John Paul Catholic University in San Diego
PHOTO CREDIT: JPCatholic staff
On November 2nd, 2000, while visiting Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Derry Connolly experienced something that would change his life.
“I saw a campus full of young Catholic students on fire for the Lord. I had never seen that level of excitement about Jesus Christ by so many students on a college campus. Late on that evening, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Portiuncula chapel, I felt the Lord placing on my heart the request to build a university, like Franciscan, in San Diego. My immediate answer to the Lord was ‘NO – Impossible, a university is too big and too expensive. And I don’t know how to do it!’
“During the summer of 2003, three key thoughts came together in my mind. First, I had just finished teaching a class on the start-up process for entrepreneurial high-tech companies to graduate and under-graduate students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I was strongly impressed by the passion the UCSD students had to go out and change the world by building successful technology based businesses. Next, I reflected with deep concern on the fact that the Catholic influence on the media was near rock bottom. The New Media industry was rapidly evolving and maturing daily, and was poised to radically change the landscape of the media industry.
“Finally, contemplating the role of Stanford University in the growth of Silicon Valley, I was convinced that a Catholic university, centered on Jesus Christ, in the model of Franciscan University, must be a critical centerpiece to the Catholic resurgence in the field of media. San Diego, long a hub for innovation in new media enabling technology and geographically very close to the creative center of the industry in Los Angeles, was a great place to start.”
John Paul Catholic University was born on September 2nd, 2003. Connolly’s vision for the University was a ‘niche’ Catholic university focused on the culturally influential field of media, with the dynamic spirituality of Franciscan University, and the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of UCSD.
REGINA: What kind of young person is attracted to your school?
DERRY CONNOLLY: Students that thrive at JPCatholic have both a strong desire for a deep relationship with Jesus, and a passion to acquire a professional skill in Entertainment Media, Business or Theology. Faith matters. They are not afraid of studying in an entrepreneurial academic environment. They come from all across the US – from Vermont to Guam, from Florida to Alaska.
REGINA: Given the scarcity of vocations in America, how is your school doing in this regard?
DERRY CONNOLLY: JPCatholic is a great environment for discernment. Many students deeply consider God’s call. We serve the local Chaldean rite Catholic seminary, providing Masters in Biblical Theology and undergraduate degrees, which include USCCB compliant pre-theology studies. A number of alumni are now attending major seminaries.
REGINA: Cost is a huge factor these days as students balk at assuming large debts for undergrad degrees.
DERRY CONNOLLY: A college education can be the best investment one can make. It is even better when the student grows deeper in their faith. We are proactive in assessing student success and are quick to recommend alternate career options for students that are likely not to benefit from their investment. In addition, we do give generous institutional aid.
REGINA: How would you characterize the formation of young Catholics these days – as opposed to 20 years ago?
DERRY CONNOLLY: There are great reasons for hope. The Lord is blessing us with increasingly fine young men and women with a great openness to encountering the Lord. Formation is very tough – Satan is powerfully present in our secular culture and he succeeds in confusing young Catholics – even from strong families. Formation is a diligent battle, and often tiring to fight. We are proud of the very high percentage of our graduates who become strong Catholic men and women. Christ is truly the source of our hope.
“The JP Catholic experience is small, niche, and non-traditional, the academic approach and mix of disciplines is novel. It is not everyone’s cup-of-tea. For the student into Entertainment Media, Business and Theology – we are close to ideal.”
REGINA: How can people help?
DERRY CONNOLLY: Make a decision to help. Building a Catholic University is expensive and we don’t have a mega-rich patron. Consider funding a scholarship for a student with a great need or a professor in a culture impacting discipline. Help purchase a new building to house a chapel for our expanding campus. If you feel called to connect your legacy with that of the University, please contact Derry Connolly, President at 858-653-6740 or by email