The Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies

In 2009, the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Foundation delivered a $2 million gift to endow a chair and launch an academic program in Catholic Studies in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.  The Conways wanted to open a strong local and global dialogue with their gift, encouraging conversations among an array of disciplines about the history, traditions, and contemporary significance of Roman Catholicism.  They intended the program to complement other curricula that touch upon religion and spirituality, including Judaic Studies and Arabic Language & Culture, in order to deepen the transformative impact of students who must live and work in an ever-growing, diverse, and conflicted global community.  They wanted, finally, to draw the community of Greater Cincinnati into discussions about Catholic ideas and artistic contributions as clarified by research scholarship.  This notable investment in intercultural understanding inspired dozens of donors from throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to contribute to the endowment.  The result is a new learning ecology of families, foundations, institutions, scholars, and students poised to satisfy important educational and community needs into the next generation and beyond.

On the strength of the Conway Foundations’ gift, the University of Cincinnati launched its initiative in Catholic Studies in 2012.  This initiative has two distinct yet related emphases.  The first is an undergraduate teaching curriculum implemented by the Conway Chair.  Courses have been oversubscribed by as much as 55% above their enrollment caps.  The second is an extracurricular outreach program intended to attract students to, excite public enthusiasm about, and generate philanthropic support for the first. 

Jeff Zalar standing next to the McMicken Lion wearing a black jacket and glasses

Dr. Jeff Zalar

The inaugural holder of the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies is Dr. Jeff Zalar.  Jeff served in the United States Marine Corps from 1987-1991.  His service included participation in “Operation Just Cause” in Panama in 1989-90 and “Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm” during the Gulf War in 1990-91.  Thereafter he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where in 1995 he received an Honors B.A. in History and Theology.  In 2002, he received a Ph.D. with Distinction in modern German and European History from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  His research is in the history of Catholic culture and the religious foundations of Western Civilization.  After teaching at Christ College, the Honors College of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, IN, Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he assumed duties as Conway Chair in 2012.