History of the Presidency

Portrait of Fr SorinFather Sorin

The University of Notre Dame du Lac was founded in 1842 by a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Rev. Edward Sorin.  As Notre Dame’s first president, Fr. Sorin’s overarching vision of a great American Catholic university inspired future presidents, all priests of the Holy Cross Order, to advance Notre Dame’s growth throughout its history.  

Father James A. Burns, C.S.C., Notre Dame's great theorist of education, revolutionized the University in the 1920s. In eliminating the preparatory school and dramatically upgrading the Law School, in establishing the University's first meager endowment and a board of lay advisors to oversee it, Burns made it clear that Notre Dame was committed to nothing less than preeminence in American Catholic higher education. 

Beginning in the 1930s, the University was strengthened by an influx of distinguished European scholars fleeing the Nazis, and, drawing on their expertise, Father (later Cardinal) John A. O'Hara, C.S.C., significantly expanded the graduate school to include programs in biology, physics, philosophy and mathematics. 

Notre Dame's dramatic post–World War II flowering began under Father John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., who raised entrance requirements, increased faculty hiring, and established the Notre Dame Foundation to expand the University's development capabilities. 

The explosive growth of the University – both in size and in stature – gained national prominence during the 35–year tenure of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who himself became an internationally-known figure for his work in education, the Church, human rights, and world affairs. Two defining moments in Notre Dame's history occurred at Father Hesburgh's direction: the transference of governance in 1967 from the Congregation of Holy Cross to a predominantly lay board of trustees and the admission of women to undergraduate studies in 1972. 

Under the leadership of Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., from 1987 to 2005, the University continued to grow in stature. Endowed faculty positions grew to more than 200, and the student body became one of the 20 most selective in the nation.  

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., a professor of philosophy, became Notre Dame's 17th president on July 1, 2005. His presidency to date has focused on enhancing the University’s research activity while maintaining excellence in undergraduate education and serving the Catholic Church.

Past Presidents

  • Rev Edward F Sorin, CSC  1842–1865

    Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C.

  • Rev Patrick Dillon, CSC  1865–1866

    Rev. Patrick Dillon, C.S.C.

  • Rev William Corby, CSC  1866–1872; 1877–1881

    Rev. William Corby, C.S.C.
    1866–1872; 1877–1881

  • Rev Auguste Lemmonier, CSC 1872–1874

    Rev. Auguste Lemonnier, C.S.C.

  • Rev Patrick Colovin, CSC  1874–1877

    Rev. Patrick Colovin, C.S.C.

  • Rev Thomas E Walsh, CSC 1881–1893

    Rev. Thomas E. Walsh, C.S.C.

  • Rev Andrew Morrissey, CSC 1893–1905

    Rev. Andrew Morrissey, C.S.C.

  • Rev John W Cavanaugh, CSC 1905–1919

    Rev. John W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C.

  • Rev James A Burns, CSC  1919–1922  

    Rev. James A. Burns, C.S.C.

  • Rev Matthew J Walsh, CSC 1922–1928

    Rev. Matthew J. Walsh, C.S.C.

  • Rev Charles L O’Donnell, CSC 1928–1934

    Rev. Charles L. O’Donnell, C.S.C.

  • John F Cardinal O’Hara, CSC 1934–1940

    John F. Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C.

  • Rev J Hugh O’Donnell, CSC 1940–1946

    Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell, C.S.C.

  • Rev John J Cavanaugh, CSC 1946–1952

    Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C.

  • Rev Theodore M Hesburgh, CSC 1952–1987

    Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
    Father Hesburgh's Legacy

  • Edward Malloy

    Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C.

  • Rev John I Jenkins, CSC  2005–present

    Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

  • Rev Robert A Dowd, CSC  2024–present

    Rev. Robert A. Dowd, C.S.C.