Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Do Something Great": At CU, Father-Prez Bids Farewell

Closing out a transformative 12-year tenure marked by significant expansion, a papal visit and, above all, an enhanced profile born from a reasserted vision of its Catholic identity, Vincentian Fr David O'Connell bade his public farewell to the presidency of the Catholic University of America today by sending off the DC school's 121st graduating class and serving as speaker at this morning's commencement.

The 14th president of the bishops' academy -- chartered as such in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII -- was drafted for the podium; a Facebook group calling for O'Connell to deliver the commencement address racked up some 175 members. (In the wake of the announcement, however, other groups were formed to protest the choice.)

Here in full, the Father-President's valedictory:

If the search committee's timetable holds, O'Connell's designated successor should be announced in the coming weeks and, following confirmation by the university's Board of Trustees, in the reins by the start of the next academic year. According to current indications, the odds of a lay appointee have become considerably higher than anticipated at the process' outset.

On another campus note, this year's close is seeing a double loss among CU's most recognized faces -- likewise leaving his post is the longtime director of campus ministry, Conventual Franciscan Fr Bob Schlageter, whose room-blessing, Mass-attendance-increasing bond with the students was once profiled in the Washington Post.

Having preached last night's Baccalaureate Mass, the popular chaplain-in-chief received the university's highest honor, the President's Medal, at today's commencement. As he did, though, Schlageter turned to the president, telling O'Connell "You’ve thanked everyone at this great university. We cannot end this ceremony without thanking you. You’ve done great things here, day in and day out.

"You did it because you loved them," Fr Bob added, gesturing toward the grads.

And so they say, an ovation was had.

A painter, avid music fan and movie buff, during a lounge-lull at one November Meeting some years back, O'Connell amused friends in leading an impromptu Karaoke-style singalong of Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do."

After a decade in the crucible -- and with a six-month sabbatical on-deck -- may the Father-President have some well-earned fun.

PHOTO: Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America