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New CUA president: not a cleric, but a 'man of faith'

The selection of a lay college administrator as the 15th president of Catholic University of America is not "revolutionary," as the Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, archbishop of Detroit and search committee chairman, told me Monday: merely "significant."

It is, nonetheless, the defining feature of the presidential search, which concluded Tuesday with the presentation of John H. Garvey, dean of the Boston College Law School, to faculty and staff at Catholic.

Garvey, 61, replaces the Most. Rev. David M. O'Connell, who is leaving after 12 years at Catholic to become bishop-elect of the Diocese of Trenton.

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(L to R: search chair Vigneron, departing President O'Connell, new President Garvey)

O'Connell is credited with making Catholic more Catholic -- steering the institution toward the traditional, comparatively conservative brand of Catholicism that emanates from the Vatican. Catholic University reports directly to the Vatican as the national university of the Roman Catholic Church. He raised the quotient of faculty and students who identified as Catholic. He brought the pope to campus.

Vigneron said the university's Board of Trustees favored a member of clergy for the next president but had an even stronger preference for the best "available" leader. He stressed the word "available": there were several clerical leaders more than capable of leading Catholic, but none were available. Garvey was.

"All things being equal, the board would prefer a priest," Vigneron said, summarizing the panel's sentiments. "Throughout the process, we have looked for a clergyman who could do the job. [Garvey] turned out to be the best possible candidate."

And Vigneron said no one involved in the search process harbored any doubts about Garvey's faith. He is largely Catholic-educated and spent a semester at Harvard Divinity School before moving to the law school.

"Let me put it this way," Vigneron said Tuesday at a press conference. "While Mr. Garvey is not a churchman, he is a man of the church."

Catholic University has pursued a path laid out 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II, who envisioned a community of Catholic universities where faith "added to, rather than subtracted from, the education they provided," Vigneron said.

Garvey chimed in on this theme, noting the "increasing secularization" over time of many top universities that have strayed from their religious roots.

Garvey hinted, though, that he also has ambitions to lead Catholic to a higher level of scholarship. Catholic universities, he said, have "a distinct intellectual contribution to make," by dint of their spiritual identity. At another point in his comments, Garvey said, "We need to be the equal of or better than our . . . academic counterparts." He also suggested it was time to make Catholic University more diverse, in keeping with the growing diversity of catholicism worldwide.

Vigneron starts, and O'Connell departs, in July.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  June 15, 2010; 11:49 AM ET
Categories:  Administration  | Tags: Catholic University of America, Catholic University president, John Garvey Boston College, John Garvey Catholic University  
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