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Launch celebrates Provost McGreevy’s new book on history of Catholicism

On Friday, Notre Dame celebrated the launch of Dr. John McGreevy’s new book, “Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis.” The event represented a collaboration among numerous campus organizations, including the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, the College of Arts & Letters and Provost McGreevy’s own home department, the Department of History.

The launch opened with a welcome from Kathleen Sprows Cummings, professor of American Studies and history and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. She commented on the longstanding tradition of the Department of History to mark colleagues’ book publications with events that are “both scholarly and celebratory.” 

Following an introduction by Professor Elisabeth Koll, chair of the department of history, the event’s guest speaker, Samuel Moyn, began his remarks. Moyn is the Chancellor Kent professor of law and history at Yale University and has written widely on themes such as international law, the law of war, human rights and European intellectual history. 

In his speech, Moyn commended McGreevy’s work and remarked on the significance of Catholicism as a previously underrecognized framework for global history. He went on to highlight nine key precepts that distinguish the significance and skillful delivery of McGreevy’s latest book. 

To start, Moyn commented on the sophistication and precision of McGreevy’s writing, which came across as effortless without distracting from his purpose. He further admired McGreevy’s construction of each chapter as “a complete story in itself,” featuring thoughtful selections of characters and clear illustrations of broader takeaways. 

In addition to these underlying skills, Moyn reflected on McGreevy’s portrayal of the Church’s global history and personal nature, providing a variety of Catholic personifications “while avoiding tokenism and representation for its own sake.” 

According to Moyn, McGreevy adroitly depicts the interplay between Catholic tradition and innovation in the modern age, while also contextualizing the faith in the cultures that surrounded it and illustrating its significance to secular figures and events. McGreevy honestly reflects the challenges that the Church has faced and divisions within it without trying to advocate for one view over another. 

Moyn pointed out that McGreevy’s scholarship of the material in his field and thorough degree of research are on full display, topped off with some sources from Notre Dame. Even while crafting his own work, McGreevy demonstrates a true sense of collaboration and community with other intellectuals in his field.

Finally, Moyn concluded his speech by acknowledging McGreevy’s way of connecting this history with the current era, making it relevant to both the present and future. 

McGreevy took the floor following Moyn’s speech. He first thanked his family and colleagues and then turned his attention to answering, as he said, “Why this book? Why now?”

He described his motivation as twofold, one of which was to illustrate the significance of the Catholic Church on the global and historical stages. As he said, “A better understanding of Catholicism enhances our grasp of the modern world.”

“No institution is as multicultural or multilingual. Few touch as many people…only the Catholic Church includes extended networks of people and institutions in Warsaw, Nairobi and Mexico City as well as the most remote sections of the Amazon.” 

He went on to emphasize Catholicism’s truly universal nature, remarking, “Nation states matter for the study of modern Catholicism… but people, devotions and ideas cross national borders with surprising ease.”

He recounted the second part of his motive by depicting the combination of “vibrancy” and “turmoil” that characterizes the current Catholic Church, explaining its implications for those at Notre Dame. 

He acknowledged how grateful he is, and as we all should be to attend, or work at such a premier Catholic institution, adding, “This good fortune means that we have an opportunity, maybe a responsibility, to confront the challenges we all now face.”

He finished with a recognition of the change currently happening within Catholicism and the world, as well as the potential of everyone at Notre Dame to contribute to its new identity. 

The event concluded with lunch and a book signing. When asked his thoughts on the event, McGreevy described it as “thrilling,” saying he was “really honored to be [there].”

Contact Keira Stenson at kstenson@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame appoints Jeffrey Rhoads as vice president for research

In a Tuesday news release, the University announced that mechanical engineering researcher Jeffrey “Jeff” Rhoads has been appointed vice president for research at the university.

Rhoads, who will take over the role effective July 1, currently serves at Purdue University as a professor of mechanical engineering and the executive director of the Purdue Institute for National Security. According to the release, Rhoads has “attracted more than $75 million in sponsored research funding across his various academic roles.”

Rhoads will succeed Robert Bernhard in the role, who has served as vice president for research since 2007. In his new position, Rhoads will be responsible for overseeing Notre Dame’s research infrastructure “of more than 30 core facilities” and supporting programs for all academic disciplines within the university.

Notre Dame provost John McGreevy, who recommended Rhoads for the role, said in the release that Rhoads is a “visionary and a problem-solver” who “has successfully led research programs in academia and the public sector, developing crucial partnerships along the way, and he is perfectly suited to guide this next phase of the University’s research enterprise.”

