Father DeFelice, O.S.B., honored for outstanding contributions to Catholic higher education


WASHINGTON — At the opening of its annual conference on Feb. 2 in the nation’s capital, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities presented its highest honor — the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award — to Father Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B.

A native of Bristol, Rhode Island, Father DeFelice, president emeritus of Saint Anselm College, was recognized for his outstanding contributions to advance Catholic higher education in the 24 years that he led the New Hampshire Catholic institution of higher learning.

Following his retirement from Saint Anselm, he served for three years, from 2015-2018, as assistant moderator of the curia, tribunal judge, and vice chancellor in the Diocese of Providence, before being appointed in 2018 as judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Boston.

As president of Saint Anselm, Father DeFelice was known for living his commitment to Catholic education and civic engagement through active involvement in academic, business and nonprofit organizations, including the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities (ABCU), the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the American Council on Education, the New Hampshire College and University Council (NHCUC), the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission and Campus Compact New Hampshire.

“If you look at Father Jonathan’s career, everything he’s done has really come out of a passion and a courage to do things to transform how we think about higher education, how we think about Catholic higher education,” Joanne Pietrini Smith, alumna and former board chair of Saint Anselm College, said in a statement.

Current president of Saint Anselm Steven R. DiSalvo described Father DeFelice as “mild mannered, yet direct and impactful and passionate. I wish there were more Father Jonathans in the world” he said.

Sister Thomas Welder, O.S.B., president emerita of the University of Mary, met Father Jonathan through their service in the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities, of which he was a founder.

Father DeFelice encouraged the working group to begin exploring deeply what the Benedictine character of their institutions truly meant.

“It was his life as a monk and his lifetime of service that made the difference,” Sister Thomas said. “It was that modeling that inspired us and gave us the trust in each other to go forward.”

Father DeFelice speaks about his lifetime of service with humility and with a focus on the greater good.

“We as educational institutions have the chance to do something good for our world,” he said. “It’s really important that we seize that opportunity today, that we continue on the path that we have been on, to be a transformative influence both for our Church and for society.”

The Hesburgh Award is the oldest of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ honors. It is named for the former University of Notre Dame president, and was first awarded in 1982.