Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., (CAS ’88), former vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown University, is set to become the 29th president of Santa Clara University on July 1, Santa Clara announced in a March 19 news release.
O’Brien joined Santa Clara, a Jesuit university in California, in 2016 as the Dean of the Jesuit School of Theology following his eight-year tenure at Georgetown. While at Georgetown, he oversaw the largest interfaith campus ministry of any institution and was awarded the 2016 Dorothy Brown Award for Excellence in Teaching for his work as a professor of theology, which is presented annually to a faculty member who demonstrates a commitment to advancing student learning.
The time he spent at Georgetown working with University President John J. DeGioia helped prepare him for his new role as president at Santa Clara, according to O’Brien.
“I learned much from Dr. DeGioia and my colleagues in the administration about how to thoughtfully and effectively deal with the opportunities and challenges in higher education today,” O’Brien wrote in an email to The Hoya.
O’Brien began working at Georgetown in 2008 as the executive director of Campus Ministry, where he oversaw all ministry programs on Georgetown’s campuses.
He was promoted to vice president for mission and ministry in 2011, directing mission-focused and social justice programs. O’Brien also partnered with campus organizations, including the Division for Students Affairs and the Center for Social Justice, and increased resources for faculty and staff to better engage with Jesuit and Catholic traditions during his tenure.
O’Brien’s interfaith work had lasting effects on religious life at Georgetown, according to Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., O’Brien’s successor as the vice president for mission and ministry.
“Fr. O’Brien is a great Jesuit,” Bosco wrote in an email to The Hoya. “He is a champion of inter-religious understanding and provided for students and staff the opportunity to engage more deeply in Ignatian spirituality at Georgetown.”
Before joining Georgetown, O’Brien worked as a chaplain for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Los Angeles immigration detention centers, as well as on the Arizona-Mexico border. He worked for two years as an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown neighborhood.
O’Brien’s past experience was a key factor in the Santa Clara’s Board of Trustees’ unanimous decision to appoint O’Brien as president, according to a letter by John Sobrato, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
“This experience combined with his charisma, decisiveness, grit, and unwavering service to the most marginalized made him the clear choice,” Sobrato wrote. “Fr. O’Brien has our support, our prayers, and our well wishes as he begins this journey.”
As president, O’Brien expects to draw upon his background as an educator and Jesuit priest, as well as the diverse and creative perspectives of the students at Santa Clara. This collaboration is vital to effective leadership and to meeting educational demands, according to O’Brien.
“The primary challenge we face both at Georgetown and Santa Clara is ensuring greater access and affordability to our distinctive Jesuit education,” O’Brien wrote. “In addition, we must always translate this 500 year old tradition of Jesuit education in a way that is meaningful for students and faculty today.”
O’Brien succeeds Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., who is retiring after 10 years in the position.
As Dean of the school of theology at Santa Clara, O’Brien oversees the school’s Catholic theologate, one of only two theology centers in the United States sponsored by the Jesuits. This role has reinforced the importance of the Jesuit mission in higher education, O’Brien wrote.
“There are many good things we can do as a University so we must discern carefully among our choices and commit to those priorities that are most central to our mission,” O’Brien wrote. “Santa Clara and Georgetown are part of the larger family in Jesuit higher education, and I hope that we will work together for the good of the mission we share in common.”