Jay P. Dolan, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Notre Dame, and an acclaimed scholar of American history who had a major influence on the historical study of American Catholicism, died on May 7, 2023 in Salem, Oregon.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on March 17, 1936, he grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut and attended Fairfield College Preparatory School where he later established a scholarship in memory of his parents, Joseph T. and Margaret R. Dolan. Ordained a priest in Rome, Italy in 1961, he served in several parishes in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He later attended the University of Chicago Divinity School where he earned a doctoral degree.
After resigning from the priesthood, he married Patricia McNeal in 1973. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was the most influential historian of Roman Catholicism in the United States. He made his mark on the discipline by advancing the development of social history, the study of the ordinary people and their communities, or as he often put it, "the people in the pews." His major work in this field was The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (1985). It was the first successful social history of Catholicism in the United States and has remained the standard history long after its publication.
In the 1990s, he turned his attention to the study of Irish America and published the results of his research in another major work, The Irish Americans: A History (2008). In addition, he authored many other studies related to the study of religious and ethnic history. He served on many committees, most notably the history committee of the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, which helped to plan and design the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island. He also served as President of both the American Society of Church History and the American Catholic Historical Association. To be elected President of both scholarly societies was a unique honor granted to very few scholars. Included among many of his other awards was an honorary degree from Lewis University.
In addition to teaching at Notre Dame from 1971 to 2004, he also taught at the University of San Francisco, the University of Chicago, Boston College, and University College, Cork, Ireland where he was a Fulbright Professor in 1986. In order to encourage the scholarship of other historians, he founded a national center at Notre Dame for the study of American Catholicism. Endowed by the Cushwa family of Youngstown, Ohio, the Cushwa Center has become the leading research center in the area of American Catholic studies. He directed the Center from 1975 until 1994.
An avid golfer who loved the challenge of the game, he was a member of Knollwood Country Club in Granger, Indiana and Vero Beach Country Club in Florida. He was involved in a variety of volunteer ministries including the Homeless Center, Hospice, and Holy Cross Care and Rehabilitation Center in South Bend, Indiana where he lived for most of his life. In recent years he was a pastoral care volunteer at Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach as well as a volunteer at VNA Hospice of Indian River County. He also was on the board of directors of ARC, an organization in Vero Beach that supports individuals with special needs.
His wife, Patricia, who was his beloved soul mate for more than forty years, predeceased him on March 6, 2018. He is survived by his sons, Patrick (Ingrid), a lawyer in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Mark (Jacque), an orthopaedic surgeon in Salem, Oregon and their two children, James and Maryn. His brother, Thomas, and sister-in-law, Patricia, predeceased him. Surviving also are his brother's three children, Michael (Margie), Susan, and Jane (Matt Kane).
Jay will be remembered by his friends and family for his storytelling, quick wit, and Irish humor. His boys will remember him for sharing his love of travel and adventure, living in Ireland, road trips in the minivan, skiing at Nubs Nob, and his unwavering love and support throughout their lives.
Services will take place on June 16, 2023 in Notre Dame, Indiana. A Catholic funeral Mass will be held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at 9:30a.m., with burial thereafter at Cedar Grove Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame.
In remembrance of Jay's life, the family asks that any charitable donations be made to the South Bend Center for the Homeless, the Arc of Indian River County, or the Cushwa Center at the University of Notre Dame.
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