Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

Rabbi Michael A. Signer, Notre Dame’s Abrams professor of Jewish thought and culture, died January 10 at age 63. Signer joined the theology faculty in 1992, having taught Jewish history at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles from 1974 to ’91. At Notre Dame, Signer built upon his already substantial reputation as a scholar of medieval biblical commentary and as a leader in Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Professor John Cavadini, chair of the department, said Signer’s work in both areas had an explicitly spiritual character. “Michael created opportunities for spiritual exchange of great depth,” Cavadini said. “He . . . never expected people to enter into dialogue or scholarship from a point of view that was not their own.”

Colleagues credit Signer’s work on advancing interreligious dialogue with expanding the horizons of religious diversity at Notre Dame. Together with his wife, Betty, Signer created the Notre Dame Holocaust Project to provide the University community with ongoing opportunities to learn about the Shoah. As a faculty fellow at the Center for Social Concerns, he introduced students to the Jewish roots of social justice. In his honor, the theology department is setting up a Michael Signer Graduate Research Fund.

He is survived by his wife and their daughters, Aliza and Hanna.

Peter Thornton, professor emeritus of law, died January 19 in Santa Barbara, California. He was 90. Thornton taught at Notre Dame Law School from 1968 to ’93 and was one of two recipients of the school’s inaugural Distinguished Teaching Award in 1971.

Thornton left Notre Dame briefly to become the founding dean of Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from 1973 to ’76. He then returned to Notre Dame as director of the London Law Programme and later served the law school as an associate dean.

“He was a guy with a no-kidding concern for students, and he had a great sense of humor,” said Professor Emeritus Charles Rice, Thornton’s colleague on the faculty for more than two decades. Dean Patricia O’Hara, a student in Thornton’s civil procedure class, remembered Thornton and his wife, Kit, as “warm hosts on behalf of the Law School on many occasions over the years.”

He is survived by four sons, Peter, Thomas, James and John, each of whom practices and teaches law.

Robert Vecchio, Franklin D. Schurz professor of management in the Mendoza College of Business, died February 9 of injuries sustained in a fall from the roof of his house two days earlier. He was 58.

Vecchio earned his doctorate in industrial psychology in his mid-20s and joined the business faculty in 1976, becoming an early architect of the management department as its chair from 1983 to ’90. He taught popular courses in management principles and organizational behavior and was a highly respected scholar of management issues such as employee attitudes, behavior and leadership. Vecchio published dozens of books and articles and served five years as the editor of the Journal of Management.

Friends remember Vecchio as a calm, kind man, equally at ease with people from all backgrounds.

At a memorial Mass offered in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Vecchio’s colleague, Rev. Oliver F. Williams, CSC, ’61, ’69M.A. spoke of Vecchio’s love for his family and his passion to make Notre Dame a top institution as renowned for its research as its teaching and service. “We are standing on the shoulders of Bob Vecchio,” Williams said.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Vecchio, and their children, Julie and Mark.