The Catholic University of America

11 Garvey grandchildren

Meet President John Garvey

Scholar and Family Man, CUA's Third Lay President Speaks of His 'Commitment to the Catholic Mission of the University'

When President John Garvey was introduced to the media and the CUA community on June 15, 2010, one thing that differentiated him from outgoing president Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. was immediately obvious: no priestly collar.

Garvey is CUA’s third lay president and the first since 1982. “I am sure there will be other differences, as well,” he admits, “though not in the intensity of our commitment to the Catholic mission of the university.”


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Garvey is known for speaking forthrightly about the role of religion in his professional and personal life and admits that such openness about religion might be unusual in America.

“People in American society are naturally accustomed to hearing priests and religious talk about the role of faith in their lives. It is not so common for lay people to open their hearts in this way,” he said.

In his inaugural speech as president of the American Association of Law Schools, for example, he spoke of his experience as a Catholic parent and a Catholic professor at Catholic law schools to generate thought within the AALS about how schools’ deep founding values influence students’ educational experience. About Catholic University, Garvey says, “The Catholic identity of the university is the principal attraction it holds for me. I think the Catholic intellectual tradition is the Church’s great gift to higher education.”

The second of eight children, Garvey was born in Sharon, Pa., in 1948 into a “traditional Irish Catholic family.” His father, “a small town lawyer,” attended daily Mass with Garvey and his brothers and sisters before school. His extended family included devout grandparents on both sides who counted priests and religious among their siblings, nieces and nephews, a life Garvey considered as well.

“After grade school I had a brief career in St. Mark’s minor seminary in the Erie Diocese. It was clear to both the rector and me that God was calling me to do something else,” he said.

With no Catholic high school available, Garvey graduated from Sharon Public High School in 1966 and entered the University of Notre Dame that fall.

Garvey received his A.B. summa cum laude from Notre Dame in 1970 and considers himself fortunate to have participated in an open program of study, then called the Committee on Academic Progress, that waived major requirements for a few students. Recalls Garvey, “I read a lot of political science, philosophy and French, and otherwise chose courses of any kind (music, English, art history, German) taught by the best teachers.”

After graduation, he entered Harvard Divinity School on a Danforth Fellowship, leaving after one semester. He entered Harvard Law School the following year. He graduated in 1974, clerked for United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit Chief Judge Irving R. Kaufman, then joined the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

In 1976, he began teaching law at the University of Kentucky, an appointment he held until 1994. He spent the 1985-86 school year as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. Garvey returned to Notre Dame as a professor of law from 1994 to 1999, when he was appointed dean of Boston College Law School. He has argued seven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, briefed another 20 and published in the field of constitutional law extensively.

While in law school, Garvey met Jeanne Walter, who was studying education at Harvard. “She was dating a friend of mine, who was a Cuban immigrant, very Catholic; Jeanne has very red hair. I assumed that, what with the red hair and Cuban boyfriend, she too was Catholic. So when they broke up I asked her out. It turned out she was not Catholic, but by the time I found out it was too late!” Jeanne converted to Catholicism from a religious background that includes Quakers and Episcopalians. They married in 1975 and have five children — Kevin Patrick Garvey, Elizabeth Garvey Cressy, Katherine Garvey Romero, Michael Barnard Garvey, and Clare Evans Garvey — and 15 grandchildren.

Garvey's family is testament to his commitment to Catholic education. "We are the parents of five children who collectively have had 92 years of Catholic education," he said.

“My wife and I both feel that our faith is near the center of our lives. It may serve a good purpose to share that commitment with Catholic’s students, as we have with our own family.”

Garvey family vacation
The Garvey family gathers for a group photo during a recent vacation. John and Jeanne Garvey have five children. They had 15 grandchildren when this photo was taken. They now have 20.


My wife and I both feel that our faith is near the center of our lives. It may serve a good purpose to share that commitment with Catholic’s students, as we have with our own family.
– John Garvey


 Related Links

> CUA names Garvey as 15th president

> Fast facts about Garvey

> Garvey's academic and professional experience

> Warm welcome from campus community

> Q&A with the new president

> Garvey's writings highlight his commitment to bringing a Catholic perspective to legal issues

> Post a message to the Guestbook



John and Jeanne Garvey

Jeanne Walter Garvey balances career, volunteer work and family

The wife of the new CUA president has held a variety of jobs in higher education and business administration, while raising five children and finding time to work as a Hospice volunteer.

Jeanne Walter Garvey has held several positions  in higher education administration at the University of Kentucky, Indiana University in South Bend, and Boston College.  At BC, she was the director of Career Services for the MBA Program at the Carroll School of Management.

She was the director of Small Business Administration for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She also was the director of Marketing for the J. Peterman Company, noting that in this real-life job, she worked for the mail order catalog for which the character Elaine worked in the television show Seinfeld.

Most recently she has been the co-owner of a small retail/gift shop in Dedham, Mass. called "nest." 

She loves photography, making jewelry, sewing, knitting, rug-hooking, crocheting, needlepoint, assemblage collages, and other creative crafts.

Mostly she loves spending time with her five children, their spouses, and her grandchildren.