One of the highlights of Bishop David M. O’Connell’s tenure as president of The Catholic University of America, Washington, was hosting Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s 2008 visit to the United States. Courtesy photo
One of the highlights of Bishop David M. O’Connell’s tenure as president of The Catholic University of America, Washington, was hosting Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Father’s 2008 visit to the United States. Courtesy photo

As the world learned of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., released a personal reflection about the pontiff who named him a bishop in 2010 and who had visited The Catholic University of America in Washington during then-Father O’Connell’s tenure as president. 

Bishop O’Connell also has announced that there will be a Memorial Mass for the late pope this Thursday, Jan. 5, at noon in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral in Freehold.  This will allow an opportunity for the clergy, consecrated religious and faithful in attendance to pray together as a diocesan family and still return home to watch the televised funeral Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica. For those who cannot attend the diocesan Mass, it will also be livestreamed at

It is with great personal sadness that I ask the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Trenton to join me in prayer for the repose of the soul of his Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who passed away on Dec. 31.  He was 95 years old, the longest living person to have ever served as Pope.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., and Pope Benedict XVI

Born and baptized Josef Aloisius Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Marktl, Germany, Pope Benedict served as Pope from his election in 2005 until his resignation in 2013, the first papal resignation since 1415.  He was ordained a priest along with his brother Georg on June 29, 1951, and served as a parish priest chaplain in Munich while furthering his studies until 1959.

Throughout his long life, Pope Benedict/Josef Ratzinger was renowned as an outstanding theologian from his earliest years as a priest, rising through the academic ranks in several German universities (1959-1977) until his appointment as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977.  

Taking as his episcopal motto, “Cooperatores veritatis, Cooperators of Truth,” Archbishop Ratzinger never lost his interest in academic and pastoral theology. Having participated as a priest theological expert at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he attracted the attention of many prominent members of the hierarchy.  Pope St. Paul VI named Archbishop Ratzinger a Cardinal in 1977, the last surviving Cardinal appointed by him.

 In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican department responsible for oversight and implementation of the Church’s official teachings. He held that position until his election as 265th Pope in 2005.  He was also Dean of the College of Cardinals from 2002-2005.

Cardinal Ratzinger was a prolific author both before and after assuming the papacy in 2005. His writings are widely recognized for their insight, wisdom and clarity.

If I may speak personally for a moment, I have many great and favorite memories of Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI, beginning with my election as President of the Catholic University of America in 1998.  

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger was one of two prefects – the other being Cardinal Pio Laghi of the Congregation for Catholic Education – who was required to confirm my election. In the following 12 years, I was privileged to meet with him many times. I always found him warm, gracious, welcoming and very interested in CUA. He also demonstrated a good sense of humor!

In April 2008, Pope Benedict visited the campus of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to address US Catholic college and university presidents and superintendents of Catholic schools.  As CUA President, I had the good fortune to welcome and introduce him before his talk.   In May 2010, Pope Benedict appointed me as coadjutor bishop of Trenton. The following year, as diocesan Bishop, I attended my first ad limina visit to the Vatican and met with him along with the other bishops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On a subsequent occasion, Pope Benedict spoke fondly of his visit to CUA.

Pope Benedict spent his entire life in various roles of service to the Catholic Church. He will be well remembered for many accomplishments and, no doubt, criticized for others. To the end, Pope Benedict XVI remained a faithful, long-suffering yet joyful witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. May he rest now in the eternal peace of the Lord he served so well and loved so very much.