The Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, Jr. and Maureen McRaith McGowan Endowed Scholarship was established in memory and in honor of Bellarmine University’s third president and his wife, who transformed the university with vision and with grace.
Under Dr. McGowan’s leadership, Bellarmine College became Bellarmine University—a name change that reflected the school’s growth from a “hidden gem” that educated a small number of mostly commuter students to the premier independent Catholic university in the South and the leading private university in the commonwealth and region.
Enrollment was 2,500 when the McGowans arrived in 1990. Today, Bellarmine has nearly 4,000 students from 42 states and 22 countries. More than half of undergraduate students live on campus. The faculty has grown from 85 to 167. Dr. 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, which ended with his sudden and unexpected death on March 1, 2016.
Colleen Liebert and her husband, Dennis, became friends with the couple shortly after Jay and Maureen McGowan arrived in Louisville in 1990, and they watched as Bellarmine University was transformed.
“I remember when Bellarmine first opened under the leadership of Msgr. Horrigan,” Colleen says, “and then Dr. Petrik did a fantastic job of bringing Bellarmine to the next level. But Dr. McGowan just had a vision for what it could be, and he never stopped trying to make it better. It was always, ‘We can do this. We CAN do it.’ Not ‘I think I can’ –it was ‘We will.’ And it’s just such a remarkable campus now with a reputation to match.”
But even as enrollment grew, Dr. McGowan insisted that class sizes remain small; that Bellarmine never lose its personal touch. And as he built a nationally recognized university with excellent spaces for living and learning, Maureen McGowan helped to make it feel like home. She and Dr. McGowan built a sense of true community on campus and off, welcoming students and parents to the university and to the President’s House.
“As much as I revered Jay, I know how important Maureen became to the university,” Colleen says. “Jay had the foresight—he knew where he was going and what he could accomplish—but Maureen was there making sure it all happened. She is the most gracious person that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”
The Liebert family has several connections with Bellarmine. Their younger daughter, Sarah (Liebert) Garner, graduated from Bellarmine in 2002, and their elder daughter, Tracy (Liebert) Cutting, taught some continuing education classes in German at the university. Colleen attended Bellarmine for a few years, and she commissioned the Roberto Bellarmino sculpture by Bob Lockhart in the quad in memory of Dennis Liebert, who died in 2005.
In establishing a scholarship, Colleen said she wanted to honor both Bellarmine’s third president and his First Lady. The Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, Jr. and Maureen McRaith McGowan Endowed Scholarship, which she fully endowed in December 2016, will provide tuition and mandatory fees for a deserving sophomore, junior or senior and is renewable for up to six semesters.
“I hope that whoever is awarded this scholarship will develop the same can-do attitude with the same humility that is characteristic of the McGowans' legacy,” Colleen says. “I want people to know that they were here, and what a profound impact that they both had on the institution and our community.”