ACCU 2019 – Hesburgh Award Remarks by Father Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B.

Thank you all so very much.   Thank you.

It was about a year and a half ago at least that Michael Galligan-Stierle called me to tell me that Board had selected me for this great honor. It was the first time in many, many, years that I was speechless.  After a brief thank you and a few tears, I sat at my desk stunned. And now, the time has passed and the day has arrived.

Somewhere during the intervening months, I got the impression that I was not permitted to speak after receiving the award — and in many ways I was relieved.  But this past Wednesday afternoon I got an email from the ACCU offices saying that I would be able to take the microphone if I wanted for a short message. Now we all know that no College president, or president emeritus, has ever refused a microphone!

I promise I will be brief.  First of all, my heartfelt thanks to my successor at Saint Anselm and my friend, Steve DiSalvo, for nominating me.  Thank you to Tom Mengler and the Board of ACCU for thinking that this grandson of illiterate Italian immigrants should have his name associated with one of true giants of Catholic higher education.  Father Hesburgh we all know was a visionary who, often against great opposition, steadfastly fought for academic excellence and the common good of our Church and our nation. I am humbled to have received this honor that bears his name.

I am profoundly grateful to my Benedictine community and to our Board of Trustees who gave me the chance to lead our own College for more than two decades; to establish an Institute that has made us a leader in presidential political dialogue for the country; for the opportunity to found the first Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities, and to be a stable presenter in the very important initiative of ACCU, the Rome Seminar, discussing the process of transferring the charism of founding religious orders to lay leadership.

Thank you to the members of the Saint Anselm College community who are here this evening and to my friends and former colleagues both from the college and from other New Hampshire higher education organizations. A very special thanks to my brother diocesan priests who are here from Rhode Island and New Jersey. You have been such a solid and irreplaceable support to me these last few years.

The all the members of ACCU: I am not going to preach to the choir.  Of all the national boards and associations that I served on, it is this organization where I felt most at home and most supported. Right now our Church and our world badly need the work that you are you are doing in every single Catholic College and University.   It’s God work. Seize the opportunity you have with all the courage it takes to promote commitment to truth and learning, to transparency and accountability, and to justice and mercy in our world. You remain in my prayers.

Thank you again and God love you all.