Catholic Distance University was established in 1983 under the leadership of Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, founding bishop of the Diocese of Arlington. At the time, Bishop Welsh also served as North American Chairman of the Pontifical Council for the Family and believed that families should be able to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith in the warmth, security, and convenience of home, giving an example to children of the importance of learning more about our faith throughout life.
Bishop Welsh was deeply committed to Catholic education and to the education of lay people whose distinct vocation in the world was clearly articulated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Welsh worked tirelessly in the Diocese of Arlington and later as the Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, to provide opportunities for education and spiritual growth. Not only did Bishop Welsh believe that distance education was an innovative approach to adult religious education, but the Holy See in November 1983 praised CDU for carrying out the mandate of Christ to "Teach all Nations" using new methods and approaches and approved CDU as a Pontifical Institute with the authority to award the Pontifical Diploma, later known as the Catechetical Diploma. This was the first time that the Diploma was awarded exclusively through correspondence education.
In 2004, St. John Paul II reminded a group of American bishops, "It is of utmost importance, therefore, that the Church's institutions be genuinely Catholic: Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity." CDU's Catholic identity has been at the heart of all we do since our founding, as articulated by St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution On Catholic Universities, or in Latin, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (meaning "from the heart of the Church).
To emphasize the vital role of the Bishop as Supreme Teacher of his diocesan Church and in union with the Holy Father as supreme teacher of the Church, CDU's bylaws specify that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of CDU is the Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, where CDU was founded. CDU is one of only a handful of Catholic universities whose Board of Trustees is chaired by a Bishop. CDU's Board has always included bishops and priests along with a majority of lay people and religious committed to the mission of CDU. The Bishop has ultimate authority over CDU's curriculum and the selection of faculty. CDU's Academic Committee is chaired by Reverend Paul deLadurantaye, Ph.D., Secretary for Religious Education and Sacred Liturgy for the Diocese of Arlington and includes faculty from seminaries as well as other Catholic institutions.
For more than 30 years, CDU has been at the forefront of the New Evangelization with our unique mission as a Catholic online university reaching people wherever there is a connection to the Internet. Many of our graduates comment that CDU not only emphasizes academic quality but also the importance of growing in our love for Jesus Christ and the Church. CDU is committed to fostering a strong, vibrant learning community that reflects the ecclesial communion of the Church. Our faculty and staff are strongly committed to the mission of CDU and to fostering a life-changing encounter with the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.