Pope visits with Educators

Image: President's Office

Presidential Perspectives:
A Conversation with Carol Mooney about her visit with Pope Benedict XVI

President Mooney, you recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Pope Benedict. Can you share your thoughts with us on that visit?

I was part of the delegation of Catholic college and university presidents who, along with the superintendents of education in the U.S. dioceses, met with the Pope in a private audience. It was not a large crowd, and, after going through several security checks, we were led into a room with only nine rows of chairs. I was in row five and was closer to the Pope than I am to many of the speakers we bring to Saint Mary’s. When he entered the room it was electric.

What did the pope say about Catholic higher education?

Pope Benedict was himself a university professor, and his address to us felt as if he was addressing his fellow academics. It was very uplifting and encouraging. He treated us as co-workers in the vineyard.

His address was very pastoral. He expressed his gratitude for the important work we do in the education of young people. He reaffirmed the principle of academic freedom and the freedom to pursue the truth. He also emphasized our mission as Catholic institutions and our obligation to teach Catholic doctrine and practices. He stated that Catholic colleges and universities should be places where one encounters the living God. Being a Catholic institution is not as dependent upon a checklist of things, as it is on being a place where people hear the word of God and live differently as a result of having done so. It is about a spirit that infuses us with hopefulness and optimism. We must communicate our faith to others so that they too can share in that hopefulness. His address to us was like a pep talk and was very well received.

Was there anything that he said that particularly resonated with the audience?

The largest round of applause came when he called on the priests, brothers, and sisters to not abandon their educational ministries and to pay special attention to the poor and underserved.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I left the meeting invigorated and truly excited to continue my work at Saint Mary’s. I believe that the Pope conveyed his message in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a co-worker in the vineyard. It was an important meeting and I will never forget the spirit that existed in that small room that day.