President Emeritus Honored by Holy See at CDU’s 40th Anniversary Gala

 CDU President Emeritus Dr. Marianne Evans Mount is pictured with Cardinal
Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and Chancellor Archbishop Timothy P.
Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

At the Catholic Distance University (CDU) 40th anniversary gala on November 17, 2023,
President Emeritus Dr. Marianne Evans Mount was named a Dame of The Order of St. Gregory
the Great, the highest honor a layperson can receive from the Catholic Church.

Serving as Pope Francis’ personal representative, Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio
to the United States, presented the award to Dr. Mount at the Army Navy Country Club in
Arlington, Virginia. University Chancellor Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for
the Military Services, USA, initiated the award nomination with the Holy See.

Fewer than 10 women have received this honor since the Order of St. Gregory the Great began
admitting Dames in addition to Knights in 1994. Other notable recipients of the award include
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics; Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán;
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson; and American publisher, philanthropist, and diplomat Walter
Hubert Annenberg.

Dr. Mount currently serves as a consultor to the Holy See’s Dicastery for Culture and Education
in recognition of her many contributions to the innovative realm of Catholic distance education.
“Dr. Marianne Mount is a jewel in the crown for Catholic education,” said trustee Hon. Susan R.
Malone. “She’ll be remembered for being the first. She had a vision for the future, for Catholic
education.” Hon. Malone is also a first: in 1973, she was one of the first two female FBI agents.

Cardinal Pierre presented Dr. Mount with an eight-pointed cross, suspended from a red and
gold ribbon and a crown of laurel. The center of the cross bears an image of St. Gregory on the
obverse and on the reverse the motto Pro Deo et Principe, “For God and Ruler.” She also
received a diploma written in Latin bearing the signature and seal of the Cardinal Secretary of

Pope Gregory XVI established the Order of St. Gregory the Great in September 1831; it is one of
five orders of knighthood of the Holy See. Admittance is bestowed upon Roman Catholic men
and women—and rarely, non-Catholics—in recognition of their personal service to the Holy See
and to the Roman Catholic Church, through their unusual labors, their support of the Holy See,
and their excellent examples set forth in their communities and their countries.

Dr. Mount’s “unusual labor” was the growth of CDU from a catechetical institute offering
correspondence courses to an exclusively online, highly-rated accredited university that enrolls
students worldwide. “This is an example of the mustard seed parable lived out magnificently,”
said trustee Kelly McGinn.

During Dr. Mount’s 40-year career at CDU, she held various leadership roles, finally serving as
president from 2008 to June 30, 2023. Speaking of the institution’s founding, Dr. Mount said,
“We had a lot of opposition. No one really thought you could form people by correspondence.
It had to be face-to-face, and we proved them wrong.”

Since offering its first accredited degree program in 1996, a Master of Arts in Religious Studies,
the university has educated thousands of students, and many continue to serve the Church.
Most alumni are employed in a wide variety of fields, including education, business, healthcare,
medicine, and law, and some have become deacons, priests, and religious.

Speaking of CDU in a video presented at the gala, Father Robert J. Spitzer, founder and
President of the Spitzer Center, said, “You’ve not only educated generations of people in faith
and reason, you’ve formed a cadre of evangelists through that education that’s going to extend
your mission far beyond what you ever dreamt of.”

Dr. Mount, who joined CDU in 1983, is credited with being the driving force behind the
university’s growth and success.

“Marianne took that football and ran to a goalpost that was far beyond what anyone
expected,” said longtime CDU supporter Treena Rinaldi, who is the niece of Bishop Thomas J.
Welsh, the first Bishop of Arlington who established CDU and recruited Dr. Mount to be one of
two initial staff members.

When Dr. Mount retired in 2023, the university had launched a new program in Catholic Social
Teaching, both in Spanish and English, with support from a nearly $1 million grant from the Lilly
Endowment. Under her leadership, the university, which had been accredited by the Distance
Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) since 1986, also secured accreditation from the
Higher Learning Commission in 2022, and The Association of Theological Schools in 2020.

