Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture discusses major donation, renaming & future

Since its founding in 1999 as the Center for Ethics and Culture, the institute has served a critical role in promoting the study of and engagement in the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition at Notre Dame. Now, its mission will be supported and strengthened with the generous assistance of the de Nicola family, whose recent donation to the Center led to its renaming as the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. The Rover discussed how this contribution would benefit the Center’s work with O. Carter Snead, professor of law, concurrent professor of political science, and member of the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome, who has served as the Center’s director since 2012.

The Irish Rover: What was the recent donation to the Center for Ethics and Culture?

Prof. Snead: Tony and Christie de Nicola, longtime supporters of the Center, made an extraordinary gift of $10 million to expand our work to form and mentor Notre Dame students, to engage in interdisciplinary academic programming and research at the highest level, and to promote a culture of life worldwide through teaching, exchange, and service.

How did the de Nicola family become involved with the Center and what led them to make such a generous contribution?

Tony and Christie are the parents of two recent Notre Dame alumni. They became involved with the Center after I became director in 2012. Their passions and commitments align perfectly with the work of the Center.  They care deeply for students and the development and integration of their gifts; they are devoted to building a culture of life where everyone matters, born and unborn; and they rightly believe that Notre Dame, as the world’s most important and prominent Catholic university, is an indispensable force for good in the world.

How significant is this donation compared to the current resources and operations of the Center?

This is a transformative gift for the Center. It secures our current operations, and more importantly provides an amazing foundation on which to build for generations of ND students and faculty to come.

What is the intended use of the contribution? Will it primarily serve as an endowment or directly fund events and programs?

The gift is an endowed gift that funds the ongoing operations and regular programming of the Center.

To what extent will this contribution transform the workings of the Center?

As a direct result of this gift we were able to hire two new staff positions. Pete Hlabse manages our student formation efforts, of which the Sorin Fellows program forms the cornerstone. The Sorin Fellows program has grown from 75 students in 2016 to nearly 300 today. Petra Farrell manages our culture of life programming, including organizing the Notre Dame Vita Institute (both on campus and off), administering the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal, and supporting the university’s participation in the March For Life.

What is your greatest hope for how the contribution will support the Center’s work towards fulfilling its mission?

This gift enables us puts the dCEC on a firm footing to continue to work to support the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, to engage the world of elite academia, and to project Notre Dame’s unique voice into the global public square in the name of authentic human dignity, the common good, and a culture of life as never before.

Are there any other changes or exciting developments we should expect to see around the Center in the near future?

The dCEC has recently received funding to help departments and colleges hire faculty who are both the very best in their fields, and deeply committed to Notre Dame’s distinctive Catholic mission.  There is no better way to help Notre Dame to realize its mission of being the world’s greatest Catholic research university than to hire and retain preeminent faculty who will represent the university in academia, form students, and contribute to the flourishing of Notre Dame as a community of learning like no other.

What were the Center’s greatest accomplishments in 2018?

There are almost too many notable accomplishments to list in one place. We hosted more than 50 pro-life leaders from around the world at our annual Vita Institute intellectual formation program, and presented a mini version of the Vita Institute for the Archdiocese of New York at the invitation of Cardinal Dolan. We celebrated with 52 of our Sorin Fellows as they graduated in May. We supported more than 80 Sorin Fellows with internships, research, conference, and formation grants. We presented the 2018 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal for lifetime achievement in support of life to Mary Ann Glendon, welcoming nearly 500 guests to celebrate the occasion. We published the award-winning memoir of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s exile in the west, “Between Two Millstones,” as well as two new volumes in our “Catholic Ideas for a Secular World” series with UND Press. We took a group of Sorin Fellows to Rome on a pilgrimage to witness the Synod of Bishops meeting on young people, and we wrapped up the year by welcoming nearly 1,000 guests to our 19th annual Fall Conference. It was a banner year at the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture!

Nicholas is a sophomore studying political science and history and lives in Keough Hall. He believes that eating french fries without ketchup, dessert without chocolate, and pizza without pepperoni are among the most serious crimes facing humanity today. You can reach him at