Notre Dame to award nine honorary degrees at Commencement

Author: Michael O. Garvey and Brendan O’Shaughnessy

Brian Williams

Eight distinguished figures in education, engineering, law, philanthropy, science and the Church will join principal speaker Brian Williams as honorary degree recipients at the University of Notre Dame’s 165th University Commencement Ceremony May 16 (Sunday).

For the first time, the ceremony will occur on Sunday morning at Notre Dame Stadium in order to accommodate more guests than the renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Arena could hold. Undergraduate diploma ceremonies for each college and school will be held that afternoon.

Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. Other honorary degree recipients are:

Steven Brickner

Steven J. Brickner (doctor of science) – A leader in the field of antibacterial drug development, Brickner pioneered collaborative research that led to the discovery of Zyvox, the first oral therapy for a penicillin-resistant strains of strep and staph infections. Since the introduction of Zyvox in 2000, the first member of any new class of antibacterial agents to reach the market in 35 years, more than 2 million people have been successfully treated, saving limbs and lives. Brickner has led multi-disciplinary teams researching several other groundbreaking drugs during his 27 years with Upjohn, Pharmacia & Upjohn and Pfizer. He developed a strong interest in chemistry after a strep infection as a child led to rheumatic fever and confined him to bed for a year. Brickner earned his bachelor’s degree at Miami University of Ohio and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. He lives in Connecticut, working as an independent consultant.

Scott Cowen

Scott Cowen (doctor of laws) – The 14th president of Tulane University, Cowen has led the New Orleans institution to major growth in donations and student applications since his arrival in 1998. He also crafted a Tulane renewal plan after Hurricane Katrina flooded 70 percent of the university’s uptown campus and dispersed all of its students for the first semester of the 2005-2006 academic year. After this effort rebuilt Tulane facilities and refocused the academic mission, 87 percent of the students returned for classes in January 2006. Cowen also took a leadership role in the wider rebirth of New Orleans, chairing a committee to reform and rebuild the city’s failing public school system and joining other efforts to bring residents back to the city. Cowen previously served as a professor and dean at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio for 23 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and master’s and doctoral degrees from George Washington University in finance and management.

Archbishop Demetrios

Archbishop Demetrios (doctor of laws) – Born Demetrios Trakatellis in Thessaloniki, Greece, he was elected primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America in 1999. He was ordained a priest in 1964 and consecrated a bishop three years later. He earned doctorates in theology from Harvard University and the University of Athens in 1972 and 1977, respectively. As a professor of Biblical studies at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., from 1983 to 1993, Archbishop Demetrios taught many of the nation’s Greek Orthodox clergy. In his current position, he has travelled extensively and preached to congregations of his own and other churches on faith, community, service and love. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, he presided at numerous memorial sermons and funerals for the victims and participated in several international discussions on religion and society with other religious leaders.

Reginald Foster

Rev. Reginald Foster (doctor of laws) – A native of Milwaukee, and a Catholic Carmelite priest, Father Foster is among the world’s foremost authorities on the Latin language. Nicknamed “the Pope’s Latinist,” he has worked for nearly half a century in the “Latin Letters” section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, translating a wide variety of church documents into Latin from various other languages. In 2006, he founded the “Academia Romae Latinitatis,” a free Latin academy for any English speakers interested in learning or improving their skills in Latin. A master Latinist devoted to the survival of the language and famous for his strict but colorful and gruffly affectionate teaching style, he has attracted a large international following of religious and lay people.

MaryAnn Mathile (doctor of laws) – One of the top philanthropists in the United States, Mathile is the chief executive officer, board chair and treasurer of the Mathile Family Foundation. MaryAnn and Clayton Mathile became owners of the Iams Company in 1982 and turned it from a regional brand into a large international company before selling it to Proctor & Gamble in 1999. The Mathiles established their foundation in 1989 to support children and families, primarily in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Some of the foundation’s largest gifts have been for an academic building at Notre Dame’s sister institution, Saint Mary’s College, a home for single mothers and their children to pursue education and job training, and the Aileron campus for entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders.

Marc Maurer

Marc Maurer (doctor of laws) – A native of Boone, Iowa, and a 1974 Notre Dame alumnus, Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), was blinded by an overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth. Educated at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, he became adept at reading Braille, performed brilliantly in local schools and ran a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother before coming to Notre Dame, from which he was graduated cum laude. Having earned a law degree from Indiana University in 1977, he has worked as a lawyer in Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. A member and officer in the NFB since 1969, he was elected president of the federation in 1986. Under his leadership the NFB has dramatically expanded its Baltimore headquarters and accelerated the development of innovative education, technologies, products, and services that support the independence of blind people.

Ted McCourtney

Ted McCourtney (doctor of engineering) – A venture capitalist in the technology industry, McCourtney was a general partner of Venrock Associates, the Rockefeller family’s venture fund, for 30 years. Venrock was one of the early investors in Apple Computer and the chip maker Intel and continued to identify fledgling companies that went on to financial success. McCourtney currently is an independent investor and a general partner of Saw Mill Partners in Katonah, N.Y. He also has served as a director of Caremark Rx, Cellular Communications and a number of other companies. In 1966, McCourtney earned a master of business degree from Harvard. A 1960 graduate of Notre Dame, he has served on the Board of Trustees and remains an Emeritus Trustee. He and his wife, Tracy, are the benefactors of an interdisciplinary learning center in Stinson-Remick Hall at Notre Dame.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (doctor of laws) – A native of Reading, England, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor earned degrees in theology from the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a priest in 1956 and worked in several Catholic parishes in England before returning to Rome in 1971 to serve as rector of the Venerable English College. Consecrated bishop of Arundel and Brighton in 1977, he became well known for his ecumenical work, particularly in the Anglican-Catholic dialogue, was appointed archbishop of Westminster in 2000, and elected president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales the same year. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001. From then until his retirement as archbishop of Westminster in April of last year, his ministry often was conspicuous for its emphasis on ecumenism, the protection of human life and the rights of immigrants.