Alum and student co-founder of center wins Dooley Award

June 13, 2022

The University of Notre Dame Alumni Association has announced the winners of its annual spring awards, recognizing members of the Notre Dame family for their outstanding achievements. Mary Meg McCarthy, class of 1980 and one of the students who founded the Center for Social Concerns, was honored with the Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award.

Established in 1984, the Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award is conferred on an alumnus or alumna, living or deceased, who has exhibited outstanding service to humankind.

McCarthy is an internationally recognized immigration law expert and the executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), one of the nation’s preeminent immigrant and human rights advocacy organizations. Through its unique approach integrating advocacy, impact litigation, legal counsel, and public education, NIJC has advanced asylum protections in the courts while expanding access to counsel for detained children and adults. Under McCarthy’s leadership, NIJC has grown from a $1 million to a $10 million organization with a 100-person staff and a network of 2,100 pro bono attorneys who are essential to providing legal counsel to 11,000 low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers annually.

Earlier in her career, McCarthy worked in Chile as a Holy Cross Associate to help safeguard the rights of individuals. She earned her B.B.A. from Notre Dame and her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Her honors have included the Justice John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Inn of Court 2015 Don Hubert Public Service Award, the Pax Christi 2013 Teacher of Peace Award and the Damen Award from Loyola University Chicago. She is a former trustee of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

In her remarks at the award ceremony, McCarthy emphasized the good individuals can do. “Like Dr. Dooley,” she said, “each one of us can make a difference, get out of our comfort zones, and act to respond to people in need and build a more peaceful, equitable world. In communities today, we see immigrants and refugees who fled their homes with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. They are struggling to build a life in this country. They are seeking permanent legal status, financial stability and healthcare. They are our neighbors, classmates with our children, co-workers, and friends.”

McCarthy and Stacy Hennessy were participating in a summer service project in community organizing when they gathered students in the fall of 1979 to voice the need for a place where faculty and students could work together on social challenges. In response, Rev. Don McNeill, C.S.C., and Sr. Judith Ann Beattie, C.S.C., worked with McCarthy, Hennessy, and others to develop a proposal to use the building that housed WNDU television. The building, located where Geddes Hall is now, was soon to be vacant. McCarthy presented the plan, with architectural drawings by students, to Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., who liked the idea and helped her and Hennessy get an opportunity to present the plan to the officers of the University. The plan was approved and the group moved into the old WNDU building in 1983.