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Notre Dame elects priest-scholar as new president

Overview of University of Notre Dame campus

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John Burger - published on 12/06/23

Holy Cross Fr. Robert A. Dowd is a scholar with a focus on politics and Africa.

The University of Notre Dame has elected as its next president a priest-scholar with a focus on politics and the “Global South.”

Notre Dame announced Tuesday that its Board of Trustees has voted to appoint Fr. Robert A. Dowd, CSC, as its 18th president, succeeding Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, who served as president for 19 years. Fr. Dowd takes the reins of the presidency on July 1, 2024.

Dowd currently is vice president and associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at Notre Dame, a position he has held since 2021. He is also an associate professor of political science and serves as a Fellow and Trustee of the University and religious superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame.

“His character and intellect, along with his broad academic and administrative experience and his deep commitment to Notre Dame, make him an ideal person to lead the University into the future,” said Jack Brennan, chairman of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees. “Since its founding, Notre Dame has been led by a priest-president from the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order to which Fr. [Edward] Sorin, the University’s founder, belonged. The University has had only three presidents in the last 70 years, each exceptional in their own right — Fr. Jenkins, Fr. Edward Malloy, CSC, and Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. Fr. Dowd continues in this rich tradition.”

Focus on Global South

A native of Michigan City, Indiana, Dowd graduated from Notre Dame in 1987, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics, and entered Moreau Seminary in the fall of that year to explore his vocation to religious life and priesthood. During his time in the seminary, he asked to be assigned to East Africa and spent 18 months there.

Fr. Robert A. Dowd, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame
Fr. Robert A. Dowd, CSC, will assume the presidency of the university of Notre Dame in July 2024.

After professing final vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1993 and being ordained a priest in 1994, he worked in Campus Ministry at Notre Dame, serving as associate rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and as an assistant rector in one of the University’s residence halls.

He began his graduate studies at UCLA in 1996, earning an M.A. in African studies in 1998 and a doctorate in political science in 2003. In 2004, Dowd joined Notre Dame’s political science department as a member of the faculty. Specializing in comparative politics, his research has focused on how Christian and Islamic religious communities affect support for democratic institutions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. He has published articles in leading academic journals and a book with Oxford University Press, Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dowd’s research has focused on African politics, identity politics, and religion and politics. His research has also explored the effects of religious beliefs and institutions on the integration of migrants/refugees in Europe and the effects of faith-based schools on citizenship and civic engagement in Africa.

He is the founder of Notre Dame’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, which, animated by Catholic social teaching, is dedicated to forging community-engaged research partnerships in the “Global South.”

“I am deeply humbled and honored by the Board’s decision,” Fr. Dowd said in a statement. “We can all be grateful for Fr. Jenkins’ selfless and courageous leadership for almost two decades. Working together with others, his efforts have positioned the University extremely well in every way. We will build on those efforts. 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.”

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