History and Mission

For nearly half a century, the dedicated faculty and staff of the McGrath Institute for Church Life have partnered with Catholic dioceses, parishes, and schools to address today’s pastoral challenges with theological depth and rigor.

As a collaborative partner with clerical and lay Catholic leaders at all levels, we provide theological tools and spiritual formation to help address today’s most pressing pastoral challenges with urgency and impact.

By connecting the Catholic intellectual life of the university to the life of the Church, we form faithful Catholic leaders for service to the Church and the world. We are proud to serve as a preeminent source of creative Catholic programming for evangelization and formation, sparking the Catholic imagination and encouraging the Body of Christ throughout the United States.

Our Mission

The McGrath Institute for Church Life bridges the Catholic intellectual life and the life of the Church, in order to form and empower faithful Catholic leaders for service to the Church and thereby the world. In collaboration with our ecclesial partners, we propose and enact a renewed vision of Church life through scholarship, pastoral expertise, and teaching to discern and address the needs of the Church. 

In Celebration of Robert P. and Joan McGrath

Mcgrath Bob And Joan 300Robert P. and Joan McGrath

In September of 2016, Bob and Joan McGrath, longtime friends of the McGrath Institute for Church Life and the Center for Social Concerns, endowed the Institute for Church Life with a $15 million gift. 

In recognition of their generosity, the Institute took on a new name: The McGrath Institute for Church Life. Since this gift in 2016, the McGrath Institute has been able to grow its already existing programs, hire new faculty and staff, and increase its production of theological education resources for the benefit of the Church.

Thanks to the exceptional generosity of Bob and Joan McGrath, the Institute is poised to become the pre-eminent source of creative Catholic content and programming, providing Church leaders the tools they need to address the pressing pastoral problems of our day.

Brief History and Timeline of the McGrath Institute for Church Life


University of Notre Dame President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, invites Monsignor John J. Egan of Chicago to sabbatical at Notre Dame, where he stays until 1983. The Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy is also established this year.


Fr. Hesburgh combines many of Msgr. Egan's Chicago-based urban ministry projects with several campus initiatives and establishes the Center for Pastoral and Social Ministry with Msgr. Egan as the founding director.


The Center is renamed the Institute for Church Life, bringing together a number of programs with the mission to connect Notre Dame’s intellectual life to the life of the Catholic Church. A key component is the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy. The Institute is housed primarily on the 12th floor of the Hesburgh Library and includes the main office, the Center for Pastoral Liturgy, and the Center for Social Concerns. 


The Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) is established in the fall. STEP is designed to offer online theology courses for ministry formation among learning communities in national dioceses and parishes. Offices are established on the 12th floor of the Hesburgh Library.


John C. Cavadini, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Theology, becomes director of the Institute and defines its three primary objectives: increased visibility within the university and throughout the nation; establishment of diverse initiatives to achieve its mission; and closer ties to the university’s departments and institutes.

STEP courses begin in the spring, offering training delivered via “satellite” or television.

The Notre Dame Vocational Initiative (NDVI) is established through the generosity of a Lilly Endowment grant. The program is created for the “theological exploration of vocation,” which includes Vocare (young alumni retreats), undergraduate programming, and plans for a summer conference for high school students, which later becomes Notre Dame Vision. Offices are established on the first floor of the Hesburgh Library.  


The STEP program begins offering online courses.


Notre Dame Vision is established, and its first summer conference takes place. This 5-day, on-campus experience for high school students is designed to help young people discover and renew God’s call in their lives. 


The Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy is renamed the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy to better reflect its balance between scholarship and pastoral practice.


The Echo Graduate Service Program is established. Echo participants earn a Master’s Degree in Theology at Notre Dame while serving in parish catechetical ministry in an Echo partner diocese and engaging in holistic ministry leadership formation. Offices are established on the 12th floor of the Hesburgh Library.


The university announces that generous gifts from Michael and Sheila Geddes, Thomas and Mary Cabot, and other benefactors will fund the building of Geddes Hall. The building stands on the site of the former home of the Center for Social Concerns, which before that served as the original home of WNDU Studios. 

Due to a generous Endowed Directorship from Bob and Joan McGrath, the title of the Institute’s director is renamed the McGrath-Cavadini Director at the Institute for Church life.  

Notre Dame Vision CYM begins for campus and youth ministers. This program was made possible through a Sustaining Lilly Grant in 2005. 


Geddes Hall opens as the new home for the Institute, as well as the Center for Social Concerns.


University Life Initiatives, a collaboration between the Institute and Notre Dame’s Office of the President, was created to foster a respect for the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death, within the Notre Dame community and beyond.

Saturdays with the Saints begins. These lectures take place before each Notre Dame home football game and celebrate the saints who inspire faithful Catholic living.


Church Life Journal, the Institute’s digital journal of theology, philosophy, and culture, is established, delivering daily pastoral and scholarly insights from some of the best minds and writers in the Church.


Camino classes begin, offering Spanish-language online theology courses to Church leaders and others looking to deepen their understanding of the faith.


University Life Initiatives is renamed the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives.


The Echo Graduate Service Program establishes an additional program track to train middle and high school theology teachers in partnership with dioceses and Catholic schools around the country. 

Through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Notre Dame’s Science and Religion Initiative is established to provide continuing education to educators and school administrators on how to effectively communicate the complementarity of science and religion. 

The Catechist Academy is established, offering opportunities for Notre Dame undergraduates to teach religious education to students in kindergarten through 8th grade in parishes throughout the greater South Bend/Mishawaka community. 


The Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal is established. This week-long experience offers diocesan priests the opportunity for reflection, scholarship, fraternity, and spiritual renewal. 


The Institute is renamed the McGrath Institute for Church Life in celebration of Bob and Joan McGrath, longtime friends of the Institute, who provide a generous endowment. This empowers the growth of programs to educate students and form Church leaders, the hiring of new faculty and staff, and the increased production of outstanding theological resources. 

The Church Life Internship is established to engage senior undergraduate students in advanced Catholic leadership development through research, writing, service, and mentoring. 


The Institute receives a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., as part of their Thriving in Ministry initiative, to expand programs that support and strengthen ordained and lay pastoral leaders. The Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal becomes part of this initiative. 


The Church Life Today podcast is established, featuring conversations with pastoral leaders and scholars from around the country and covers issues that matter most to the Church today. 

Life and Human Dignity is renamed Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity.


Strong Foundations for Catholic Leaders is established as part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry initiative, supporting young lay leaders who have recently begun their professional services in the Church. 


Through a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., the Church Communications Ecology Program is created, offering Church leaders a Catholic philosophical foundation for engaging the digital environment with virtue and wisdom. 

The Sullivan Family Saints Initiative is established through a generous donation by Tim and Mary Sullivan to foster scholarship and devotion to the Saints. 

The Echo Graduate Service Program establishes its first international partnership with the Diocese of Meath, Ireland. 


With the suspension of in-person programming for youth due to the pandemic, the two-week virtual Vision Academy for Catholic Life and Leadership offers high school students the opportunity to explore the Catholic Imagination through tracks in art, literature, music, scripture, and testimony. 

A video series version of the Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal is developed in response to those looking for virtual programming.