Posts Tagged ‘James Cardinal Gibbons’

The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America, founded in 1887 by the U.S. Catholic bishops with the support of Pope Leo XIII, is the national and pontifical university of the Catholic Church in the U.S. On this ride I stopped by to see their campus, which is located in northeast D.C., and is bound by Michigan Avenue to the south, North Capitol Street to the west, Hawaii Avenue to the north, and John McCormick Road to the east.  The campus’ main entrance is located at 620 Michigan Avenue (MAP) in D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood.  Brookland is also sometimes known as “Little Rome”, because in addition to the Catholic University, the neighborhood also contains 59 other Catholic institutions and organizations, including Trinity Washington University, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery. 

The earliest origins of the Catholic University of America dates back to a discussion about the church’s need for a national university during the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866. Bishop John Lancaster Spalding then persuaded family friend Mary Gwendoline Caldwell to pledge $300,000 to establish it. In 1882 Bishop Spalding went to Rome to obtain Pope Leo XIII’s support for the University.  And on April 10, 1887, Pope Leo sent James Cardinal Gibbons a letter granting permission to begin the university.  It was incorporated later that year on 66 acres of land next to the Old Soldiers Home. President Grover Cleveland was in attendance for the laying of the cornerstone of Divinity Hall, now known as Caldwell Hall, on May 24, 1888, as were members of Congress and the U.S. Cabinet.

Over the years the University’s campus has been expanded to 193-acres, and Romanesque and modern design dominate among its 55 major buildings. Today the campus community includes over 6,000 students from all 50 states and around the world.  There are over 100 registered student clubs and organizations on campus for a wide variety of interests including athletics, academics, social, Greek life, service, political and, of course, religious.  In addition to 21 research centers and facilities, the Catholic University has 13 schools offering doctorate or professional degrees  in 66 programs, master’s degrees in 103 programs, and undergraduate degrees are in 72 different programs.  And while the university welcomes students of all faiths, 84% of undergraduates self-identify as Catholic.

On a personal level I found visiting the campus and learning about the university interesting because I also attended college founded by a church. I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College (now University), which was founded and is affiliated with one of the historic peace churches, the Mennonite Church USA. Despite vast differences in their sizes, enrollment, as well as programs, and the theological and doctrinal differences, they also share many similarities, which made my visit to Catholic University seem almost like I was an alumni returning for a visit.

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Statue is a public artwork, and is located in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish, in a median at the confluence of 16th Street, Park Road and Sacred Heart Way (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of James Gibbons seated, wearing cardinals robes, with his right hand in a raised position as if giving a blessing.  In his left hand he is holding a cross that hangs from his neck.  The base, which is made of granite, has a relief of a shield topped with an ecclesiastical hat. The shield has the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Cardinal’s personal coat of arms.  Around the shield are rows of tassels that represent the ranks of clergy. The statue was authorized by Congress and President Calvin Coolidge on April 23, 1928, at no expense to the United States. The piece was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, and created by Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli.  It was unveiled in August of 1932, a date chosen to coincide with the Knights of Columbus’ 50th anniversary.  The statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Cardinal James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Irish immigrant parents.  After his father fell ill with tuberculosis, he moved the family back to Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him.  After his father died in 1847, his mother moved 19-year old James and the rest of the family back to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After deciding to pursue the priesthood, Gibbons entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland.  After graduating from St. Charles, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  On June 30, 1861, Gibbons was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Francis Kenrick of Baltimore, and served during the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain at Fort McHenry.  In 1868, at the age of 34, he became one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, and was known by the nickname “the boy bishop.”  From 1869 to 1870, Gibbons attended the First Vatican Council in Rome, and ultimately was the last of its participants to die.  In 1877, the Baltimore-born Gibbons became the head of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. Also in 1887, he helped found The Catholic University of America in D.C., and served as its first chancellor.  Nine years later, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII named him as the second-ever U.S. cardinal.

A man who was often viewed as the face of the Catholic Church in America, Gibbons was also an advocate of the labor movement of those days, and played a key role in obtaining permission from the Pope for Catholics to join labor unions.  And in his dealings with the Vatican, he and other “Americanizers” championed the separation of church and state.

An ardent proponent of American civic institutions, Gibbons called the U.S. Constitution the finest instrument of government ever created.   He was also a frequent visitor to The White House.  Gibbons knew every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren Harding, and served as an advisor to many of them.  President William Howard Taft honored him for his humanitarian work at the 1911 golden jubilee celebration of his ordination. And in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt hailed him as “the most venerated, respected and useful citizen in America.”