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Johnson leaves for new post

Karen Langley | Thursday, September 6, 2007

After 15 years at Notre Dame – years of studying, administering and counseling – Chandra Johnson has moved on.

The former Assistant to the President and Associate Director of Campus Ministry, who shaved her head in protest of the University’s 2004 firing of Tyrone Willingham, began work as Executive Director of the An-Bryce Foundation in McLean, Va. on Aug. 15.

The Foundation – founded by prominent black philanthropists Beatrice and Anthony Welters – is dedicated to supplementing the educational and cultural experiences of young people in the Washington D.C. area and other underserved communities throughout the country.

“My charge is to update the Foundation’s mission with a 21st century focus of educating the whole person irrespective of ethnic background, economic status or educational opportunity,” Johnson said.

The popular mentor and advisor to many students throughout the Notre Dame community will be available to say goodbye in person from 7-8:30 p.m. today in the Coleman-Morse Center student lounge.

Through her work in the Officer Group and at Campus Ministry, Johnson helped to steer the development of Notre Dame as a community that strives to welcome people from all backgrounds, said University President Emeritus Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, under whom Johnson worked in the President’s Office.

“Primarily she helped to conceive of Notre Dame as a more diverse, community-oriented type of place,” he said.

Johnson entered Notre Dame in 1992 as a first-year undergraduate student.

Though she was 38 years old, her brother had encouraged her to pursue her love of religious education by studying in theology.

Johnson was the only entering freshman then or since who was that far removed in age from the average majority of students.

“We’ve never admitted anyone like me since,” she said. “That’s why I believe it was just meant to be.”

She first met Malloy when she enrolled in his undergraduate seminar.

Though the other students were half her age, Johnson quickly became a “trusted confidante” to many of them, Malloy said.

“She seemed to me as an African-American woman to help other African-American students or students struggling with identity issues to make that transition,” he said.

While still an undergraduate, Johnson became involved with Campus Ministry and studied at the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Jerusalem. After graduating in 1996 with a degree in theology, Johnson went to work for Campus Ministry, where she created a program designed for undergraduates of African descent and began to counsel students. A position opened in Malloy’s office in 1998, and the University president asked his former pupil if she would work for him as Assistant to the President.

She became the first woman to serve as Assistant to the President and engaged in University-wide planning while continuing to counsel and meet with students. She was also a popular speaker on the national level, addressing African-American spirituality as well as other topics, Malloy said.

Johnson’s talent for providing inspirational and challenging counseling is one of her great gifts, said Priscilla Wong, associate director for administration at Campus Ministry.

“I don’t think anybody can say they have not changed because they met her,” Wong said. “She’s the kind of individual who makes you think and feel deeply as a human being. She inspires others to be excellent.”

When Malloy left office in 2005, Johnson joined Campus Ministry full-time as associate director. Though some of her work focused on cross-cultural ministry, Johnson said her counseling and guidance were in no way limited to a specific set of students.

“Students, they could come to me,” she said. “I was spiritual director to students from all backgrounds.”

Johnson became close to many students and found it difficult to tell them she was leaving – as she did on July 1, a day before her official announcement.

Senior Elizabeth Adams, who worked closely with Johnson on the Martin Luther King Day committee, said Johnson was an inspiring teacher who challenged her students to think of themselves not only as Notre Dame students, but also as citizens of the world.

“Her door was always open,” Adams said. “As much as I’ve worked with her during three years, I’ve spent as much talking about her grandchildren and my family and boys.

“She really was a mentor and a girl friend at the same time.”

Malloy said he will miss Johnson, but he expressed confidence in her new mission.

“I’m glad she’s been given a new set of challenges,” Malloy said. “We don’t all have to stay here. We can go out and help improve the world.”