Notre Dame Kroc Institute Celebrates 35 Years

Kroc Fatemeh Keshavarz Lecture 15

In 1985, in the midst of the Cold War, philanthropist Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, was sitting in San Diego, California, in the audience of a lecture given by Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. There, he urged scientists and religious leaders to work together to resolve the threat of nuclear violence, and for universities to train the next generation of peace builders.

She responded to his call with a $6 million donation to create an institute at Notre Dame that would study peace, violence, and justice. Later, she gave another $6 million for a building to house the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and then, after her death, she bequeathed an additional $50 million to her namesake program, enabling it to grow into one of the world’s leading centers studying conflict and peace. Now in its 35th year, the institute boasts 24 core faculty, 72 faculty fellows, and 147 visiting research fellows. There are 55 undergraduates, 23 master’s students, and 41 doctoral students currently enrolled. And there are more than 1,800 alumni peacebuilders working in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Asher Kaufman, the John M. Regan Jr. Director of the institute, reflected on the history in a video to celebrate the anniversary. He said, “When Father Hesburgh envisioned the creation of an institute for peace studies, he thought about the idea of bringing to the United States and to Notre Dame, to campus, peacebuilders from all over the world who would study here the field of peace studies and later would be able to return to their home countries and form a network of peacebuilders. And his vision of creating that kind of network has actually been realized.”

In those 35 years, the landscape of peace, of violence, of conflict has shifted. Some of that Cold War fervor has faded, though nuclear weapons remain a global threat. The attacks on 9/11 brought terrorism to the fore. Now drone and cyber warfare are issues of debate. And scholars from various countries come with their own stories, experiences, and opinions that are constantly shifting the agenda and areas of inquiry, said Anne Hayner, the associate director for alumni relations for the Kroc Institute.

“I think so much of the strength of the Kroc Institute has come from what we’ve learned from our students and our alumni over time,” Hayner said in the anniversary video. “I hope that we’ll continue to be listening to them, learning from them, being challenged by them to grow in new ways, to be more inclusive and welcoming of really diverse perspectives that we never would have thought of.”

Looking ahead to the next 35 years, things are likely to continue to change. Caroline Hughes, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Chair in Peace Studies and the associate dean for policy and practice in the Keough School of Global Affairs, said in the video she hopes Notre Dame can become a beacon and a haven for even more scholars in the future.

“I would like to see Kroc playing a role in helping scholars at risk, bringing people here to spend some time away from oppressive conditions so they can make the contributions that they have to make, or helping them if they are under threat of arrest,” she said. “We have a really important role to play in trying to keep or to maintain a level of discourse about issues of oppression and justice at a time when there are increasingly limitations on what can be studied or what can be said in many parts of the world.”

In his 2022 World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis urged world leaders to spend money on education rather than weapons, and argued that dialogue and understanding are more powerful means of peace than war. The Kroc Institute and its faculty will continue to study those, and other, strategies for peaceful and just societies.