Reviews | John Garvey improved the Catholic University – and Washington
Garvey has led the nation’s most prominent religious university since 2011. Founded with papal approval in the 1880s, the northeast Washington school has educated generations of Catholics, including thousands of priests and future bishops and tens of thousands of lay leaders from all walks of life. . The university faced many challenges in the rapidly changing 21st century, but under Garvey’s leadership it held firm to its mission and moral code. And DC has benefited every step of the way.
At the time of Garvey’s appointment, the AUC, as the university is normally called, was struggling with the damage of the Great Recession. Like most schools, the financial crisis of the late 2000s hit the school hard, threatening its ability to offer student aid and meet the needs of its community. Garvey aimed to put the AUC on a more solid footing. In 11 years, he raised an impressive $430 million while doubling the school’s endowment.
This funding has helped pay tuition for tens of thousands of students, many of whom come from DC, Maryland and Virginia. It also sparked a transformation in the Brookland neighborhood surrounding the school. A struggling region for decades, Brookland has seen a massive increase in investment and construction in recent years. What began on the outskirts of the university has radiated outward, creating one of the city’s most exciting and vibrant neighborhoods. Brookland is now a destination, with the AUC as its anchor.
The transformation of the neighborhood mirrors that of the school. Garvey has prioritized new and improved educational programs to better help students succeed and contribute to society. This includes a state-of-the-art nursing school building, with $40 million for construction and another $40 million for scholarships, as well as the creation of a new business school. (I and several others provided the seed funding.) With the public angry at corporate America for short-term profit and unethical business practices, Garvey set out to train a new generation of business leaders to serve their communities. and a higher goal. Notably, the business school now connects students to DC’s small and medium businesses
As society generally became less religious, Garvey made the Catholic University of America even more faith-sensitive. In one of his first steps as president, he reinstated single-sex dormitories. Although the movement generated criticism beyond campus, morality and common sense supported it. Garvey explained that his decision would diminish a culture of heavy drinking and dating, both of which are at odds with Catholic teaching. Parents in particular welcomed the decision and, as the president wrote in The Jobit would “promote…a greater sense of mutual respect between men and women on campus.”
Under Garvey, the AUC led the legal charge against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate on the grounds that it would require the school to cover drugs and treatments inconsistent with Catholic teaching. A constitutional lawyer by training, he defended what he called the “constitutional right of the school to practice its religion without government interference”. When the Supreme Court addressed the issue, he urged it to respect America’s first and most basic freedom and praised the justices when they did just that.
These actions have not always been popular in Washington. Yet John Garvey never backed down from what he and his institution believed. Such courage has enriched this city. He promoted intellectual and religious diversity, creating a space in DC where people of Orthodox belief could come together and grow. He also promoted a culture of respect. Although Garvey stood firm on issues of right and wrong, he never stood on a soapbox. Instead, he extended the hand of friendship to those who disagreed, while collaborating with them on other issues, including immigration.
Garvey announced last fall that he would be retiring. His successor, Peter Kilpatrick, has the daunting task of following someone who has done so much for so many people in as little as a decade. He may not be the president most people think of when it comes to our nation’s capital, but Garvey should be remembered as a president who made Washington proud.