Written by Phillip Sloan
When Jack Reilly died of pneumonia on August 12th of this year at the age of 71, we lost not only the primary benefactor of the John J. Reilly Center, but also a good personal friend. Notre Dame also lost an individual whose interests extended to extensive endowment of the Snite Museum of Art.
Jack’s vision of a broad education, combining technical and humanistic interests, developed when he was himself a student of engineering at Notre Dame (BS 1964), when he felt the strictures of engineering study, and he spent an extra year at Notre Dame completing a degree in art history (BA 1963). Since 1984, Jack was the main financial supporter of the Arts and Letters/ Engineering Dual-Degree Program. This program now assists 75 students in engineering to satisfy their interests in subjects in the College of Arts and Letters, with the ideal of a second major in a humanistic area.
In 1984 Jack approached the University with the plan to fund the dual-degree program. After negotiation with the Dean of Arts and Letters, Michael Loux, other university administrators, and philosophy professors Vaughn McKim and Fr. Ernan McMullin, this became a proposal to endow a center at the University to honor Jack’s father, John J. Reilly. A subsequent successful proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a matching grant established the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values in the College of Arts and Letters in 1985. This created the new undergraduate Science, Technology and Values minor and formalized the scholarship funding for the Arts and Letters/ Engineering Dual-Degree Program. It also enabled the University to hire a new faculty member in history, Prof. Christopher Hamlin, to help initiate this minor. STV is now one of the best established and most successful cross-college minors at the University with currently 97 students completing this. The Reilly Center also became the logical home for the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science, enabling it to move from the status of a terminal MA program (that had existed at Notre Dame since 1969) to full doctoral status. This was approved by the Graduate Council in November of 1989. This enabled the HPS program to admit its first doctoral class of three students in the Fall of 1990. (A celebration on September 25th-26th commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the HPS program, with a stellar record of doctoral placements and currently 18 students in residence.) Jack took much pride in the development of these three strong programs to national stature in the intervening thirty years since the establishment of the Reilly Center. We deeply missed his presence at this celebration.
Trained as an engineer, Jack served for three years on graduation from Notre Dame in 1964 as a supply officer in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War and then practiced for two years (1967-1969) as an engineer for the Crane Company before starting up the Reilly Mortgage Corporation. This initiated a long career as a highly successful investment banker, and commercial real estate manager that lasted until his death.
Those of us who knew Jack personally also knew him as an engaged, socially conscious individual, concerned to create a better world through assistance he could give through his career as a successful businessman. He was long involved in work on affordable housing, serving on the Board of Victory Housing, a corporation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington that specializes in affordable housing for the elderly. For more than twenty years he also served as Vice Chair of the Board of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation, where he took a leadership role in developing affordable housing for low- and moderate income individuals and families, as well as means to ensure access of such families to services that improved their quality of life.
As reported by former Reilly Director Don Howard, who attended Jack’s memorial service on August 22 at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Washington D.C., “we heard about what made Jack a wonderful father and a successful but caring, and socially committed businessman. Almost every speaker stressed Jack’s hallmark modesty combined with his gentle but clear way of leading.” Those of us who knew Jack personally from our roles in the Reilly Center could attest to each of these comments. This modesty was a feature that many of us knew.
We are pleased to honor Jack and acknowledge the debt we have at Notre Dame, not only for his contributions to the life of the Center, but also for his interest in a wider culture of public service, combining strong Catholic values with support of a broad, inclusive, and humanistic vision of learning engaged with modern science and technology. We will miss him deeply.
Former Director, John J. Reilly Center
Note: I express my gratitude to Luan Tia Blount of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation of Washington D.C. for valuable information and the picture used in this memoriam.