With the university’s third president, Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre, at the helm, CDU is positioned
to become the “university of the future.” Dr. Aguirre seeks to greatly expand the university’s
degree offerings into new disciplines, to advance a research agenda that will seek to foster
synergies across faculty and students of different countries across the sciences, and increase
the university’s global expansion.—Mary Kate White, Catholic Distance University

CDU Celebrates 40 years, honors the past, and looks to the future

Catholic Distance University celebrated 40 years of its mission to communicate the mind and heart of the Church in a digital world. The annual CDU gala was held at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia. A symbolic way to celebrate 40 years, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington is the founding diocese of CDU. It was a night to remember when Dr. Michael P. Warsaw, the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of EWTN Global Catholic Network, was honored with the Founders Award, the university’s highest distinction.

In addition, President Emeritus Marianne Evans Mount, Ph.D., was presented with the Vatican’s Dame of St. Gregory Cross by Papal Nuncio, His Eminence Cardinal Christophe Pierre, and the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, President of the USCCB. This distinction is highly deserved. Dr. Mount has a storied history of supporting Catholic education and evangelization. Since the establishment of the Order of St. Gregory the Great on September 1, 1831, only 25 people have been awarded the Grand Cross. The honor is bestowed upon individuals in recognition of their personal service to the Holy See and the Catholic Church, their extraordinary labors, and the examples they set in their communities and their countries.

The gala drew guests from all across the world to join the Convocation Mass, including graduates, faculty, staff, supporters, friends, and family.


Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre named CDU’s next president

After announcing her retirement last year, Dr. Marianne Evans Mount passed the reins of the Office of the President to someone new. Dr. Mount was involved in CDU leadership in many capacities before becoming president in 2008. Her passion to see the university succeed has influenced her to remain involved in the university, including by becoming a trustee of the Board.

Following a wide search full of talented candidates at the top of their field, Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre was selected as the new president of CDU in June 2023. A dynamic, leading-edge addition to the university, Dr. Aguirre is a visionary who is equipped and ready to carry the university into the future.


The premier Catholic online university of the future

Dr. Aguirre’s remarks at the gala called to mind the opportunity that higher education has at this moment in time. She announced that program offerings will expand and diversify in the next five years to include disciplines in Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality, education, economics, and big data – all taught through a theologically sound lens. The university will also begin to offer more programs in Spanish and its first program in Italian in its efforts to grow in both Latin America and Italy.

“There is a great need to prepare people capable of engaging in new technologies while being firmly rooted in a sound Christian anthropology and a solid intellectual and spiritual formation. Scientists who are working in these fields see the need for a university such as ours to fill this void, and they are excited about collaborating with us. The new degrees will help our students widen their impact by preparing them to take leadership roles in fields that are in great need of recuperating the meaning of the human person, of social life, and culture,” Aguirre said.

In addition to the new programs, the university is planning to create a new center for research dissemination.

“We will seek to reach a wider audience, thematically and geographically, with our unique online model,” Aguirre said. “We will expand so as to meet a demand in high-growing markets that thirst for what CDU has to offer. If we don’t seize the moment now, it will be gone.”


Catholic Distance University renamed Catholic International University to align with the evolution of the institution

It was also announced that the university’s name will be changed to Catholic International University to more closely align with the future evolution of the mission of the college. “We are person-centered, we want every interaction to be a point of encounter because we see the “I” and the “you” in everything we do.”-commented Aguirre.


High achievement for the university

This year, CDU was ranked fourth among the top online theology programs by Forbes, CDU being the top Catholic online theology program. The Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts degree was ranked 17th out of 3,000 online programs by, a trusted resource for higher education program rankings and planning. The gala highlighted all of these achievements and more, all while celebrating the class of 2023 graduates.

Theology Faculty Member David Bonagura, Jr., Publishes New Book

David Bonagura, Jr., recently published Jerome’s Tears: Letters to Friends in Mourning, making these poignant letters of consolation to friends mourning the loss of spouses, children, relatives, and friends available for the first time in English. Pope Benedict considered St. Jerome the Church’s greatest doctor.  He translated the Bible from Greek to Latin around 400 AD, while taking care to correct the Old Testament using the Hebrew original.

Mr. Bonagura first read St. Jerome’s letters while working on a thesis for his graduate degree. “I thought Christian readers of all kinds could really benefit spiritually from Jerome’s approach to grief,” he says. Consolatory letters were a literary genre developed by the ancient Greeks, and in his letters, St. Jerome builds upon that framework, bringing the Christian worldview and the hope offered in Christ’s resurrection to the forefront.

