Sterling named new Divinity School dean

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Photo by Daniel Sisgoreo.

Roughly 10 months after Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge announced that he would step down this summer, University President Richard Levin named the next dean at a Thursday ceremony at the Divinity School.

Gregory Sterling, the current dean of the Graduate School at the University of Notre Dame, will assume leadership of the Divinity School on Aug. 1. Faculty on the search committee said they felt Sterling was a strong candidate whose leadership background would help him continue fostering a community that discusses changes in religion in American society and other issues.

“People find him a terrific colleague, a natural collaborator, a person who checks his ego at the doorway and devotes himself entirely to the task of service,” Levin said of Sterling at the ceremony.

Levin said Sterling was the inaugural dean of the Graduate School at Notre Dame, a post he assumed in 2008. During his tenure, Sterling increased diversity and helped establish a career development office. As a professor of theology, he has focused his studies on the preservation of Jewish and Christian identity within a Greco-Roman context.

During his opening speech at Thursday’s announcement, Sterling said he will need to address the world’s changing religious climate — characterized by a growing diversity of religions — through his work as Divinity School dean.

“We can no longer think simply of Christianity — we have to think of Christianity among other religions,” Sterling said. “I hope that we can be unashamedly Christian without ever being narrowly Christian.”

Search committee chair John Collins, a Divinity School professor, said Sterling is equipped to guide the school through a period of religious change because he has no “ideological agenda.”

The search committee also considered candidates’ fundraising abilities when proposing names to Levin, said Lamin Sanneh, another search committee member and Divinity School professor. Sterling, who worked on the $2 billion capital campaign Notre Dame concluded in June 2011, told the News that he plans to implement a number of fundraising strategies at the Divinity School.

Sanneh said Sterling has experience with several branches of Judeo-Christian tradition, which will help him collaborate effectively with the Divinity School’s diverse students and alumni. Sterling, a Protestant, has studied in Israel and is married to a Catholic woman, Adrian.

After Levin introduced Sterling to members of the Divinity School, he awarded a Sterling Professorship — Yale’s highest academic rank — to Attridge, who will continue teaching at the school after a year-long sabbatical.

“The school, arguably, is the best it’s been in decades, so we all applaud and thank Dean Attridge for [his] achievements,” said Christopher Sawyer DIV ’75, who chaired a group of alumni and others who advised Levin on the search. “We’re delighted he gets a little rest, but also delighted he’ll come back.”

Search committee members said Attridge recruited talented faculty during his tenure and bolstered the school’s ties to the University during his 10-year tenure. Attridge also increased financial aid and oversaw the school’s portion of the Yale Tomorrow capital campaign, which concluded in June 2011 and raised $38 million.

Sterling said he feels “humbled” to walk in Attridge’s footsteps.

Attridge said he did not know he would be awarded a Sterling Professorship prior to Levin’s announcement, adding that he is looking forward to focusing on academic work. Though the Divinity School will lack a dean from when Attridge steps down June 30 and Sterling assumes the post, Attridge said the school will operate normally, as July is not a busy month.

Before Sterling was appointed as dean of the Graduate School at the University of Notre Dame, he served as the associate dean, senior associate dean and then executive associate dean of the university’s College of Arts and Letters..

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