Rev. Leo R. Ward, C.S.C.

Leo Ward (1893–1984) was born into a small farm family in Melrose, Iowa. At the age of twenty-one, he joined the seminary at Notre Dame; while at the university, he wrote for Scholastic magazine, a student publication, and was a talented member of the debate team. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned his Ph.D. at the Catholic University of America. Ward was ordained as a Holy Cross priest, and over the next few years he studied abroad at Oxford and Louvain before returning to Notre Dame as a professor of philosophy, where he published several books on ethics, particularly Christian ethics.

Apart from his extensive work in philosophy (involving intensive study of Jacques Maritain), Father Ward also published acclaimed poetry in publications ranging from the student publication The Juggler to the New York Times. His poetry won several awards, including the 1970 Laus Tibi Deo Poetry Award and the 1971 Catholic Press Poetry Award.

Though he wrote many other books on a variety of topics, he was always particularly fascinated by Irish culture. In his books All Over God’s Irish Heaven and God in an Irish Kitchen, Father Ward analyzed Irish life, especially in relation to faith. He once wrote, “The Irishman lives by faith in a world not here at all. It may at times be routine with him when he expresses his faith by saying, ‘God is good.’ But if he is a genuine Irishman, I think those words are deep within him, as well as on his lips and his doorplate.”

Father Ward’s book Blueprint for a Catholic University was highly influential in the later development of Notre Dame. “The real problem with Catholic schools comes from the fact that they have settled in many matters for the mediocre,” he argued: “merely trying to keep up, not get behind, not to lapse from being accredited. Sometimes even this is a great trial. Moreover, they have taken as end simply to keep the faith, not to build or rebuild kingdoms, but to hold on, to see themselves as frankly only in a state of siege, where defending the walls is the whole problem.”

Then-president of Notre Dame Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., later recalled: “It was his writing on the Catholic university that, as he rightly observed, particularly interested and influenced me when I, too, returned to Notre Dame to teach and then to help create an ever greater Catholic university here.… When I had to give my first talk on a Catholic university, it was to his book, Blueprint for a Catholic University, that I returned, and his message that I preached.”

Even after his death in 1984, Father Ward continues to be a vital part of the formation of Catholic higher education, especially at the University of Notre Dame.


She turned then, just a wispeen of a girl
To go back alone at midnight
the sky over her
The sea and mountains around her
And what she went back to was the house
Raised a few feet above the bog
Where she had everything
In her simple, bloodless little hand

(From "Irish Portraits and Other Poems," 1978)


Rev. Leo R.  Ward, C.S.C., All over God’s Irish Heaven. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1964.

Rev. Leo R.  Ward, C.S.C., Blueprint for a Catholic University. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1949.

Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., from Preface to My First Fifty Years at Notre Dame.