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Watch this 8 minute video clip to learn more about the beginning of the Initiative and its mission.

The origins of the Initiative are found in a statement that the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago sent to his priests in February 1992.  “The Parish in the Local Church” focuses on the role of the priest in relationship to the people, and encourages the priests to combine fidelity to church teaching with deep pastoral sensitivity.  In effect, it encourages a “both/and” approach to issues that could be divisive, for example, concerns about liturgical life, parish devotions, and approaches to religious education.
            As Msgr. Philip J. Murnion, founder of the National Pastoral Life Center and a friend of Cardinal Bernardin, describes it, the cardinal sent him the statement as a courtesy, and a conversation ensued between them and about how such pastoral concerns might be addressed.  Over the next four years, they gathered a small group of pastoral leaders to assess together the situation in the church.  At the end of that time, the group began to think about writing the statement that eventually was published as "Called to Be Catholic:  Church in a Time of Peril".  A description of this history can be found in the book, Catholic Common Ground Initiative:  Foundational Documents.
            The group then suggested that gathering a committee to model and foster such dialogue would be a good idea.  Thus, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative was born.  Msgr. Murnion has written, “The Initiative would have a few modest purposes:  conducting periodic conferences that would be an example of pursuing common ground and of constructive dialogue among people representing different perspectives and positions in the life of the church; occasional consultations that would assemble the best information about a subject so that those discussing it might be well informed in their discussions; occasional publications with the same approach and purposes; and an invitation to others in the church to consider the relevance of the statement and proposals for dialogue to their work” (Foundational Documents, p. 14).
            The Initiative was announced by Cardinal Bernardin on August 12, 1996 and the first meeting of the committee was held on October 24 of that year.  Cardinal Bernardin gave a public address on the Initiative that evening, knowing that his cancer had returned and he did not have long to live.  His words are memorable:  “A dying person does not have time for the peripheral or the accidental.  He or she is drawn to the essential, the important--yes, the eternal.  And what is important, my friends, is that we find the unity with the Lord and within the community of faith for which Jesus prayed so fervently on the night before he died” (Foundational Documents, p. 75).
            As it turned out, this was Cardinal Bernardin’s last public address before his death on November 14, 1996. 


Today, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative is committed not only to facilitating dialogue, but also to exemplifying a process of communication that values varying perspectives and works to foster faith and understanding.

In the Spring of 2009, the Initiative created a new strategic plan, “A Living Witness." The Initiative moved to The Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union in November of 2009.

  • February 1992: Cardinal Bernardin issues a statement: "The Parish in the Contemporary Church"
  • Spring 1992: Conversations between Cardinal Bernardin and Rev. Philip J. Murnion about pastoral concerns and polarization
  • December 1992: Meeting of a group to discuss concerns
  • 1993 to 1996: Five more meetings are held with varying participants.
  • 1995 to 1996: “Called to Be Catholic:  Church in a Time of Peril” statement is developed.
  • Spring 1996: Decision by Cardinal Bernardin to establish the Catholic Common Ground Project. The committee is formed. The secretariat of the Initiative is established at the National Pastoral Life Center in New York.
  • August 12, 1996: Press Conference is held by Cardinal Bernardin to announce the project and to release the statement.
  • October 24, 1996: First meeting of the Initiative Committee. Public Address by Cardinal Bernardin spelling out the purposes of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.
  • November 14, 1996: Cardinal Bernardin passes away.
  • November 1996-November 2009: National Pastoral Life Center provides leadership for furthering the Initiative.
  • November 14, 2009: The Initiative moves to The Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union, and undertakes a new strategic plan, “A Living Witness.”