Catholic Conversationalist: Vince Rougeau

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

In 1990 Vince Rougeau was at a crossroads. He had a bachelor’s degree from Brown and a law degree from Harvard and he had been working for a large law firm in Washington, D.C., for a couple of years — mostly banking law and international trade. “But,” he says, “I realized pretty early that working for a big law firm was not my shtick.”

It was about that time he went “back home,” visiting his grandparents in south Louisiana and friends in New Orleans. Although he had grown up in the D.C. area, his roots are Creole, Cajun, deeply embedded in the bayou country of Acadian Louisiana. His grandparents still speak French at home. Although his father, Weldon, attended Harvard Law School when Vince was a boy, then took the family to D.C. where he worked in civil rights with the Urban League and in the Carter Administration, south Louisiana was home. And it was then and there Vince steered his professional life toward academia.

Now an associate professor at Notre Dame Law School, Rougeau says he is comfortable “grounded in a community where my presence has meaning,” where “I can talk about values and the role faith has played in my life,” and discuss “in the legal academy what role morality, religion and culture should play in law-making and in legal research.”

Notre Dame, says Rougeau, who came to the University in 1997, “should be the place where these conversations are happening. It really does have the potential to be excellent and Catholic. That’s why Notre Dame has such an important role to play — because these discussions are not happening elsewhere the way they’re happening here, and because we welcome others into that conversation, people from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

He adds, “I am black, Catholic and Southern, and ours is a voice not as well represented as it should be. We still have some work to do to realize the richness and diversity of Catholicism in this country.”

Rougeau is a scholar whose expertise ranges over banking and real estate law, international and comparative law. He is well respected by students for the personal attention given them in his role as associate dean and he is known among first-year students for his contracts course. But the seminar he teaches on Catholic social thought is a favorite.

“The main thing I try to do in the seminar,” he explains, “is to introduce students to the documents that make up Catholic social teaching and to use them as a springboard for them to think holistically about themselves — as lawyers, as individuals, as people situated in institutions, in a marriage, in families. You cannot be one type of person on the job and another at home. I want them to think more critically about the world rather than buying into all the ‘givens’ they come here with. I want them to see the many sides of social issues and to see the contradictions that being a person of faith forces them to confront.”