Jay Caponigro, senior director of community engagement at the University of Notre Dame, died Thursday (May 11) after a more than year-long illness. He was 54.
“Jay’s passing is an enormous loss for Notre Dame and the surrounding communities,” Tim Sexton, associate vice president for public affairs, said. “Jay approached his work with great dedication and passion and is leaving a legacy of incredible impact. A community organizer to his core, Jay provided a beautiful example of working for the greater good.
“Our prayers are with Lyn and the Caponigro family and Jay’s many, many friends.”
Caponigro earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations (now political science) from Notre Dame in 1991. He is on the University’s student Wall of Fame as the recipient of the 1990-91 John W. Gardner Student Leadership Award, which annually honors a student who exemplifies the ideals of the University through outstanding service beyond the University community.
Caponigro displayed that characteristic throughout his professional life.
He was the executive director from 1995 to 1999 of Chicago’s Southwest Organizing Project, a faith-based community organization that included 25 churches and schools in the racially diverse neighborhoods of the city’s southwest side. He returned to his alma mater in 1999 as director of urban programs for the Center for Social Concerns, and soon after became the inaugural director of the University’s Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC).
Located about a mile south of Notre Dame, the RCLC opened in 2001 as a partnership between the University and the Northeast Neighborhood, connecting the campus and local communities through education, the arts, civic engagement and other lifelong learning initiatives that span generations. Originally housed in an old grocery store building, the RCLC moved to new quarters on the south end of Eddy Street Commons in 2021.
Among the initiatives Caponigro instituted at the RCLC was Take Ten, a conflict resolution program that provides young people with positive alternatives to violence and builds their capacity to make more informed choices when faced with conflict.
Other RCLC programs launched under Caponigro’s leadership include the Robinson Shakespeare Company, a Lego Robotics team, a high school business development and entrepreneurship program and Teachers as Scholars. Some 500 Notre Dame students volunteer at the center each year, including more than 100 in the signature after-school tutoring program.
As senior director of community engagement, Caponigro worked with Sexton in the development, implementation and measurement of Notre Dame’s efforts to strengthen its relationship with the local community. In addition to the RCLC and Teachers as Scholars, he played a pivotal role in partnerships with area school districts, nonprofit organizations and government entities. He also served on the steering committee of the University’s Community Engagement Coordinating Council and was integral in the creation of the Moreau College Initiative for incarcerated men in Indiana and the Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison.
Caponigro was elected trustee of the 1st District of the South Bend Community School Corp. in 2010 and served two four-year terms. He also served on the board of directors for the Oaklawn mental health center, South Bend Center for the Homeless and the South Bend Mayor’s Commission for Violence Reduction. He published and presented with colleagues on the engagement work of the RCLC, taught various courses related to Catholic social teaching at Notre Dame and Holy Cross College and was honored with the 2014 Champion for Education Award from Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives.
In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, Caponigro earned a master of divinity degree from the University of Chicago, a certificate of executive management from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and a certificate in community engagement from Virginia Tech.
Caponigro is survived by his wife, Lyn, four children, Matthew (Emily), Maria (Josh), Mitchell and Monica, and one granddaughter, Camila Jayne. Jay’s youngest daughter, Monica, is a junior at Notre Dame.
Visitation will be held 4-8 p.m. Wednesday (May 17) at Palmer Funeral Home, 17033 Cleveland Road, South Bend, where a Rosary will be recited at 4 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (May 18) at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame.