The Catholic University of America

Dean Irwin Welcomes New Graduate Students

On Monday afternoon August 25th Msgr. Kevin W. Irwin, Dean of STRS, delivered the following remarks to welcome the new graduate students to CUA.

Welcome ‑ New Student Orientation ‑ August 25, 2008

I wrote these remarks about a month ago (who's compulsive?) and let them stand until this morning. Obviously after the nomination of the Democratic vice presidential nominee and the opening their national convention tonight these remarks might now be a study in the discipline of hermeneutics, or at least the importance of "context" which, as some of you know, is an important word in my theological vocabulary.

If you are new to Washington DC you will soon come to realize that a major event "inside the Beltway" is the President's annual State of the Union address. As he is about to enter the chamber of congress the Sergeant at Arms offers the following introduction or variation on it:

"Mr. Speaker, It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce the President of the United States."

I would like to begin this brief introduction by using a variation on that theme.

It is my distinct privilege to welcome the new students to CUA, to welcome back returning students as well as new and returning faculty. I also want to begin by thanking Ms. Grace-Ann Lewis for her hard work in organizing and arranging this orientation. Allow me to introduce her and point her out. Let me point out Mr. Chris Conlan the STRS Business Manager and Ms. Julia Burton, my Administrative Assistant. I want to thank Associate Dean Dr. Barbieri for serving as host for this event. As many of you know he oversees graduate admissions and therefore is a pivotal person for you to know!

We have two other associates who work as deans. The first is Ms. Karen Korol, the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies. The other is Rev. Mark Morozowich, Associate Dean for Seminary and Ministerial Studies. While we do have two Associate Deans for the graduate level of our School - graduate and seminary - we are one entity with two emphases. I would urge you to get to know each other and to collaborate together in your studies with us.

I may well be the Dean but the STRS operation works only because of the willing assistance and guidance of staff and faculty. As you are aware last week we welcomed seven new fulltime and one visiting faculty member. Allow me to say to them that it is my high honor and distinct privilege to welcome them in a special way because they have joined a distinguished company of faculty and staff.

The principle I work under in the Dean's Office is subsidiarity, meaning that I respect the chain of command and that all things being equal I prefer to rely on the staff, your faculty advisors, Academic Area Heads and Associate / Assistant Deans for the day to day running of the School.

You have come to CUA in Washington, D.C. to begin your studies in an election year. For some the election cycle has gone on far too long. But for "official" Washington we've only just begun. Another presidential election year, a new administration and a new cabinet. And, yes, in the nation's capitol Inauguration Day is a holiday from classes! That the US election has garnered worldwide interest at a very early stage is attested to by the cover of this week's London Tablet with the headline: "Pastor - and Kingmaker? Evangelical Rick Warren could make or break the presidential hopes of Barak Obama and John McCain says David Gibson."

Lots has been said and written about the role of faith and religion in the lives of the candidates for office and in the lives of American politicians and their politics in general. Among those is a book published last June with a launching held in this very city by an sometimes doctoral candidate in Church History of STRS, Michael Sean Winters entitled Left At The Altar. It is about the last three decades' relationship between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party with the background set almost seven decades ago on this very campus. In the first two chapters of the book Winters describes the evolution of thought and action in this city by the USCCB and Msgr. John A. Ryan, a faculty member here from the 1930's onward about Catholic Social thought. In an aside Winters references the fact that the Democratic Party paid for half hour radio ad made by Msgr. Ryan endorsing the election of FRD as he sought his second term as president. How things have changed! And how, as we say "inside the Beltway" how the terms of the debate have changed!

This month one of the members of CUA's Board of Trustees, Archbishop Charles Chaput, published a book entitled Render to Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life which is a reframing of the debate about the separation of church and state. It is far more than a book about abortion and Communion, although it deals with those and other controversial issues. The archbishop writes plainly and directly. He pulls no punches. He is respectful of others' opinions but always very firm in his own.

If you are new to the East Coast I would also like to welcome you to this side / part of the country. As a New Yorker in exile I encourage you to make use of the Eastern corridor for travel and leisure. Politics will not be absent this fall on Broadway with the revival of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, originally starring Paul Scofield as St. Thomas More this time starring Frank Langella. Who was Thomas More? Among other things, devoted husband, father and Councillor of his country. But he was also the conscience of a king who lost his life on that principle.

Early in Act One More is summoned in the middle of the night to the chambers of Cardinal Wolsey for the first of many conversations about Henry VIII's desire for a son and therefore for an annulment from marriage. More objects, then protests. Wolsey wants to take measures to grant the annulment and asks More "Now explain how you as Councillor of England can obstruct those measures for the sake of your own, private, conscience."

More replies: "Well…I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos."

This could be quite a semester in DC with the election, debates, politicking and raising all sorts of religious, faith-based and ethical issues talked about and discussed as we look forward to the November election. Welcome to CUA and DC. Study hard, work hard, enjoy the ride. And please keep this whole STRS enterprise in your prayers.

Thank you.