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Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, Named 29th President of Santa Clara University

March 19, 2019 — Theologian and educator Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, has been named the 29th president of Santa Clara University. He succeeds Fr. Michael E. Engh, SJ, who will conclude his presidency at the end of this academic year.


Fr. Kevin O'Brien, SJ

Fr. O’Brien, who currently serves as dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, will become president on July 1, 2019.

“The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ends with a simple observation — if we are grateful for all that we have been given, then the most natural response is to want to give back. ... I accept this honor as a way of giving back and serving,” Fr. O’Brien said today after his presidency was announced.

Since 2016, Fr. O’Brien has served as dean of the Jesuit School of Theology, where is he is responsible for overseeing the academic, enrollment, fundraising and student-life operations of the 85-year-old Catholic theologate, one of two theology centers in the U.S. sponsored by the Jesuits.

He previously spent eight years at Georgetown University, the last five as vice president for mission and ministry. In that role, he oversaw the largest inter-faith campus ministry in the country.

Fr. O’Brien has also served on the boards of three Jesuit universities — Seattle University, Marquette University and Boston College — and on the faculty of the Jesuit Leadership Seminar, which helps form Jesuit university leaders from around the country.

A popular educator, he was chosen by Georgetown students in 2016 to receive the Dorothy Brown Award for Excellence in Teaching.

"I am deeply humbled to be asked to take the helm of Santa Clara University and to build upon all that Fr. Engh and his team have accomplished over the last decade,” said Fr. O’Brien. “During my three years as dean of the Jesuit School of Theology, I have gotten to know well the Santa Clara family: our outstanding faculty, dedicated staff, and talented students. I look forward to working with each to build on the strong foundation laid by the 28 presidents who preceed me, to take Santa Clara University to its next level of national prominence.”

Fr. O’Brien was born in Montreal, Quebec, to an Irish-Catholic family of five, which moved to Florida when he was four. He became a naturalized American citizen at age 22, after graduating from Georgetown in 1988 with a degree in government.

He attended law school at the University of Florida and then practiced corporate litigation for two years, after which he had a mini-epiphany that led him to leave law and begin teaching social studies at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, Florida.

After years of discernment, Fr. O’Brien joined the Society of Jesus in 1996. During the course of his 10-year formation as a Jesuit, Fr. O’Brien earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University and a Master of Divinity and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, now part of Boston College. 

Among his pastoral work during his Jesuit formation, Fr. O’Brien served as a chaplain for the Jesuit Refugee Service in immigration detention centers in Los Angeles and worked serving migrants on the Arizona-Mexico border. He also spent time caring for patients in a leprosy hospital in northeast India and ministering in Bolivia, Mexico and Guatemala. 

After his ordination in 2006, he worked for two years as associate pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. He joined Georgetown in 2008.

In 2011, Fr. O’Brien wrote the book “The Ignatian Adventure, Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life,” which has sold more than 40,000 copies and been translated into three languages.

Fr. O’Brien is also a regular writer on the intersection of theology and contemporary society. He was a commentator about the Church on MSNBC from 2013 to 2015 and appeared in a video on the news site mic.com debunking the notion of a “war on Christmas,” which was the most-viewed video on the site in 2017.

At today’s announcement, Fr. O’Brien said: "The measure that will matter most — at least for a Jesuit university — is the lives we have impacted and the change we have affected, for the good of humanity — especially those on the margins — and for the greater glory of God." [Source: Santa Clara University]





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