The letters follow a format. “St. Jerome first urges unwavering confidence in Christ’s resurrection that has conquered death. Second, he says that mourners should not focus on the loss of the deceased, but on the gift that they had in that person. Third, he urges the bereaved to overcome their grief by pursuing a new path in Christ,” Mr. Bonagura says.

“Jerome does not hesitate to deal out ‘tough love’ to these recipients in their grief,” Bonagura says. “In every letter, he exhorts the recipient to let go of his or her grief and seize a new opportunity to serve the Lord more devoutly now that the deceased has passed on.”

What strikes him most about the letters is that they balance narrative, imagery, elegance, and precision. “He brilliantly wields Scripture in every letter, offering persons, images, stories, and wise sayings from both the Old and New Testaments to help comfort the bereaved,” Mr. Bonagura says.

In addition to teaching for CDU, Mr. Bonagura is also an adjunct professor of classical languages at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., and a Latin teacher at Regis High School in New York City. He was named a Eucharistic Fellow by The Cardinal Newman Society in September.

Jerome’s Tears: Letters to Friends in Mourning was published by Sophia Institute Press and can be purchased on Amazon or from Target.

Catholic School Teacher Reflects on the Fruits of a CDU Education

Melissa Reyes, a Catholic middle school teacher in California, recently earned her MA degree in Theology and Educational Ministry. She says that CDU helped her to grow into the theologian she has always dreamt of becoming. “I’m so thankful to God for CDU and all the faculty and staff who helped me achieve my degree,” Melissa says.

“What I most enjoyed was being able to encounter the genius of each of my professors,” she says. “Each one offered something so unique to my theological inquiries and taught with such insight and depth of each branch of theology.”

Melissa says that God, and the youth of today, inspired her to become a Catholic middle school teacher. She wanted to accompany her students in their education and help them through the difficulties of life by teaching them good study skills and providing them with ample opportunities to grow in their faith through fervent prayer to God and theological reflection in a Catholic-Christian community.

“My journey from theological studies at CDU to my work as a Catholic middle school teacher at a Dominican elementary school was the fruit of my prayers, those who supported me, and the countless holy men and women I encountered throughout my lifetime,” she says. “Being raised in a Catholic household helped me to remain faithful to my faith and family, and my Catholic education truly made a difference in my life as a teacher and lifelong learner.”

“I most enjoy teaching students and praying with them,” Melissa says. “Seeing their faith grow throughout the school years is such a humbling experience. They teach me about virtue by their example of humble submission to the Will of God and holy trust in God’s divine providence.”

Like any teacher, Melissa faces the challenges of disobedience and lack of respect from students in the classroom. She takes these challenges into prayer at daily Mass and throughout the day. “I find that God answers me clearly in the same students who are either misbehaving or are rumored to be prone to misbehavior, and this is a blessed grace,” Melissa says. “I also find a holy reassurance in God’s abiding presence among us in people going through the same circumstances as my students or myself,” she adds.

Melissa says that her education taught her Truth in God, and that she is the messenger of Jesus, who is the Teacher. “I am able to pass on to my students the study habits and truths of our Catholic faith in a safe academic environment, where God is first, and where education is key to attaining truth, beauty, and goodness.”

She says, “Studying at CDU allowed me to develop a greater love for God by becoming a better informed Catholic-Christian who is able to witness to Christ’s love for us in the world, and a more faithful student of Jesus, who is my divine and primary Teacher.”

“Thank you for helping make my dreams as a Catholic school teacher a beautiful, good, and true reality,” Melissa says. “I always remind my students that God lives in our hearts and will never leave us. As long as we breathe, we breathe God’s life; as long as we learn, we learn God’s truth; and as long as we pray, we pray and earnestly ask God to allow our life with Him on Earth to become an ever-living reality with Him forever in heaven.”

Undergraduate Programs Receive Top Rankings

Catholic Distance University recently received top rankings for its AA and BA degree programs. Forbes Advisor ranked CDU #4 in “Best Options for Theology Bachelor Degrees Online” for 2023. ranked CDU #17 in “Best Online Associate in Liberal Arts Degree Programs” for 2024. These accolades confirm the great value and high quality of a CDU education.

