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March 2016

Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services

Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services

From Refugee to CEO: Leader of Catholic Relief Services to Address Santa Clara University Commencement June 11

The leader of a relief organization at the forefront of responding to some of the world's most urgent crises will speak to the Class of 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif., March 31, 2016 - Carolyn Y. Woo, the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), an organization that has been among the first to respond to some of the world’s most tragic crises—from Syria’s millions of war refugees to climate-caused farm devastation in Africa to human trafficking worldwide—will be the featured undergraduate commencement speaker at Santa Clara University on June 11, 2016.

“Dr. Carolyn Woo has an expansive and firsthand view of the problems and challenges—as well as solutions—that SCU graduates will encounter in the world ahead,” said Santa Clara University President Michael Engh, S.J. “Under Dr. Woo's leadership, CRS knows well the value of compassion, strategic thinking, and critical analysis in finding solutions to global suffering. With remarkable on-the-ground experience and a deep faith, Dr. Woo will offer our graduates a unique and inspiring lens with which to see our world."

Woo is a former business school dean at University of Notre Dame and one of the most prominent women in the Catholic Church in the United States. She will speak to the University’s estimated 1,300 graduating seniors at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, at Buck Shaw Field in Santa Clara University’s Stevens Stadium.

CRS, which is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, operates in more than 100 countries and reaches 100 million people. Founded in 1943 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve World War II survivors in Europe, CRS is one of the most far-reaching humanitarian agencies in the world, based in Catholic teaching, and focused on creating “a world in which people live as one human family.”

CRS’s works include:

  • Mobilizing its thousands of workers and hundreds of partner agencies on the ground in more than 100 countries in the event of crises like the current European refugee exodus and earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal;
  • Health programs, including HIV and tuberculosis prevention and services in 22 countries, and clean-water access projects affecting more than 2 million people worldwide;
  • Helping smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere better engage with markets and recover from disasters, including extreme weather from climate change;
  • Education, microfinance, and peacebuilding initiatives worldwide.


Woo’s own background includes a stint as a refugee herself. When she was a child, her parents fled communist China to Hong Kong. The consolation and education in Catholicism from Maryknoll sisters she received in Hong Kong, she says, set the stage for her lifelong love of the Catholic Church.

She left Hong Kong as an 18-year-old for Purdue University in Indiana. There, she continued to be active in the Catholic community and went on to receive her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at Purdue, where she later joined the faculty.

In her autobiography, Working for a Better World, she writes about her experience as a refugee and how the Catholic Church made her feel at home.

Woo came to CRS after a distinguished academic career. She served from 1997 to 2011 as dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. During her tenure, the Mendoza College was frequently recognized as the nation’s leading business school in ethics education and research. The school’s undergraduate business program has received the No. 1 ranking from Bloomberg Businessweek since 2010. Prior to Notre Dame, Woo served as associate executive vice president for academic affairs at Purdue University.

“It will be my great honor to address graduates of one of the world’s great Catholic universities,” said Woo. “In his encyclical, Pope Francis asks us to consider what kind of world we want to leave to those who come after us. These talented, idealistic, inspiring young people, educated in the Jesuit tradition, should give all of us confidence that it will be in good hands.”

At the undergraduate commencement, the University will confer an honorary degree, Doctor of Public Service, on Woo. Honorary degrees will also be conferred on Chuck Geschke, co-founder of Adobe Systems, and his wife, Nan, for their philanthropic work in Catholic education. Michael E. Kennedy, S.J., the executive director and founder of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, will receive an honorary degree for his lifelong commitment to people at the margins, most recently to incarcerated young people.

Graduate Commencement

A separate commencement for Santa Clara University students receiving advanced degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries, the School of Engineering, the Leavey School of Business, and the School of Education and Counseling Psychology will be held Friday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Santa Clara University School of Law Commencement

Commencement for Santa Clara University School of Law’s 2016 class will be held Saturday, May 21, at 9:30 a.m. on the University’s Mission Gardens. Speakers will be California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Judge Lucy Haeran Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University Commencement

Commencement for the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University will be held at 3 p.m. May 21, at the chapel of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley California. The speaker will be Rev. Donald Cozzens, author, writer-in-residence at Cleveland’s John Carroll University, and popular commentator on Catholic issues.

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

@SantaclaraUniv, @WooCRS, @CRSnews

Media Contact
Deepa Arora | SCU Communications Director | | 408-554-5125


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Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, is the commencement speaker for the Class of 2016.