I would like my first words to you to be words of gratitude. I am honored to join your ranks as a Cardinal at this historic moment in the life of the University, our nation, and the Church, and I am humbled by the gravity of the task that lies ahead for our community. The education of young people at this crucial juncture in their lives is a grave responsibility, and I am grateful to be entrusted with it.
Gratitude is always an important dimension of our lives to cultivate. It is the virtue at the root of our three most fundamental tasks as a University, and an important element of the education we hope to impart to our students. The first of those tasks is to help students discover who they are as persons and what the purpose of their lives is. To help them formulate an answer, we offer the view of the human person we receive in faith: life and all aspects of our persons are gifts of a loving Father. We are created by divine love and endowed with capacities for wisdom and wonder. We are called not only to contemplate the meaning of our lives, but to anchor our answers in how we live. The human person “can fully discover his [or her] true self only in a sincere giving of himself,” Gaudium et Spes declares. Pope St. John Paul II was fond of calling this “the law of the gift.” We discover our purpose in service to others. That begins with gratitude for what we have received and recognizing that every facet of our lives is a gift.
A second task for the University is also linked to gratitude. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are integrated, whole persons — physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. Our jobs as servants of The Catholic University of America are to create an environment in which our students recognize the integrated nature of their persons, and the integrated nature of knowledge, as whole persons. A common error in higher education today says that faith somehow limits or undermines intellectual work and ought to be separated from the life of the mind. We know the opposite is true. When we allow space for faith and reason to work together, our thinking becomes richer and more disciplined, our academic horizons grow wider, and our pursuits become nobler. “God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the Church — everywhere,” our own Sister Thea Bowman, M.A. 1969, Ph.D. 1972, once said. Integrating faith and reason animates and vivifies our learning and our understanding of how to put our education and our lives at the service of others. It also reminds us that all learning is a gift, an opportunity to deepen our gratitude — and service — to God and others.
The integration of faith and reason enables our students to think deeply, but we hope they will learn to think broadly as well. Therein lies a third fundamental task for the University. By encouraging students to study across the disciplines, we help them to be better critical thinkers within their own discipline and also how to apply themselves in service to our society. An integral approach to education empowers students to step outside of the methodologies of their own field and learn from other approaches to knowledge. This makes for better scholars and professionals. More than that, it contextualizes learning itself. It affords students greater agency in their studies and facilitates bigger questions. It strengthens their ability to look for the truth both inside the classroom and outside of it. It makes education a way of life, and the search for truth a lifelong enterprise that encompasses all that we do. To truly love the truth is an act of gratitude for our creation. Indeed, the Truth is actually a person whom we should all come to know and love. When that love becomes contagious, it also becomes an act of service.
The Catholic University of America has a long history of seeking the truth, responding in gratitude, and transforming gratitude into service. I would like to thank you, our alumni, in a special way for the critical role you play in supporting and transmitting that mission, and for the many ways you use your Catholic University education in service to the world.
Dr. Peter K. Kilpatrick
President of The Catholic University of America