by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D
Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about your background, where your came from, how you became a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.?
Msgr. Irwin: In fact I am a priest of the archdiocese of New York, ordained in 1971. In 1985 Cardinal John O’Connor released me from duties in New York to take up duties at CUA About a dozen or so priests over the years have been released by their arch/bishops to serve at CUA but they remain priests of their home dioceses. My religious superior is Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Dr. Knight: Would you tell us something about your education? About your many publications?
Msgr. Irwin: M.Div. St. Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, N.Y. M.A. in Liturgy, University of Notre Dame Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacramental Theology, Pontifical Ateneo of Sant’ Anselmo. Rome. I have written nineteen books, over seventy journal articles and two hundred book reviews. My sense is that this is the work of a university professor. But allow me to say that no article or books is written without hard work, editing, revising and rethinking.
Dr. Knight: Is there some point about your education that led you to your study and writing about the Eucharist?
Msgr. Irwin: I wrote my doctoral dissertation on ecumenical advances in understanding the Eucharist on the part of Catholics and Lutherans so this was a logical interest of mine. At CUA I have always taught courses on the Masters and Licentiate level on the Eucharist.
Dr. Knight: Do societal changes effect/affect the devotion to the Eucharist?
Msgr. Irwin: I think we all observe that many parents find themselves working two jobs and being attentive to their children so much so that “free time” is limited. Many retirees find devotion to the Eucharist through adoration very satisfying and a way they can intercede for others. Many young people on our campus flock to the adoration times in our chapel.
Dr. Knight: What other influences do you see manifest in our secular society that keep people away from Christ and His Church?
Msgr. Irwin: I think the largest cultural pressure against the Catholic church, Jewish synagogue or Christian church is simply the enormous emphasis on the “self” as opposed to the common good, to belonging and to serving others. I often say that Catholic pronouns are plural “we,”our” and “us.” “We pray,” “through Christ our Lord” “Lord hear our prayer.” We are in this together. Yet our culture emphasizes the “self,” what “I” want, or even what “I” deserve. Is the evolution in popular magazines from People to Us to Self really not a mirror of the selfishness of our culture? I sometimes wonder whether for millennials the Catholic Church has become just one more “app?” One more app in addition to “Uber,” “Uber eats,” “weather,” Amazon” and now the Catholic church when needed for a sacrament?
Dr. Knight: How is the Catholic Church helping young people to stay connected to Christ and His Church?
Msgr. Irwin: The Catholic church has a very important opportunity to focus on the present and next generation of Catholics with the upcoming Synod. Business as usual is lessening church attendance and commitment. An important survey of American Catholics indicates that what they are looking for at Sunday Mass is a sense of welcome, good music and a good homily. This requires a commitment on all levels of parish staffs, not just liturgical ministers, musicians and professionals. Saint John Paul II reminded us that the church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist builds up the church. First things first?
Dr. Knight: How does the Catholic University of America work on Evangelization?
Msgr. Irwin: The Campus Ministry program at CUA is finely tuned to all kinds of students, including those not baptized or those baptized with little formation in the faith. Ongoing evangelization occurs in the classroom and in the spirit of all that we do.
Dr. Knight: Your longevity at the University brings a sense of history to the University, what particularly comes to mind in this regard?
Msgr, Irwin: The reduction in the number of priest professors, which mimics the reduction of the number of priests in general. Also the reduction in the number of doctoral students in Theology is based, largely, on economic factors where other universities are able to grant more generous scholarships and stipends. CUA has given increased attention in recent years to turn its focus to undergraduates.
Dr. Knight: What are the most difficult responsibilities you have had at the University? What are some of the most pleasant responsibilities?
Msgr. Irwin: I often say that “the only thing better than being the dean is being the former dean.” Deans are between the faculty and the university’s provost, and therefore are always in the middle. Each day new challenges arise which were not foreseen, e.g. health of faculty and families, reassignments of priests and religious on the faculty or student body, lack of sufficient resources for faculty compensation, faculty research and student stipends. Among the most satisfying has been to mentor doctoral students, to watch them mature as scholars and professors.
Dr. Knight: What mantra do you have that you would like your students to remember?
Msgr. Irwin: What we pray in the liturgy is what we believe and both should shape our lives.
Dr. Knight: Did you agree with the banning of Fr. James Martin, S.J. and could you tell us your understanding of this?
Msgr. Irwin: I disagree with the announcement from the Rector of Theological College about disinviting Father Martin and agree with our university President John Garvey who expressed his disagreement saying that the university is a place for the free exchange of ideas Personally I am horrified that the church blogs and personal accusations are not different from those of American society at large. It is very sad when a lecture is cancelled because of the venom of such blogs. We believe that the truth will set us free, no matter the cost. Caving to blogs is just that, caving.