Holy Cross priest, Notre Dame political scientist to succeed Fr. Jenkins on July 1

Fr. Robert Dowd, C.S.C. will serve as the 18th President of the University of Notre Dame, as announced in a December 4 message from the university’s Board of Trustees.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Jack Brennan, introduced Fr. Dowd as the next president in a video announcement released the same day. He praised the president-elect, stating, “Fr. Dowd is a natural successor to Fr. John and follows in the line of Fr. Malloy and Fr. Hesburgh. He’s a person of faith and prayer; a dedicated priest; an accomplished scholar; and a superb teacher. Fr. Bob is a respected member of the academy, a global citizen, an experienced and successful administrator, and—just as important—a person who has demonstrated a life-long commitment to serve.”

A native of Michigan City, Indiana, Fr. Dowd graduated from Notre Dame in the spring of 1987 with a B.A. in psychology and economics. He entered Moreau Seminary that fall and, after earning his Masters of Divinity from Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 1993, was ordained a Holy Cross priest in the spring of 1994. After earning a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2003, he immediately joined Notre Dame’s political science faculty in 2004. Fr. Dowd is also a fellow and trustee of the university and the superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame. 

Fr. Dowd’s academic and apostolic work has focused heavily on the politics and religious dynamics of Africa. He authored the book Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa, published by Oxford University Press in 2015. He also spent 18 months working at a Holy Cross mission in Nairobi, Kenya after the congregation granted his request to do so.

According to his faculty page in the Department of Political Science, Fr. Dowd’s “current research explores religion and the integration of migrants/refugees in Europe and North America and the effect of faith-based schools in citizenship in Africa.” He is also the founder of Notre Dame’s Ford Program in Human Development and Solidarity.

Notre Dame law student John Hale, who took two classes with Fr. Dowd during his time as a Notre Dame undergraduate, told the Rover, “I found Fr. Bob to be a gifted educator who takes his work and students seriously. He made himself available during office hours and was willing to walk through class material and questions with students.”

Hale also commented on Fr. Dowd’s integration between his role as a teacher and priest, recalling, “During my junior year, I remember leaving his class in the basement of Jenkins-Nanovic and walking upstairs for Mass celebrated by him in the chapel just moments later.”

In spring 2021, Fr. Dowd presented the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s Bread of Life Dinner lecture. His presentation was titled “Integral Ecology and a Culture of Life.” In this lecture, Fr. Dowd explained, “I am a priest, and I am a political scientist. I am not a biologist and not a philosopher. I’m not even a theologian, not an academic theologian anyway.”

“My own research,” he continued, “is focused on integral human development: that is, the social, cultural, and political conditions that are most conducive to human flourishing, and how these conditions can be cultivated.”

He also told of his work at the maternity ward in the Congregation of the Holy Cross’s Br. Andre hospital in Nairobi Kenya. While working there, he would walk past a dump site that had been deemed full in 2001, but that is still in use as sanctioned by the Kenyan government. The site, which is in the middle of a residential area and near the maternity ward is “nearly half the size of Notre Dame’s campus.” While one might not immediately link this dumping of garbage to the culture of life, Fr. Dowd explained, “the dump site has contaminated the soil and has contaminated the groundwater and the air. It’s literally killing people who basically have nowhere else to go.”

“Convenience, profit, and pleasure: when they reign supreme, they are death-dealing,” he concluded.

In his role with the Board of Trustees, Fr. Dowd was also involved in the 2021 “Board of Trustees Task Force Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

Dowd told the Rover at the time that one goal of the report was “making sure that students from historically underrepresented groups—racial and ethnic minorities—have enough peers here for them on this campus that will help them to feel at home and to hopefully build bridges to people beyond their own ethnic and racial groups.”

His remarks to the Rover at this time focused on how to avoid economic stratification of students on campus. He explained, “We have a fair number of students who come from families with quite a lot of resources and some come from families with very few resources. We need to do our best to make sure those differences don’t divide our campus community.

In discussing issues of diversity with the Rover, Fr. Dowd also articulated some of the issues he thought would arise for Notre Dame leaders in the future. In “issues of gender and sexual orientation,” he stated that “in order to be faithful to Catholic social teaching,” it is important that “we [respect] the human dignity of everyone.” But, said Dowd, it is important that “we’re not engaging in anything that contradicts Catholic teaching.”

In the video announcing his election, Fr. Dowd said, “I am deeply honored and humbled by the board’s decision. And I am deeply humbled to be following in the footsteps of Fr. John [Jenkins] and to continue the legacy of all the presidents who have come before him.” He noted his gratitude for the work Fr. Jenkins did as president and concluded, “Informed by our Catholic mission, we will work together so that Notre Dame is an ever-greater engine of insight, innovation, and impact, addressing society’s greatest challenges and helping young people to realize their potential for good.”

Fr. Dowd will assume the role of president on July 1 2024, after the conclusion of the academic year.

 W. Joseph DeReuil is a senior studying philosophy and classics. Contact him at wdereuil@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Notre Dame News

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