New Santa Clara University president takes unconventional path to presidency

David Louie Image
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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Father Kevin O'Brien, underwent a transformation 23-years-ago, ordained as a Jesuit only after practicing law with a goal to enter politics.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- There's a changing of the guard at Santa Clara University. Its next president is, by tradition, a Jesuit. Yet his original training was to go into law and politics.

The word transformation is used a lot on the Santa Clara University campus in terms of its approach to education. Its newly named 29th president, Father Kevin O'Brien, underwent a transformation 23 years ago -- ordained as a Jesuit only after practicing law with a goal to enter politics.

"I really had to assess what gave me the most joy and what made me most happy, and while law is a good and noble profession, it was not for me. And I also had a lot of ambition and ego wrapped up in my desires for politics," said Fr. O'Brien.

Fr. O'Brien has worked in higher education ever since. He becomes Santa Clara University president in July.

This is, of course, a Jesuit university and part of the greater Catholic community. It does not exist in a bubble. Inevitably, it's drawn into some of the controversies of our society.

As a Jesuit, Fr. O'Brien has spent time with the poor, with migrants in Mexico hoping to come to America. He could relate as he, too, was an immigrant seeking to fulfill the American Dream, although his family came from Canada. The university must take up their cause, he said.

He is also aware of the need for the church to address sexual abuse by its clergy. He says the university can study the problem and develop solutions.

"We've hosted a series of academic panels which reflected on questions about the origins of the abuse in church... not just the violation of minors and other vulnerable people, but also the abuse of power by leaders in the church," he said.

Santa Clara University students have never hesitated to stand up for issues, and he believes they will work to improve and to serve society in the years ahead.