In the release, University president Fr. John Jenkins also expressed admiration for the new vice president.

“The research of our faculty has been a point of emphasis and an area of remarkable growth at Notre Dame, and we are delighted to welcome Jeff Rhoads to help lead us in the next stage,” Jenkins said. “Jeff is an accomplished researcher and administrator and well-suited to continue the exciting trajectory of Notre Dame research.”

According to the news release, Notre Dame “is one of the fastest-growing research institutions in the nation,” having been granted $244 million in research award funding in the 2022 fiscal year.

Rhoads expressed excitement to continue Notre Dame’s growth in the vice president position.

“The growth of Notre Dame’s research portfolio, both in scale and, more importantly, global impact, over the past decade has been tremendous,” he said in the release. “I am truly excited, and frankly humbled, by the opportunity to work with this strong internal team, as well as our government, corporate, academic and nonprofit partners, to build upon this firm foundation.”

Rhoads is an extremely accomplished scholar and carries five highly esteemed awards, including Purdue’s highest honor for undergraduate teaching, the Charles B. Murphy. He holds an undergraduate degree, masters degree and a doctorate — all from Michigan State University. Rhoads will also receive a professorship in the department of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University.

In the release, it was noted that Rhoads will lead a team of more than 30 core facilities along with providing support for other academic endeavors at the University. His role as vice president of research, he said in the release, will hope to dream big.

“We will think big, not shy away from global challenges, and work together, across the entire breadth of the University, to make a tangible and positive difference in society,” Rhoads said.

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University leadership reports drop in endowment returns during town halls

In the first in-person staff town halls since 2019, University executive leadership addressed the endowment, long-term projects, diversity and inclusion and concerns over a possible recession.

Endowment returns drop 6.9%

Endowment returns decreased 6.9% for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, executive vice president Shannon Cullinan reported. Nationally, colleges felt a steep drop in returns after a record-breaking previous year, with a median of a 7.8% decrease. Cullinan cited the University’s Investment Office and fundraising teams for the numbers.

“Compared to benchmarks that were down 13 to 15%, we did really well,” Cullinan said.

The endowment serves as the University’s largest revenue source, Cullinan said, making up around 38% of its total budget through more than 7,400 funds.

When asked how the possible recession might affect employment at Notre Dame, Cullinan said the University enters it in “a place of strength” and would communicate often and clearly on any effects on positions, wages or furloughs.

University leans into reputation as center for research

Provost John McGreevy reported two large-scale, interdisciplinary projects in the works that the University hopes will spur change in the next decade.

The first — a bioengineering and life science initiative — will take bioengineering innovations and consider how to make them readily available for the next generation of doctors. The other project is a potential clinic in South Bend to provide mental health services to both Notre Dame students and the city’s residents.

President’s Office reports over 900 diversity campaigns

University President Fr. John Jenkins previously spoke to faculty in September to outline strategic goals in messaging to situate Notre Dame among the top-performing research schools in the world.

In a presubmitted question, a faculty member asked about an update to diversity and inclusion efforts on campus. Jenkins responded by referencing the recent hire of the The Rev. Hugh Page as the first vice president for institutional transformation. Currently, Jenkins said there are 900 total efforts for diversity and inclusion on campus.

“What Hugh and his team are looking at now is ‘how effective are those?’” Jenkins said. “And if there’s a most effective, let’s put our energy into that.”

Contact Alysa Guffey at aguffey@nd.edu

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Provost John McGreevy discusses role, book on history of Catholicism

John T. McGreevy began his work as the sixth provost for the University of Notre Dame at the beginning of July.

McGreevy, a history professor who has served on the faculty since 1997 and previously served as chair of the history department and the dean of College of Arts and Letters, was announced as the Charles and Jill Fischer provost in April, four months after Marie Lynn Miranda stepped down from the position. Miranda’s year and a half as provost was largely defined by the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Identified by a search committee of faculty, students and university president Fr. John Jenkins, McGreevy is cognizant of the fact that many do not understand the job he’s been appointed to.

“No one knows what the provost does,” McGreevy said. “The formal title is chief academic officer… and you’re supposed to guide the academic core; everything from hiring to how do we elevate the reputation of our departments? How do we do cross-college programs? How do we do better with undergraduate education? How do we develop stronger graduate and professional school programs, all that in a general way falls to the provost.”

