Gerard J. Campbell, Jesuit priest and former Georgetown president, dies at 92

August 17, 2012

Gerard J. Campbell, a Jesuit priest who served as president of Georgetown University from 1964 to 1968, died Aug. 9 at the Jesuit residence on campus. He was 92.

His death, from congestive heart failure, was announced by the university. Georgetown credited Father Campbell with promoting student community service initiatives in the District.

When Father Campbell — then executive vice president at Georgetown — was announced as the university’s new head in 1964, The Washington Post described him as a “new breed of Jesuit priest whose style might be described as Ivy League Catholic.”

According to The Post, Father Campbell was the first Georgetown president to have received his doctorate from a non-Catholic American institution. (He received a PhD in history from Princeton University in 1957.) At 45, he was also one of the youngest presidents since Georgetown was founded in 1789.

Father Campbell created the university’s first senate; it included faculty and administrators in an effort to enhance and diversify oversight. During his tenure, the university’s governing board was changed to include lay members.


The Rev. Gerard J. Campbell poses for a portrait in front of a statue of Georgetown University founder John Carroll in 1964. (Frank Hoy/THE WASHINGTON POST)

In 1966, he launched a $26 million drive that helped fund the construction of facilities including Georgetown’s law center as well as faculty salaries, scholarships, fellowships and endowed chairs.

Two years later, as Georgetown and other universities came under increasing financial pressure, he had raised just over $15 million, according to The Post. He announced that he was resigning as president so that he could return to teaching and research.

He worked for the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus and as rector of a Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pa., before returning to Washington in 1979.

Father Campbell served as director of the Woodstock Theological Center for four years, then became founding director of the Jesuit spirituality center based at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. He held that position until his retirement in 2004.

Gerard John Campbell was born Aug. 26, 1919, in St. Marys, Pa. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1939 and was ordained in 1951.

He received a licentiate’s degree in philosophy and a bachelor’s degree in Latin from West Baden College in Indiana. In addition to his doctorate, Father Campbell studied the Jesuit curriculum of classics, literature, history, science, philosophy and theology at Loyola University in Chicago, according to The Post.

Before joining Georgetown University in 1963, he taught history at Loyola University Maryland.

Survivors include a sister.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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