Fr. Jonathan DeFelice receives 2019 Hesburgh Award

Juliann Guerra, News Editor

Every year since 1982, except in 2005, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) has awarded the Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, Award at its annual meeting.  The award is given to someone who has made outstanding contributions to Catholic higher education, has rendered extended service to Catholic higher education, has been employed at a Catholic college or university but is not currently serving as president, and has contributed to Catholic higher education beyond service rendered to a particular institution.

This year, the award was received by Father Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B, after being nominated by President DiSalvo.  Fr. Jonathan was president of Saint Anselm College from 1989 until 2013. After his presidency at Saint Anselm College and a sabbatical in New York City, Fr. Jonathan served as Assistant Moderator of the Curia and Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of Providence.  He also worked in the Tribunal. In July 2018 Fr. Jonathan was appointed Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Boston, where he began work in September. He is also one of the founders of the Association of Benedictine College and Universities (ABCU).

“It was very humbling to receive this award,” says Fr. Jonathan. “I have an enormous respect for who Fr. Hesburgh was and for what he did.  He was fearless and courageous for standing up for important things in Catholic higher education. He believed in the integration of faith and reason, in the importance of academic excellence, and encouraged participation in civil life to help advance the common good of society and church.”

Fr. Hesburgh (1917-2015) was president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987.  He was also a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and one of the nation’s most influential figures in higher education, the Catholic Church, and national and international affairs.

“This award means a great deal,” say Fr. Jonathan.  “It feels like a lifetime achievement award that also recognized things I did beyond Saint Anselm College.  I was one of the founders of the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities and served as its Chair and Director. I served a couple of terms on the Board of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and continue to assist them with the Rome Seminar.  I’ve been a presenter at the conference for a number of years at the sessions held in Subiaco, Italy where St. Benedict lived as a young hermit. My topic (for both my talk and the dialogue that follows) is usually about values of founding religious communities and how they can be translated into the values of Catholic colleges and universities.  It is a way to help lay leadership understand religious charisms.”

The Rome Seminar is a week-long colloquy hosted by ACCU for senior campus leaders to learn more about the Church and higher education in an international context.  

“I knew Fr. Jonathan when he was President of Saint Anselm College and I got to see him in action during the 2014 Rome Seminar,” says Vice President of External Affairs for ACCU, Paula Moore.  “He gives a wonderful talk and you can see he’s a man of faith commitment and tremendous energy all focused on keeping Catholic education alive and vital.”

“I think it’s important for people and organizations who have made contributions to be recognized because they can then serve as a model for those of us working in the field today,” continues Moore.  “We always want to recognize and support those who do things well. It’s a great way to say, ‘Here’s a standard to emulate.’”

“I never thought I would be a recipient of this high honor, but I am truly joyful and appreciative,” says Fr. Jonathan.  “All 24 years I was president of Saint Anselm College I went to the ACCU Annual Meeting. Of all the national meeting I attended it was the ACCU where I felt most at home because they always understood the values of places like Saint Anselm College.”