Notre Dame established the provost position in 1970 under Fr. Hesburgh’s leadership, and the provost is tasked with the overall operation of the academic enterprise, including the faculty, colleges, schools, institutes, centers, libraries and student advising.

McGreevy said that his position allows him to direct Notre Dame’s academic work across programs and colleges, from a twenty-thousand-foot level.

“I won’t get involved in individual ‘we should offer this course this semester’ kind of decisions,” he said. Rather, his role has a larger role in faculty promotion and tenure, developing and strengthening programs and institutionally promoting Notre Dame’s commitment to “really excellent teaching.”

McGreevy said that he is still developing his priorities as provost but he is guided by two overarching goals.

First is a common plan for the academic core, forged from various plans for each of the programs and schools under Notre Dame’s umbrella. He said the goal is to “make Notre Dame better in terms of teaching and learning, in terms of its research programs, all those things.”

Second, McGreevy said he is focused on building strong teams among the leaders that report to him. 

“We have a really great group of deans, great group of provosts, and just to get them really working together and helping me, because I need the help. I can’t do it on my own. And there’s so much wisdom in those rooms,” he said.

McGreevy says that challenges he’s identified moving forward include that the University is “a little bit behind on strategic plans.”

More broadly, McGreevy sees a larger tension at the core of Notre Dame’s path forward, a vision that he says is shared by Fr. Jenkins, and has served as the administration’s project since the 1960s.

“The big challenge for Notre Dame is can it be seriously Catholic and be great,” McGreevy said. “Can we be one of the best private research universities in the world with just absolutely terrific programs at all levels? And can we be distinctly and seriously Catholic? And that’s the big picture mission.”

He says that question comes to the forefront when establishing Notre Dame’s credibility in research, as well as deciding which programs to invest in.

“So we started, a few years ago, a master’s in sacred music and then a doctorate in sacred music, and we’re really good at that. And that’s an example of a program that aligns with our mission, but we become really good at,” he said. “We need more things that everyone unequivocally says ‘okay, yeah, that’s a great program.’”

McGreevy also published a book this month — “Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis” is a 528-page volume out with W.W. Norton. A review in The New York Times says that McGreevy has done “a remarkable job of explaining how the epic struggle between reformists and traditionalists has led us to the present moment in the Roman Catholic Church.”

McGreevy has long studied Catholicism and has published three previous books on various elements of the church’s history. This book drew less from primary research, and was written primarily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s really based on trying to distill the secondary literature into a readable format and tell the big picture story. So not much research, but a lot of time spent on the 10th and 11th and 12th floor of the library sitting there looking at things and with my laptop writing,” he said.

McGreevy says the book is an attempt to explore the global dimensions of the church, “recognizing that Catholicism is the most multicultural and multilingual institution in the world. And we need histories that reflect that diversity.”

Since the near-death experience of the French Revolution, the church has evolved and changed in many ways over the past 230 years, according to McGreevy.

“We tend to think especially the church is sort of unchanging. And one thing I want to convey in the book is that a lot of things did change, not everything,” McGreevy said. 

Beginning with the French Revolution, McGreevy explained that the event was transformative for the institution.

“What I really want to convey to people is how devastating the French Revolution was for an older, more aristocratic Catholic model, where the nation state and the church were very tightly allied,” he said. “That didn’t go away. But what came in the 19th century was a much more populist, devotional Catholicism, maybe even more a church of the poor. And a church very tightly tied to the papacy.”

The dramatic shift of the French Revolution is followed in history by another dramatic shift, Vatican II, McGreevy said.

“That form of the church, I argue, really lasts until the 1960s in the Second Vatican Council and we’re still trying to sort out what era we’re in now,” he said. “[Pope] Francis says that we’re in a change of era, not an era of change. It seems throughout politics, culture, religion, that some things are fundamentally changing right now. And I hope the book provides a savvy history so Catholics and non-Catholics can better understand how we got to where we are.” 

As a historian focused on Catholicism for much of his career, McGreevy says that work shapes his approach as provost. 

“There’s a parallel that I think about a lot, that if we’re going to be a Catholic university, we are going to become more diverse at Notre Dame. That means diverse in American categories… but also diverse in international students too. And that will be the only way we sustain ourselves as a Catholic university,” he said.

He added that the day-to-day work of a history professor has also prepared him well. 

“Being a historian is good training, you read a lot, and you read a lot as provost. And you do think about change over time and how institutions change. And I find myself thinking about that all the time: how Notre Dame should change,” McGreevy said.