By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Bellarmine University’s third president, Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, was remembered as a “visionary leader” hours after he died on March 1.
He was 71 and had been ill, according to an announcement from the university.
McGowan led Bellarmine, which was established in 1950, since 1990 and is credited with significant growth in the last quarter of a century. In 2000, Bellarmine College became Bellarmine University. And 10 years ago, he and the school’s board of trustees launched Vision 2020 — a concept for the school’s growth that envisioned Bellarmine as the “premiere private, Catholic University of the south,” McGowan told The Record in a story published April 20, 2006.
In a statement issued March 1 Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz lauded McGowan’s leadership.
“Dr. McGowan’s death is a great loss to the community,” he said. “Since Dr. McGowan became president of Bellarmine in 1990, enrollment has increased significantly, the campus has been transformed, educational programs have expanded and the financial position of the university is strong.
“Bellarmine has been ranked as a top regional school for several decades, and we owe Dr. McGowan great thanks for his visionary leadership and for his deep commitment to the students and faculty of this university. It has been a privilege to collaborate with Dr. McGowan for the good of Catholic higher education, and I will miss him.”
The archbishop also asked the faithful to join him in praying for McGowan and his family.
The president is survived by his wife, Maureen, and their twin sons, Joseph and Matthew.
When McGowan took the helm at Bellarmine, enrollment stood at 2,500 students. Today the university in the Highlands has about 4,000 students in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs, according to Bellarmine’s announcement and its website. Faculty has nearly doubled during his tenure, from 85 to 167 instructors.
As Bellarmine expanded, McGowan kept the university’s values at the forefront, a statement from the school said.
“Even as the university has grown, McGowan faithfully nurtured the core community values that have always characterized Bellarmine — a place where everyone recognizes the intrinsic dignity of each individual as a whole person,” the school’s announcement said. “It’s a campus where people value the good of the place and the good in each other.”
To accommodate enrollment growth, the university added dozens of new buildings — expanding from 15 to 57 structures — under McGowan’s leadership.
Among the buildings he saw constructed are Bellarmine’s W.L. Lyons Brown Library, which was dedicated in 1997 and contains the Thomas Merton Center, and Our Lady of the Woods Chapel, dedicated in 2001 to the late Archbishop John A. Floersh.
In a Record story on the chapel’s dedication, McGowan commented on the intersection of faith and reason and quoted the school’s patron, St. Robert Bellarmine, saying, “we make our inquiry in the love of truth.”
“Within the Catholic university … is the compatibility of faith and reason — reason seeking faith, faith seeking reason,” he said. “So if this chapel is a cornerstone for us, it’s a cornerstone of a search for truth that affirms the compatibility of faith and reason as ways of knowing one another.”
The chapel was open all day on March 1 for the community to gather and pray, though Bellarmine is on spring break this week.
Bellarmine’s board of trustees — under the guidance of its chairman, Pat Mulloy — will lead the university in the short term, according to Bellarmine.
Funeral arrangements had not been announced as of midday March 1.