Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, who became Bellarmine University’s third president in 1990, passed away at home this morning. He was 71.
Bellarmine has grown significantly in size and stature under McGowan’s leadership, changing its name from Bellarmine College to Bellarmine University in 2000. That name change was part of a growth trajectory tied to McGowan’s vision for the future of Bellarmine, which has since become the premier independent Catholic university in the south, and thereby the leading private university in the commonwealth and region.
In 2006, McGowan and Bellarmine’s Board of Trustees launched Vision 2020, setting a broad vision for new schools, new majors, new buildings and new ways to serve Louisville and Kentucky. This vision, supported by a significant capital campaign, continues to transform Bellarmine’s campus and academic life. One of the most significant construction projects in Bellarmine’s history – Centro – will be complete this summer, and funds are being raised for a new campus recreation center.
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. It’s a campus where people value the good of the place and the good in each other.
“Jay McGowan was a visionary leader who took Bellarmine from college to university, from a local learning institution to an international destination for innovation and knowledge,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “He led a physical and educational transformation on campus that challenged his staff, faculty and students to set high goals and achieve them. My thoughts and prayers are with the McGowan family, and the entire Bellarmine community. Jay will be sorely missed.”
McGowan is survived by his wife, Maureen, adult twin sons, Joseph and Matthew, and a large extended family.
Our Lady of the Woods Chapel will be open today for all members of the Bellarmine University community. Bellarmine will share information on funeral arrangements when they become available.
Bellarmine has added academic programs, faculty and staff while substantially boosting enrollment, alumni engagement and endowment, all while remaking the campus into a residential university. Bellarmine’s enrollment was 2,500 when McGowan arrived in 1990, and is nearly 4,000 today, while Bellarmine’s faculty has grown from 85 to 167. McGowan added schools of education, communication, continuing and professional studies, and environmental studies, and the university awarded its first doctoral degrees during his time as president.
Bellarmine’s campus has transformed under McGowan’s leadership, growing from 15 buildings when he arrived in 1990 to 57 today. From the stunning Siena residential complex – regarded as one of the nation’s most beautiful – to a new chapel, new stadium and the new hilltop Centro adjoining Horrigan Hall, Bellarmine today is a vibrant, thriving college campus.
Under McGowan’s leadership, Bellarmine added an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse team, as well as Division II programs in swimming and diving, women’s soccer, women’s golf and women’s track. McGowan also recently began discussions on the possibility of adding a men’s football program. In 2011, the men's basketball team won Bellarmine's first NCAA championship in any sport.
McGowan’s recent service in higher education associations includes terms as chairman of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities and Kentuckiana Metroversity, along with service on the board of directors of the American Council on Education and the Council of Independent Colleges. In January, he began a two-year term as treasurer of the Council of Independent Colleges.