Joe Kernan receives the Sorin Award


Joseph Kernan ’68 was presented with the 2018 Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin, C.S.C., Award, one of the University’s highest honors. 

Joseph Kernan ’68 was presented with the 2018 Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin, C.S.C., Award, one of the University’s highest honors. 

In recognition of his significant contributions to the University of Notre Dame and his country, former Indiana Gov. Joseph Kernan, class of 1968, was presented with the 2018 Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., Award, one of the University’s highest honors. 

The Alumni Association bestows the Sorin Award, which was established in 1965, on a graduate who has rendered distinguished service to the University. Previous winners include Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., ’39; Regis Philbin ’53; and Cindy Parseghian ’77.

Kernan’s career in public service began when he entered the U.S. Navy and has continued throughout his life. He served as mayor of South Bend and as lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana. 

Kernan’s relationship with and contributions to the University have been a constant throughout his life. He served for many years as an adjunct professor, teaching courses on public policy and executive leadership. In 1998, Kernan was awarded an honorary doctorate and served as Notre Dame’s Commencement speaker.

“We’re so proud to present this year’s Sorin Award to Joe Kernan,” said Dolly Duffy ’84, the executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association. “Joe has been a loyal and devoted son of Notre Dame, and his dedication to serving others is a testament to the values the University strives to instill in its students and alumni.”

The oldest of nine children, Kernan was born in Chicago. His family moved to South Bend, where he graduated from St. Joseph High School before enrolling at Notre Dame. He was a catcher for the Fighting Irish baseball team and graduated from the University with a degree in government in 1968.

Kernan entered the Navy in 1969 and served as a naval flight officer aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. In May 1972, he was shot down over North Vietnam. Kernan was held as a prisoner of war for 11 months. For his service, Kernan received the Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other honors.

After leaving the Navy in 1974, Kernan spent several years as a business manager at several companies. His public leadership began in 1983 when he became the controller for the city of South Bend. He held the position for four years and ran for mayor of the city in 1987. He won and went on to serve three consecutive terms. During his time as mayor, Kernan invested in long-term job creation efforts, improved public safety and strengthened the city’s finances.

In 1997, Kernan took office as lieutenant governor of Indiana after the election of Gov. Frank O’Bannon. The duo was re-elected in 2000. When O’Bannon died, Kernan was sworn in as the 48th governor of Indiana on Sept. 13, 2003. As governor, he appointed the state’s first female lieutenant governor, Kathy Davis, and led initiatives to aid veterans, bolster education and focus the state’s economy.

After his time in office ended, Kernan served as the volunteer acting director for the St. Joseph County Red Cross, and got involved with South Bend’s job creation and business development efforts. He also served as the managing investor and president of the South Bend Silver Hawks – now the Cubs – until 2011, and led the effort to keep the team in South Bend. He has continued to support a wide variety of nonprofit and community organizations, and his volunteer work has ranged from umpiring Little League games to overseeing the development of Indiana’s Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

Kernan’s past and present affiliations include United Way, Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Clubs, Notre Dame Monogram Club, Aerospace States Association, Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Kroc Center Community Center Campaign, St. Joseph County Community Foundation, Veterans Court volunteer mentor, Indiana University South Bend Advisory Board and the Board of Directors for Life Treatment Centers.

Kernan has traveled extensively as part of various educational and economic development efforts, including a trip to Uganda with his wife, Maggie, on behalf of a human development program sponsored by Notre Dame. In 2010, Kernan and Maggie returned to Vietnam and visited the village where he was shot down 37 years before. 

Kernan was presented with the award on June 2 (Saturday) while celebrating his 50th reunion with the class of 1968. He lives with his wife in South Bend.

Originally published by Alexandra Smith at on June 14.