Resignation of Jesuit Fr. Kevin O'Brien, who Presided at President Biden's Inaugural Mass, as Santa Clara University President

Fr. Kevin O'Brien, SJ, a 54-year-old Jesuit priest, and former president of Santa Clara University, has been on administrative leave since March.  During that time his Jesuit province investigated reports of his alleged misconduct. Due to the review he was taking part in an outpatient therapy program for alcohol use and stress management. Subsequent to this he submitted his resignation letter to the California Jesuit University.  Fr. O'Brien presided at the Inaugural Mass for President Joe Biden. (Edited from America Magazine)

FULL TEXT Letter from Fr. Kevin O'Brien, SJ :

May 12, 2021

Dear Santa Clara University community,

With a heavy heart but clear mind, I write to share with you personally my decision to resign as president of Santa Clara University. As I have written to you at other times during these remarkable two years, I want to share with you directly the reasons for my decision.

In early March, my Jesuit Provincial, Scott Santarosa, S.J., expressed concerns to me about my well-being. These concerns were based on accounts of my behavior over the past year in certain social settings with adults that did not meet the highest standards of decorum expected of me as a Jesuit. The Province investigated these concerns, and based on the results of that review, Father Santarosa asked me to enter a therapeutic program to address related personal issues, including my use of alcohol and stress management.

Throughout the process, I asked for no preferential treatment because of my position, presumed the good will of all involved, and fully cooperated. In April, I entered an outpatient or nonresidential treatment program, which many Jesuits over the years have found helpful in living a full, healthy life of service. In my case, the program is expected to take four to six months.

My extended absence from campus during these challenging times does not serve the university well. After much prayer and thought and out of deep love for Santa Clara, I have concluded that the best service I can offer to our beloved university is to step aside now. While my deepest desire and skill set are attuned to return to leadership, I will not know until the program’s completion how and when I can do so most effectively. As I engage this personal work, I cannot leave the university waiting, amid all the challenges we face in a very competitive landscape and given the opportunities we need to seize as we pivot to a post-pandemic context.  Finally, if the Board wishes to begin planning a search for my successor, it is vital that this work begin now.

At the successful completion of my treatment program, Father Santarosa expects that I will return to active ministry as a Jesuit priest, but, for the reasons above, it will not be at Santa Clara as president – a statement which is very hard for me to write. As together we addressed challenges during the pandemic and in our movements to greater racial justice, I have loved my service here, primarily because of the people. Thank you for your company and your support, especially when the days and decisions were hard. I trust that God will use my labor here for good, even when I fell short of my or your expectations.

We are positioned well to emerge from these challenging months with strength and clarity of purpose. We are in very good hands with Acting President Lisa Kloppenberg’s exceptional and visionary leadership. She exemplifies the best of Jesuit education. We are also blessed with the wise and skilled stewardship of our university cabinet, deans and other university leaders.

I am at heart a teacher and an educator, so I wish to close with a message for our students. It is important to have friends in your life, as I do now, who can speak honestly when they are concerned about you. Equally important, no matter the success or positions you achieve in life, everyone needs help at times, and it is OK to ask for help when you need it, and to allow others to care for you.

Know that my days begin with prayers for Santa Clara and its mission which endures with the grace of God and the goodness of so many. Wherever I might land in my next mission as a Jesuit, I will carry you with me.

Gratefully yours,

Kevin O’Brien, S.J.