Deaths in the family

Author: The editors

There was a moment when the world was at war in the late gray autumn of 1941 when young John Gilligan ’43, a star English literature student craving the intellectual and spiritual life, determined to withdraw from Notre Dame. He would enter the Jesuit seminary near his native Cincinnati, Ohio, and he would inform his parents that Christmas.

But life took a sharply different turn for Gilligan that December 7 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Like many of his peers, he soon lined up at a Navy recruiting table on Notre Dame’s campus. This change set his life on a path that, before his death in August at age 92, would include wartime heroism, nearly 35 years of distinguished public service and the establishment of one of the most influential peace studies institutes in global higher education.

As a freshman in 1939, Gilligan came under the spell of the great Frank O’Malley, taking O’Malley’s courses in Philosophy in Literature and Modern Catholic Writers. A tryout for Elmer Layden’s football squad lasted a week before Gilligan opted to focus on academics and intramural sports. His awareness of the war in Europe developed in Waldemar Gurian’s course, Rise of the Dictatorships. One June afternoon in 1940 the distinguished political scientist and German refugee informed his students that the Nazis had entered the French capital. “Today those bastards are standing in the streets of Paris, cheering,” Gilligan remembered Gurian saying through his tears.

Gilligan finished his degree six months early through the military’s accelerated graduation program. He would serve as a gunnery officer, and his successful efforts to save crewmen during an attack on the USS Rodman off Okinawa won him a Silver Star.

After the war, Gilligan earned his master’s in English and began patterning his life after O’Malley’s as an instructor at Xavier University, animated by the politically active Christian humanism of his legendary mentor’s heroes, notably the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. That led to his election to the Cincinnati city council in 1953 and the beginning of a career in public life that included a term as Ohio’s governor from 1971 to ’75, when the liberal Democrat instituted the state’s income tax and championed public schools, environmental regulation and expanded services to the mentally disabled and ill.

After two years directing the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Jimmy Carter, Gilligan in 1979 both received an honorary ND doctorate and accepted Father Theodore Hesburgh’s invitation to join the Law School faculty. With the reluctant blessing of his now-deceased first wife, Katie, he would spend the next 12 years in South Bend.

Gilligan’s practical political knowledge obscured his lack of formal academic credentials. One memorable course, The Nuclear Dilemma, inspired by the U.S. bishops’ 1983 peace pastoral, had to be capped at 200 students. His gathering momentum as a peace scholar prompted Hesburgh to name Gilligan as Notre Dame’s first Frank O’Malley University Professor.

He wasn’t finished. Gilligan’s proposal to develop a peace studies curriculum attracted in 1986 a pair of $6 million gifts from Joan Kroc to construct a new building in Hesburgh’s name and create what became the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. When Gilligan retired in 1991, peace studies had caught fire in American higher education, becoming a going discipline at hundreds of schools. Notre Dame was one of 20 U.S. universities offering a master’s degree in the field.

As vice president and associate provost from 1987 to 1995, Roger Schmitz brought an engineer’s orderly mind to one of the great transformations in campus and academic life at Notre Dame over the past three decades: the extension of the campus computing network into the residence halls.

When the emeritus professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering died in October at age 78 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, remembrances revealed an even more profound Notre Dame legacy. Everyone from former Main Building colleagues to graduate students to the friends of his daughter Joni Sabin ’84 recalled Schmitz’s humility, dignity and humor, his patient intellect and personal warmth, the hospitality of the home he made with his wife, Ruth — all of the qualities that had made him a revered scholar of instabilities in chemically reacting systems, a cherished teacher and mentor, an exemplary husband, father and friend.

Schmitz came to Notre Dame mid-career in 1979 as Keating-Crawford Professor and chairman of chemical engineering. He would later say that he’d never intended academic administration to become his life’s work, but his talents as a team-builder and troubleshooter during a time of historic growth led to his appointment first as McCloskey Dean of the College of Engineering in 1981 and then to the provost’s office in 1987. “While it is often difficult to perform such tasks with a pure heart, Roger not only kept his integrity, but exhibited an even rarer . . . trait — a clear head,” chemical engineering Professor Mark McCready told colleagues in 2010 at a conference session organized in Schmitz’s honor.

An athletic man who loved running South Bend’s annual Sunburst race, Schmitz resumed full-time teaching and research with relish in 1995, sharing his knowledge and love of chemistry and baseball with a new generation of students until his retirement in 2005.