ACCU To Present Hesburgh Award to President Emeritus Jonathan DeFelice

November 20, 2018

By Michelle Adams O'Regan

Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B
Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., president emeritus of Saint Anselm College

At the opening of its annual conference on February 2, 2019, in Washington, DC, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) will present its highest honor to Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., president emeritus of Saint Anselm College and recently named Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Boston. The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Award recognizes outstanding contributions to Catholic higher education.

President of the college for 24 years, Father Jonathan lived 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,” commented Joanne Pietrini Smith ’85, former board chair of Saint Anselm College.

Current college president Steven R. DiSalvo echoed Smith’s sentiment, describing DeFelice as “mild mannered, yet direct and impactful and passionate. I wish there were more Father Jonathans in the world.”

Sister Thomas Welder, O.S.B., president emerita of the University of Mary, met Father Jonathan through the Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities, of which he was a founder. Within that group, Father Jonathan proposed that they start talking deeply about what the Benedictine character of their institutions meant. “It was his life as a monk and his lifetime of service that made the difference,” Sister Thomas explained. “It was that modeling that inspired us and gave us the trust in each other to go forward.”

For his part, DeFelice talks 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 ACCU’s honors; named for the former University of Notre Dame President, it was first awarded in 1982. Honorees must have:

  • Made outstanding contributions to Catholic higher education
  • Rendered extended service to Catholic higher education
  • Have been employed at a Catholic college or university but are not currently serving as a president (unless retirement is anticipated within the current academic year)
  • Contributed to Catholic higher education beyond service rendered to a particular institution

Following the Annual Meeting, photos and a tribute video will be available on the ACCU website at For a complete list of past award winners, visit

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