To determine rankings, the Forbes Advisor Education team sources data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and pulls information from reputable professional organizations and education providers’ websites. They scored the four accredited, nonprofit colleges ranked using 16 data points in the categories of credibility, affordability, student outcomes, student experience, and application process. The rankings use a strict methodology to determine the best schools and programs for each category, and an expert advisory board of experienced professionals and educators reviews and verifies Forbes Advisor Education content to ensure accuracy and completeness., a trusted resource for higher education program rankings and planning, evaluated a total of 3,000 programs before naming CDU’s online AA degree in Liberal Arts  program #17 of the top 35. Each institution was ranked on a scale from 0 to 100 across six categories that include quantitative measures such as academic quality, graduation rate, cost and ROI, and student resources. The top picks are highly regarded, affordable, and offer the tools and resources students need to successfully graduate and excel in their  fields. Recognized institutions in this category offer online programs that expose students to a wide range of disciplines, fostering critical thinking, creativity, and global awareness essential in the 21st century.

AA in Liberal Arts Degree Ranks #17 in the USA, a trusted resource for higher education program rankings and planning, ranked CDU’s  online AA degree in Liberal Arts #17 of 35 top programs after evaluating 3,000 across the USA. ranks online universities on a scale from 0 to 100 across six categories that include  quantitative measures such as academic quality, graduation rate, cost and return on investment, and  student resources. More points are assigned to nonprofit institutions.

The top picks are highly regarded, affordable, and offer the tools and resources students need to  successfully graduate and excel in their fields. Recognized institutions in this category offer online  programs that expose students to a wide range of disciplines, fostering critical thinking, creativity, and  global awareness essential in the 21st century. View our listing.



New Fall II Graduate Course Features Live Discussions

CST 510. Social Doctrine of the Church, 1891–1965 introduces students to the Church’s social doctrine from the time of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum to the end of Vatican II. Students will become familiar with the basic principles of this doctrine by reading encyclicals and other Magisterial documents from this period, along with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Through discussion and writing assignments, students will explore the application of these principles to particular historical circumstances. Required synchronous sessions will be held each week on Mondays, 7:30-9:30 pm ET.

The course will be taught by moral theologian Dr. William Neu, an educator and translator who holds a doctorate from Sophia University, Incisa Vald’arno, Italy. He currently shares responsibility for the Focolare Movement in the Midwestern and Eastern U.S.

Online Apologetics Seminar Offered in October

An online apologetics seminar, The Art of Evangelization through Apologetics, will be offered October 2–23. Popular instructor Allan Wright will share the good news of Jesus Christ, whose teachings entrusted to the Church encompass truth, beauty, and goodness. Learn to communicate a faith that is both relevant and foundational for one’s life, and gain the confidence to share the Gospel in an engaging, natural way and appreciate why being a credible believer is the most effective apologetic tool.

Tuition is just $99, with discounts for our diocesan partners. To register, visit



Enrollment Is Underway in New Catholic Social Teaching Programs

Two new Catholic Social Teaching (CST) programs, supported by an $879,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., recently began enrolling students. In the Fall I term, the first cohort of students began taking classes in a new AA degree program in Theology with a concentration in Catholic Social Teaching designed especially for Hispanic Catholics, who will make up the majority of the U.S. Catholic population by 2030.

All courses in the affordable online AA degree program are taught in Spanish to ensure wider access to higher education for students who may not be fluent in English or prefer to learn in their first language. Upon earning the degree, students will be prepared to serve as lay ecclesial ministers in Catholic parishes and pursue further academic study. There is great need in the Hispanic community to develop well-educated leaders for the Church of the 21st century.

A graduate certificate program in CST, with classes taught in English but with options for reading and writing in Spanish, is also now enrolling students. In the Fall II term, graduate certificate students can enroll in CST 510. Social Doctrine of the Church: 1891-1965. Classes begin October 23rd.

The graduate program was developed by Rev. Avelino González-Ferrér, a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, and is targeted to ecclesial ministers who seek to deepen their understanding of CST to better serve their faith communities. Many Catholic pastoral leaders feel insufficiently knowledgeable when faced with the challenges of immigration, racism, poverty, and family breakdown. The curriculum draws upon the Church’s broad and deep intellectual tradition to provide the wisdom and insights needed to address these issues within local parishes. There are also plans to develop a hybrid seminar-travel experience in Rome through which students can earn academic credit.

“CST is essential to the new evangelization and provides a lens through which to view the issues of our time more clearly,” says Bishop Robert Barron, the 2021 recipient of CDU’s Founders Award.  He added that Catholic social teaching is “not just for us, it’s for the whole world. We need to propagate it, we need to teach it. We need to announce it from the rooftops.”

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