$30 million gift in memory of Michael Duda establishes historic preservation center in Notre Dame’s School of Architecture

Author: Dennis Brown

Notre Dame Trustee Fritz Duda (center) received an honorary degree in 2009 from President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., (left) and then-Board chair Richard Notebaert
Notre Dame Trustee Fritz Duda (center) received an honorary degree in 2009 from President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., (left) and then-Board chair Richard Notebaert

University of Notre Dame Trustee Fritz Duda; his wife, Mary Lee; and the family’s foundation have made a $30 million gift to the University’s School of Architecture to establish a center dedicated to historic preservation in the field.

Named in memory of the couple’s son, the Michael Christopher Duda Center for Preservation, Resilience, and Sustainability will be housed in the School of Architecture but will serve as a hub for campus-wide work related to the center’s objectives. The gift also will enable the school to expand its leading-edge curriculum in urbanism and traditional architecture and urbanism; support new faculty lines; sponsor national and international conferences on campus, in Texas and Chicago and at Notre Dame Global Gateways; and provide financial assistance to graduate students working in the field.

“Fritz and Mary Lee have been wonderful supporters of Notre Dame for decades, particularly with regard to our School of Architecture and the University’s development projects in the nearby community, and Fritz has provided valuable leadership on our Board of Trustees,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said. “We mourn with them the loss of Michael and celebrate his life with this extraordinary gift. They have our deep gratitude for their generosity and cherished friendship.

Stefanos Polyzoides, the Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of Architecture, added: “The generosity of the Duda family will not only allow the School of Architecture to build a first-class graduate degree in historic preservation, but it will also provide resources to further infuse the entire architecture program with the principles of sustainability and resilience which are key to Notre Dame’s mission to be a force for good in the world. I cannot think of a more apt way to honor the legacy of Michael C. Duda, who centered his all-too-brief career on preserving the heritage of places he loved.”

Michael Duda’s abiding interest in historic preservation grew out of his concern that there was a better way to live for everyone, a belief that was strengthened during his undergraduate years in Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. After graduating in 2005, he practiced architecture in California before returning to his native Texas and earning a Master of Business Administration degree from Southern Methodist University. He joined his family’s real estate company, and then in 2018 started his own, the Briar Cove Development Co. He passed away at age 38 in 2019.

In recognition of his love of architecture and Texas history, Michael was appointed to the board of the Texas Historical Foundation in 2011. Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame, was named earlier this year an administrator for the Texas Historical Foundation’s Michael C. Duda Endowment, which supports efforts to preserve and celebrate the state’s buildings, bridges, monuments and other landscapes, as well as the people who created them.

“Michael Duda took great pride in his Texas heritage,” his father, Fritz, said. “Inspired by his passion for historical learning and reading, he developed a keen interest in preservation and respect for those elements that make this country great. As a young board member of the Texas Historical Foundation, he crafted the initial charter for the foundation’s Architectural Endowment Fund. His quiet and determined leadership made a difference. The foundation’s architectural endowment is now named in his honor.”

In an article titled “Another Class of Greatness,” the foundation’s chairman, Bruce Elsom, wrote: “Michael knew with whom and where his passions lay. His commitment was unquestionable, certain and impactful. He had vision and was unafraid to take a risk; his efforts put him among the difference makers. Faith, family and friends were the core of his life. He was also self-effacing such that it was left to others to tout his many accomplishments.”

“Our family is pleased to now share our blessings in furthering the legacy of Michael in Notre Dame’s transformational Center for Preservation, Resilience, and Sustainability,” Fritz Duda added. “The mission of this center will pave the way for new watermarks and a greater calling for Notre Dame. This is a future that resonates with the life passions that had their roots in his educational experience at the University he loved.”

Fritz Duda is the founder and president of the Fritz Duda Co., a Dallas-based investment building and development firm. A graduate of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, he served on Notre Dame’s School of Architecture Advisory Council for seven years before he was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1997.

During his service on the Board he chaired the Facilities and Campus Planning Committee and played an integral role in the Eddy Street Commons redevelopment project to the immediate south of campus. He also chaired the ad hoc International Facilities Committee responsible for the acquisition of the facility for Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway.

The Dudas have previously made many generous gifts in support of a wide range of Notre Dame initiatives, including the Fritz L. and Mary Lee Duda Family Scholarship, the 16-acre Irish Green on the south side of the campus, endowed professorships and the Alliance for Catholic Education, for which he is an advisory board member. He was a recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University in 2009.

Mary Lee Duda is a graduate of the University of Iowa and has long been involved in Church, educational and community service programs and projects. Along with Fritz, she continues to be deeply involved with and has provided guidance and support to Notre Dame, including longstanding service on the University’s Ireland Advisory Council. An endowed chair in literature is in her name.