University leaders gather to discuss Catholic identity in higher education

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University leaders gather to discuss Catholic identity in higher education

By Luca Badetti

ROME — Presidents, senior administrators and faculty leaders from American Catholic universities and colleges discussed Catholic identity in higher education and explored the intellectual and spiritual legacy of the Church as part of a five-day seminar for members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU).

The theme for this year’s June 9-13 Rome Seminar, organized by the ACCU and The Lay Centre, was “Creating a Culture of Dialogue: A dynamic exchange between Catholic higher education and the Curia.” Over the years, the Rome Seminar has sought to offer ACCU members an opportunity to nourish their mission as Catholic institutions of higher learning.

This year’s 16 participants met with Roman Curial representatives and Vatican experts to discuss relevant educational and ecclesial issues.

A theme that emerged during the conversations is the living out of Catholic identity within diverse contexts. The group discussed approaches to promoting Catholic identity with Father Friedrich Bechina, FSO, undersecretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. They reflected on the future of religious congregations in Catholic higher education with Father Hank Lemoncelli, OMI, of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Sister Patricia Murray, IBVM, executive secretary of the International Union Superiors General. They conversed on the importance of creating a culture of welcome and dialogue with Father Avelino González-Ferrér of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Dr Teresa Rossi, co-director of the Centro Pro Unione, and Father Jason Welle, OFM, professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies. 

ACCU members were introduced to various facets of the work of the Church, both in Rome and beyond. They met with Father Thomas H. Smolich, SJ, international director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and council members of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and with Father Robert Geisinger, SJ, promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The group dined with Vatican journalists and learned about issues that matter to the Holy See. 

The Rome Seminar also included opportunities for prayer and spiritual renewal, including a Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, celebrated by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, another Mass at the former residence of St Ignatius of Loyola, adjacent to the Chiesa del Gesů, celebrated by Father Michael Garanzini, SJ, secretary of higher education for the Society of Jesus, and a third in The Lay Centre chapel, celebrated by Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The group visited Subiaco, where St Benedict established his first hermitage and monastery, and met with Father Jonathan DeFelice, OSB, president emeritus of St Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. They also prayed vespers in The Lay Centre chapel, led by Father James Grummer, SJ, director of the Ignatian Spirituality Centre at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

During a reception at Villa Richardson, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, outgoing ACCU President Dr Michael Galligan-Stierle was recognized by U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich for his work in higher education spanning more than 40 years. 

At the same reception, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, named Galligan-Stierle a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, a papal decoration bestowed to individuals in recognition of their service to the Catholic Church.

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