St. Thomas Newsroom

Creating the Conditions for Success: Catholic Studies Department Transitions Chair

Catholic Studies professor Robert (Bob) Kennedy (left) and John Boyle pose for a portrait in Sitzmann Hall February 24, 2017.

At the end of this academic year, Bob Kennedy will step down as the chair of the Department of Catholic Studies and John Boyle will take his place. Kennedy has twice served as chair for a total of 10 years.

“Bob Kennedy has done an extraordinary job of shepherding and guiding the department and fostering its growth,” Boyle said. “He is stunningly able. We would all have happily seen Bob do another four years.”

Kennedy himself is a St. Thomas graduate, having earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1972 and an MBA in 1990. Kennedy has been part of the Department of Catholic Studies for around 15 years and taught professional ethics and general management in the college of business before that.

Kennedy said that out of the departments he has been a part of throughout his career, Catholic Studies is among the most congenial – a strength that Boyle credited Kennedy as helping to foster.

“One of the unique gifts Bob brings to his role as chair is that he seeks to create conditions for people to succeed,” added Mike Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies. “As the manager of the department, Bob has taken on a good deal of administrative tasks because he wants his faculty to develop in teaching and research. He delights in seeing his colleagues flourish.” Kennedy said that in his tenure as chair he’s enjoyed seeing an increase in the number of students and the strength of the faculty and staff.

“I’m enormously proud of our students. Every year, fully half of our students graduate with Latin honors. … They’re great students to work with,” Kennedy said. “We’ve done exceptionally well over the past 10 to 12 years in the people we’ve hired for the department. They’ve been very fine additions.”

Hired in 2013, Dr. Erika Kidd said that Kennedy’s leadership has been a tremendous gift to the department.

“His attention to details, large and small, has kept our program running smoothly, and his imagination for how Catholic studies can continue to thrive and grow has been an inspiration and guide to all of us,” Kidd said.

Kennedy said he is looking forward to being able to focus on teaching and producing scholarship.

“The world will be a better place having the scholarship of Bob Kennedy,” Boyle said.

Boyle’s Background

Boyle was hired by the Theology Department in 1990 and was part of the original group that set up the Catholic Studies program at St. Thomas. Boyle is the current director of the Master of Arts in Catholic Studies program, manager of the Rome program and associate editor of Logos. Boyle played a pivotal role in the recent shift in the Rome program. When the Rome program was opened to the entire university, Boyle helped find a place for the St. John Vianney seminarians at the Irish College, guaranteeing the same number of spots remained for Catholic studies students in Rome and a more seamless integration of a semester abroad for the seminarians.

“He sees opportunities in problems, and his optimism and attention to detail have led him to oversee some of our most successful programs,” Naughton said. Kennedy also praised Boyle for his creativity in finding solutions and added that he is well organized.

“He is eminently trustable and likable. … We feel very confident that he’s going to do the job seriously,” Kennedy said.

Boyle said his goal as chair is to try and maintain the good work Kennedy has done. He hopes to continue the organic growth of the department, both in terms of number of students and of faculty members.

“Students are first,” Boyle said. “We need to make sure we always serve our students well.”

Boyle said that Catholic studies provides a robust program by collaborating with many groups across campus, while remaining true to its vision. Students have many ways they can become involved in Catholic life on campus, whether that means majoring in Catholic studies, traveling to Rome, being a part of Residence Life’s Catholic Studies Living Learning Community, participating in Tommie Catholic or in other countless cross-disciplinary activities and events.

Boyle highlighted that students who major in Catholic studies are actively encouraged to have a second major. In turn, Catholic studies students wind up with varied interests that they share with one another, resulting in a rich intellectual life.

“We’ve produced a remarkable group of graduates who are in every conceivable walk of life who are leading remarkably rich lives,” Boyle said.

Seeing more and more students connect with the Catholic Studies project on campus has been one of the most rewarding parts of his career, he said.

“The first year, all the faculty and students fit on my porch,” Boyle said. “The end-of-the-year barbecue was in my backyard. Now the end-of-the-year banquet is in Woulfe Hall. Three hundred students won’t fit on my porch.”