Holy Cross confreres: Jenkins (left) and Dowd. Photo by Matt Cashore ’94
Rev. Robert A. Dowd, CSC, ’87 will become Notre Dame’s 18th president on July 1, marking the University’s first presidential change in nearly two decades.
The Board of Trustees elected Dowd and revealed the selection on December 4. He will succeed Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, ’76, ’78M.A., who announced in October that he will step down at the end of the 2023-24 academic year after serving as president for 19 years.
Jenkins will return to teaching and ministry. “While I am proud of the accomplishments of past years, I am above all grateful for the trustees, benefactors, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who made them possible. There is much to celebrate now, but I believe Notre Dame’s best years lie ahead,” he said.
Dowd currently serves as vice president and associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives, a position he has held since 2021. He is also an associate professor of political science and serves as a fellow and trustee of the University and as religious superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross on campus.
“We can all be grateful for Father Jenkins’ selfless and courageous leadership for almost two decades,” Dowd said when his election was announced. “Working together with others, his efforts have positioned the University extremely well in every way. We will build on those efforts. Informed by our Catholic mission, we will work together so that Notre Dame is an ever-greater engine of insight, innovation and impact, addressing society’s greatest challenges and helping young people to realize their potential for good.”
Dowd’s “character and intellect, along with his broad academic and administrative experience and his deep commitment to Notre Dame, make him an ideal person to lead the University into the future,” said Jack Brennan, chair of the Board of Trustees. “He is a respected member of the academy, a global citizen, an experienced, effective and inclusive administrator, and, just as importantly, a person of humility, compassion and integrity.”
Dowd, who grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and economics and entered Moreau Seminary in the fall of 1987 to explore his vocation to religious life and priesthood. While in the seminary, he asked to be assigned to East Africa and spent 18 months there.
After professing final vows in the congregation in 1993 and being ordained a priest in 1994, he worked in Campus Ministry, serving as associate rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and as an assistant rector in Flanner Hall, then an undergraduate men’s residence hall.
He attended graduate school at UCLA, earning a master’s degree in African studies in 1998 and a doctorate in political science in 2003. In 2004, Dowd joined Notre Dame’s political science department. Specializing in comparative politics, his research has focused on how Christian and Islamic religious communities affect support for democratic institutions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. He has published articles in leading academic journals and is author of a 2015 book, Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa. He also has explored the effects of religious beliefs and institutions on the integration of migrants and refugees in Europe and the effects of faith-based schools on citizenship and civic engagement in Africa.
Dowd previously was an assistant provost for internationalization with Notre Dame International. While in that role, he was instrumental in establishing an office in Nairobi, Kenya, to promote and support Notre Dame’s research and educational partnerships in Africa. He is founder of the University’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, which is animated by Catholic social teaching and dedicated to forging community-engaged research partnerships in the Global South.