American Irish Historical Society to honor Father Jenkins

Author: Dennis Brown and Michael O. Garvey

Rev. John. I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, will receive the 2009 Gold Medal award from the American Irish Historical Society (AIHS) at its 112th annual banquet Nov. 5 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.

Previous recipients of the AIHS Gold Medal, which recognizes a special or unique contribution to American Irish life, include President Ronald Reagan, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the actor Liam Neeson, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and Donald Keough, chairman of the board of Allen & Company, former president and chief operating officer of the Coca-Cola Co. and chairman emeritus of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees.

Father Jenkins became Notre Dame’s 17th president in 2005, after previously serving as vice president and associate provost. He has articulated a vision for the University that focuses on it becoming a pre-eminent research institution while maintaining its distinctive Catholic character and long-time excellence in undergraduate education.

During Father Jenkins’ first four years in office, Notre Dame has made significant progress toward its research goal, including selection as the lead university partner in the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery; the creation of Innovation Park, a tech park located adjacent to the campus; the distribution of $40 million in internal funds for five major faculty research initiatives (with another $40 million designated for five more projects); designation of the University’s environmental research center in Wisconsin as a National Ecological Observatory Network by the National Science Foundation; and the construction of Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering, a 142,000-square-foot facility housing a nanotechnology research center, the University’s new Energy Center, a semiconductor processing and device fabrication clean room, and an undergraduate interdisciplinary learning center.

Father Jenkins’ commitment to the University’s historic excellence in undergraduate education was immediately evident when he convened the first Notre Dame Forum in conjunction with his inauguration in 2005. Created to give students the opportunity to hear international experts discuss important issues of the day, the forum has focused on topics such as religion and world conflict, the global health crisis, immigration reform and sustainable energy. His tenure also has seen the dedication of the Jordan Hall of Science, a 200,000-square-foot building dedicated to undergraduate science education, the opening of two new residence halls, and a significant enhancement to the Glynn Family Honors Program for undergraduates in the Colleges of Science and Arts and Letters.

In appreciation for his service as president during his first four years in office and their four years at Notre Dame, the undergraduate students in the Class of 2009 honored Father Jenkins as the recipient of their Senior Class Fellow award.

Father Jenkins repeatedly has vowed to maintain Notre Dame’s identity as a Catholic university, perhaps most notably at the 2009 commencement ceremony when, in the face of criticism of his invitation to President Barack Obama to receive an honorary degree, he said: “Tapping the full potential of human reason to seek God and serve humanity is a central mission of the Catholic Church. The natural place for the Church to pursue this mission is at a Catholic university. The University of Notre Dame belongs to an academic tradition of nearly a thousand years – born of the Church’s teaching that human reason, tempered by faith, is a gift of God, a path to religious truth, and a means for seeking the common good in secular life. It is out of this duty to serve the common good that we seek to foster dialogue with all people of good will, regardless of faith, background or perspective. We will listen to all views, and always bear witness for what we believe. Insofar as we play this role, we can be what Pope John Paul II said a Catholic university is meant to be – ‘a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture.’”

Father Jenkins has taken action to reinforce his verbal commitment to the University’s Catholic identity, including the appointment of Rev. Robert Sullivan as an associate vice president who assists Notre Dame’s colleges, schools, institutes and centers with their academic programs and initiatives that advance the University’s Catholic mission and character. Father Jenkins has led Notre Dame delegations during his presidency to the Vatican to meet with Church officials, including a brief visit with Pope Benedict XVI; to France to celebrate the beatification of Blessed Father Basil Moreau, C.S.C., founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University’s founding religious community; and to Jerusalem to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the University’s Ecumenical Institute.

Most recently, Father Jenkins dedicated Geddes Hall, a 64,000-square-foot building for the Institute for Church Life, which includes the Center for Social Concerns and six other centers dedicated to teaching, research and service to the Church and society.

Many of the University’s new initiatives have been made possible by generous contributions to its “Spirit of Notre Dame” capital campaign, a $1.5 billion fund-raising effort publicly announced by Father Jenkins in May 2008. The campaign surpassed its goal in the summer of 2009 and will continue until June 2011.

Father Jenkins also has continued Notre Dame’s efforts to work collaboratively with the communities surrounding the University. Recent initiatives include the opening of Eddy Street Commons, a $200 million mix-used development adjacent to the south side of the campus; a voluntary 10-year contribution of $5.5 million to four local municipalities; and a partnership with the city of South Bend on Innovation Park.

Father Jenkins has appointed five new deans during his tenure as president: Gregory Crawford in science, Peter Kilpatrick in engineering, John McGreevy in arts in letters, Nell Newton in the Law School, and Gregory Sterling in the Graduate School. He also appointed Jack Swarbrick as director of athletics and has added four new vice presidents to his administration: Robert Bernhard, research; Janet Botz, public affairs and communications; Marianne Corr, general counsel; and Don Pope-Davis, associate provost.

A Notre Dame alumnus, Father Jenkins earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from the University in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and was ordained a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus in 1983. While earning bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from Oxford University in 1987 and 1989, respectively, he also taught in Notre Dame’s London Undergraduate Program. He earned a master of divinity degree and licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 1988.

A member of the Notre Dame philosophy faculty since 1990 and the recipient of a Lilly Teaching Fellowship in 1991-92, Father Jenkins served as director of the Old College program for Holy Cross seminarians from 1991 to 1993 and as religious superior of the Holy Cross priests and brothers at Notre Dame from 1997 to 2000.

Father Jenkins is the author of numerous scholarly articles published in The Journal of Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy and Theology, and The Journal of Religious Ethics and of the book “Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas.” He is a recent recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which is given to those showing outstanding qualities in their personal and professional lives, yet maintaining the richness of their particular heritage. Father Jenkins also received an honorary degree from Benedictine College in 2006.

The AIHS is an international center of scholarship, education and cultural enrichment founded in 1897 in order “that the world may know the contribution to the United States of America made by Irish immigrants and their descendants.”

The society maintains an extensive collection of Irish and American Irish books, newspapers, archives and memorabilia in its landmark headquarters on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile. Its highly acclaimed literary journal, The Recorder, chronicles the surging creativity of Irish writers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Information on membership in the society is available at