Home » Bellarmine University president passes away unexpectedly Tuesday

Bellarmine University president passes away unexpectedly Tuesday

Dr. Joseph McGowan

Louisville, Ky. – Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, who became Bellarmine University’s third president in 1990, passed away Tuesday morning after an illness. 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.

McGowan is survived by his wife, Maureen, and adult twin sons, Joseph and Matthew.

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.

A number of Louisville and national leaders have issues statements following news of Dr. McGowan’s death.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher: 

“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. 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.”

Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell: 

“To put it plainly, Bellarmine University would not be the institution it is today without Dr. McGowan’s vision and leadership. As Bellarmine’s president since 1990, he transformed what was once a small, limited liberal arts school into one of the most prestigious private institutions in the South.”

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin  (via Twitter):

“The passing of Dr. McGowan is a tremendous loss to Bellarmine, to the Commonwealth & higher education. His leadership was transformative.”

This story will be updated as information becomes available.