A former practicing attorney, Kevin O’Brien, S.J., brings to Santa Clara extensive experience in leadership at Jesuit universities.
For eight years, he served at Georgetown University, including five years as vice president for mission and ministry. Before becoming president, he served as dean of Santa Clara’s Jesuit School of Theology, an international center for the study of theology and ministry located in Berkeley. He has served on the boards of four Jesuit universities—Fordham University, Seattle University, Marquette University, and Boston College—and on the faculty of the Jesuit Leadership Seminar, a summer program which forms leaders at Jesuit universities from around the country.
In 2011, O’Brien published The Ignatian Adventure, Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life, an award-winning book that has sold more than 40,000 copies and has been translated into three languages. The book presents for modern day life the 500-year-old tradition of Ignatian spirituality.
A Catholic and Jesuit university is a place of encounter: where the university encounters the world; where the church encounters culture; where different people from different backgrounds encounter one another. The purpose of a university is to gather people so great conversations can begin.
O’Brien also is a regular and thoughtful speaker and writer on the intersection of theology and contemporary society, including appearances on MSNBC and columns in the Washington Post and CNN.com. A video on the news site, mic.com, in which he gently debunked the notion of a “war on Christmas,” was the most-viewed video on the site in 2017, with more than 10 million views. After the recent sexual abuse scandals, O’Brien leads Santa Clara’s efforts to work towards authentic and lasting reform of the Catholic Church.
O’Brien was born in Montreal, Quebec, to an Irish-Catholic family of five, which moved to southern Florida when he was four. His late father, Larry, spent 35 years as personal manager to the legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus—for whom O’Brien’s older brother Andrew still works. His late mother Elizabeth worked in the home. His older sister Cathy is a special-education teacher in Denver. O’Brien joined the Society of Jesus in 1996 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006.
He holds a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University and a Master of Divinity and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, now part of Boston College. He has a B.A. in government from Georgetown and a law degree from University of Florida, where he served as an editor on the Florida Law Review.
During his first year in office, O’Brien has prioritized improving access and affordability of Santa Clara’s distinctive education; supporting faculty and staff who live and work in an area with high cost of living; fostering a culture of respect, transparency, and accountability on campus; completing the University’s $1 billion comprehensive campaign; and extending outreach to Silicon Valley and neighboring communities.