There’s something good at Catholic University

By Peter K. Kilpatrick

First-time visitors to The Catholic University of America routinely tell us that there’s something different about our campus, something they often can’t quite put their finger on, but they recognize as warm, welcoming, open — joyful.

Characteristics or qualities always seem most pronounced when they stand in contrast to their opposite. Light shines brightest against the dark, and joy that breaks through loneliness and social isolation can’t escape our notice. With elements of darkness buffeting our culture, even on college campuses, many young people struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression, and face the inclination to close in on themselves.

At Catholic University, our students encounter something different. As one student expressed it, “There’s something good for me here.”

The “something good” that they recognize is a community of scholars and committed staff who propose to them the beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith and the profound joy of the search for truth, illuminated by the lights of both reason and faith. The “something good” is a caring community that supports them to cultivate a deep understanding of themselves, their purpose, and their potential — in short, to discover who they are and how they will serve the world.

This “something good” creates the campus culture in which they thrive. And thrive, they do.

Maria Erquiaga is a mechanical engineering student who is also pursuing a minor in philosophy. Rarely do engineering students at any university take enough liberal arts courses to qualify for membership in the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society, but Maria has done so through our University Honors Program. In addition, she cantors at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, through our Campus Ministry program. How beautiful is it to see such a well-rounded young person — one who has grappled with the big questions of the human person in her liberal arts courses — preparing to graduate this spring and enter medical school in the fall.

Imagine what the practice of medicine would be if most doctors had the education and formation that Maria has had.

Recent graduate Peter Varga is studying for his doctor of philosophy degree in psychology at Oxford University. Like Maria, Peter studied in our Honors Program. And he is still connected to Catholic University and the faculty who nurtured his interests, continuing his research with professor Brandon Vaidyanathan on the connection between beauty and human flourishing among scientists.

I could name the many other students who also thrive here in their search for truth. In this search, they bump up against the hard questions that have challenged persons across time. We encourage this. The more they embrace the quest for understanding and truth, the more fully human they become.

St. Thomas Aquinas told us that all things are ordered to the good. Our students intuitively understand this when they sense the “something good for me here,” and they seek it out.

The director of our Honors Program, Dr. Jennifer Paxton, describes it this way: “You know that when students are smiling and laughing while discussing difficult subjects and challenging texts, something magical is happening!”

That “something magical” is our “something good.”

This spring, our university is telling the story of all the “good” that The Catholic University of America has here — from our excellent and innovative academics to our nourishing campus culture — through our new brand platform “Lead with Light.”

In short, “Lead with Light” is a reflection of who we already are. While our shield, logo and school colors remain the same, the addition of brighter shades of red and blue, bold fonts, captivating photography and spirit-filled messaging such as “Be the Light” and “Radiate Joy,” reflects the energy and optimism of the culture of light we experience every day here on our campus.

At Catholic University, we are proudly living out our motto, “Deus Lux Mea Est,” namely, “God Is My Light.” I expect that visitors will notice the vibrant banners and positive messages of hope and light of our new brand. More than that, however, I know that they will notice that so many of our students exude infectious energy, optimism and joy.

These young men and women will soon take their places in society as friends, neighbors, professionals and coworkers; loving and responsible husbands, wives and parents; and engaged community members who have well-developed understandings of justice, mercy, compassion and love of God and neighbor.

As more and more of our graduates settle into their communities and as their friends, neighbors and coworkers see their light, I believe the desire to imitate them will grow and multiply. For this is “something good,” and we are ordered to the good, after all.

Peter K. Kilpatrick is president of The Catholic University of America.

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