Although Catholic college and university presidents went into the meeting with the pope in Washington, D.C. unsure of what he would say to them, Cabrini’s president said his message was positive and reassuring.
Before becoming pope, Benedict XVI had been the Cardinal who often criticized American Catholic education for being too liberal. The college presidents worried that he would try to rein in American academic freedom.
Not so, according to Dr. Antoinette Iadarola, Cabrini’s president, who was present at the meeting on Thursday, April 17, in Washington.
“His message was one of gratitude. He was grateful for all of those who had participated in Catholic higher education,” Iadarola said.
“He believed that this was a wonderful mission and we [Catholic institutions] have contributed enormously to the development of an educated populous here in the United States.”
The pope did not criticize the quality of Catholic identity within Catholic universities in the United States. Instead he brought words of encouragement.
“He talked about academic freedom and his definition was perfectly fine. He was a scholar himself and scholars need to look at all the aspects of an issue in order to arrive at truth,” Iadarola said.
“I really think that he wanted to bring a message of hope in a world that sometimes we do not see hope.”
He mentioned issues to be addressed together as a world community so that we can work to solve these problems, Iadarola said.
Some of these issues were the Iraq war, global warming and the environment, the AIDS epidemic and concerns that the church does not abandon its commitment to the poor.
Iadarola reflected back on her time at Cabrini and expressed what she thought represented the Catholic identity at Cabrini College.
“There are all types of things we do here– the social justice thrust, the outreach programs, liturgical celebrations, and even the way the students treat each other – all of that is part of a culture, a faith community, that we have developed here,” Iadarola said.
“There is a difference between religion and spirituality and I think our students are very spiritual, which I feel is a part of being human.”
The experience was an overall positive one for Iadarola.
“I think he really tried to come across in an apostolic kind of way, a fatherly kind of a way, and I think he succeeded. He had a nice smile, and his warmth was contagious. He filled that big room with a lot of warmth and love,” Iadarola said.
Iadarola expressed the awe people were in after the 25-minute speech in the presence of the head of such a powerful church, which they showed through their warm applause.
“I left with a feeling that Cabrini was doing a lot here and that sometimes we don’t ‘toot our own horn’ enough. I left with a feeling that there is a lot of good that is supportive of this mission and the gospel values that the Missionary Sisters hold here.”