to fund the university's scholarship programs, the black-tie event -- a sellout -- was preceded by the traditional concelebrated Mass in the newly-opened Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, at which CUA's president, Vincentian Fr David O'Connell, preached....

Each year, the cardinals give a $10,000 "encouragement award" to support the work of a host-city Catholic charity. This time around, the prize went to Houston's Angela House, a residential community founded to help give a future to women who've been imprisoned.

Keeping with the "Southern comfort" theme, the 2010 Cardinals' Dinner will head to another first-time venue: Atlanta -- home to a Catholic population that's quadrupled since 1990, one led by a prelate who, down the line, might just end up in red, himself. In the meantime, Texas won't be out of the ecclesial spotlight for long: next month, the US bishops converge on San Antonio -- long the national church's "Hispanic seat" -- for their summer meeting.

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On a related note, while the bishops' university at home celebrated its mission and looked to the future, the Stateside church's Roman seminary wasn't sitting idly by.

Last Thursday saw another edition of the annual Rector's Dinner of the Pontifical North American College -- held, as ever, in the house refectory. Begun in 1991, the event gathers the many threads of the Urb's orbit atop the Janiculum Hill, from Curial officials to American friends, global diplomats and, so it seems, everyone in between.

With its annual Rector's Award, the College honored former US Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson and one of its eminent alums, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia/the Congregation for Bishops.

For the record, the prize was decided well before Pharaoh reportedly "sealed up" New York for the college's beloved former rector... but the latter bit just made it all the sweeter.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the "Harvard" of American seminaries; a major reunion of NAC alums is planned for next January at the College.

The dinner invariably coincides with the Roman pilgrimage of the Papal Foundation -- the Philadelphia-based group founded to aid the Holy See's humanitarian efforts worldwide. Led by its vice-chair, Cardinal William Keeler, the Pope received the Foundation in its traditional audience on Friday.

PHOTOS: The Catholic University of America (1-3); Pontifical North American College (4)