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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Ferree Chair of Social Justice

University of Dayton associate professor of religious studies Kelly Johnson will begin July 1 as the first holder of the Father William J. Ferree Chair of Social Justice, named in honor of the Marianist priest whose work influenced contemporary Catholic thinking on social justice.

The Fr. Ferree Chair will work across the University to generate, advance and sustain influential scholarship, teaching and community engagements that advance social justice in pursuit of the common good, in alignment with the missions of the Society of Mary and the University of Dayton.

“Father Ferree taught that the act of social justice is organizing people to address systems of injustice, and our need for that kind of organizing is greater than ever,” said Johnson, who joined the University faculty in 2002. “I see the holder of this chair as something of a Catholic community organizer — one who through careful attention to the concerns and abilities of many constituents can promote networks of action and reflection.”

The Fr. Ferree Chair also will play a critical role in developing collaborations across the University to promote the integration of the Catholic social justice tradition into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum and the scholarly life of the University.

“Dr. Kelly Johnson is knowledgeable of the educational commitment of the University and has demonstrated the collaborative dynamics necessary for crossing boundaries with other disciplines to make the commitment to the common good and Common Academic Program work well,” said Father James Fitz, S.M., vice president for mission and rector. “Her background in social ethics and her involvement in concrete social issues will be a wonderful asset to her work as the Fr. Ferree Chair.”

During her 17 years at UD, Johnson has taught courses at every level of the Department of Religious Studies, from the introductory course to doctoral seminars, with Catholic social tradition as a major component of most courses.

Johnson has been a member of the interdisciplinary Human Rights Studies program’s faculty since its inception; served as the University’s representative to a multidisciplinary Lilly seminar on reconciliation in Northern Ireland; and was a participant in the Scholars in Global Solidarity project, working with scholars from three universities in service to Catholic Relief Services and its partners in Brazil.

She came to the academy after a number of years with the Catholic Worker Movement and peace activism in Northern Ireland. She helped found a Catholic Worker house of hospitality for undocumented women and children in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition, she was a founding member of the Ekklesia Project, a national ecumenical network, and continues to serve on its board.

Johnson received her doctorate in 2001 from Duke University, where she majored in theological ethics. She also holds a master’s degree in liturgical studies and a bachelor’s in theology, both from the University of Notre Dame.

“Kelly Johnson brings a profound knowledge of the Catholic social tradition, an organizer’s attentiveness to the interests and concerns of the University community, and a strong vision for the University’s role in partnerships with the Dayton community,” said Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture. “Her work as Fr. Ferree Chair will do much to advance UD’s mission as a university in service to the common good.”

Miller co-chaired the search committee with Paul Vanderburgh, associate provost for graduate academic affairs. Committee members also included Br. Tom Giardino, assistant for special projects in the Office for Mission and Rector; Meghan Henning, assistant professor of Christian origins; John Mittelstaedt, School of Business dean; Don Pair, College associate dean for interdisciplinary research and experiential initiatives; Leslie Picca, Roesch Chair-designate in the Social Sciences; and Crystal Sullivan, executive director of Campus Ministry.

Marianist Provincial Fr. William J. Ferree, S.M., was an influential theologian whose work shaped the development of Catholic teachings on social justice. In his honor, the Marianist Province of the United States pledged $1 million to endow the Ferree Professor in the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community. This year, the Marianists made an additional $1.5 million gift to elevate the position to an endowed chair in the College of Arts and Sciences, in support of the University’s commitment to the common good.

Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M., served as the first Ferree Professor of Social Justice from 2002 to 2019, following his tenure as University president from 1979 to 2002. He will continue at the University in a new role as Professor of Social Change.

Ferree was born in 1905 in Dayton. He professed first vows in 1925, graduated from the University of Dayton and pursued graduate studies at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where he received a doctoral degree in 1942 with his dissertation "On the Act of Social Justice."

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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