About Robert G. Kennedy

Robert G. Kennedy is Professor of Catholic Studies and co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Kennedy received his B.A. in Philosophy from the College of St. Thomas in 1972. Though he had entered college planning to continue on to law school, his first course in philosophy moved him in a new direction. He discovered to his surprise that he had an appetite for philosophy and an affinity for the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. He soon changed his major from pre-law to philosophy and took as many philosophy courses as he could fit into his schedule.

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Kennedy planned to do graduate work in philosophy, but the prospects in the early 1970s for financial aid in that field were grim. He therefore enrolled in a new Master’s program in theology at the nearby St. Paul Seminary, supposing that, with a master’s degree, he might find it easier to obtain a fellowship to study for a doctorate.

Kennedy had planned to concentrate his studies on dogmatic theology. In his first semester, however, one of his professors was a renowned New Testament scholar, Msgr. Jerome Quinn, who would later be named to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Quinn was the most accomplished scholar on the faculty and Kennedy decided to change his concentration to New Testament Studies.

After this first year, Kennedy began working full-time as a religious education director for a large St. Paul parish while continuing to take classes at the seminary. By 1975, he had completed his coursework and married Barbara Baillie. In 1976, with Barbara pregnant and the economic prospects of parish work far from promising, Kennedy took a position selling real estate in a suburb of Minneapolis. He worked at this for the next five years, becoming one of the more successful agents in the largest real estate firm in Minnesota.

However, the desire to do scholarly work never faded, and in 1978 Kennedy accepted an offer to teach philosophy half-time at a branch of the University of Wisconsin, about an hour away from the Twin Cities. The following year, he also accepted a position teaching full-time as an adjunct at the University of St. Thomas. For the next two years, he commuted two afternoons a week to Wisconsin, taught full-time at St. Thomas and remained among the top ten percent of the salespeople in his real estate firm. But as the father of a growing family, he could hardly continue at that pace.

In 1981, he and Barbara moved their four children to South Bend, Indiana, where he had been accepted into the doctoral program at the Medieval Institute of the University of Notre Dame. Four years later he completed his doctorate, writing a dissertation on the literal sense of Scripture in Aquinas, under the direction of Professor Ralph McInerny.

While at Notre Dame, Kennedy first began to work with Grisez. At St. Thomas, he had been a colleague and close friend of Joseph Boyle, who encouraged him to pursue the doctorate. In 1981, Grisez was hard at work on the first volume of The Way of the Lord Jesus and was seeking various forms of research assistance. On Boyle’s recommendation, Grisez hired Kennedy to review all of the biblical and patristic references in the draft and to do additional bibliographic research in both areas.

On completing his degree, Kennedy was unable to find a teaching position. He was, however, offered a position on the staff of the new bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, the Most Rev. Robert H. Brom. Kennedy managed several diocesan offices and for a time was the bishop’s chief of staff.

In 1988, he was invited by the president of the University of St. Thomas to join the faculty teaching business ethics. He accepted and went on to earn tenure and promotion to full professor in the Department of Management, where for many years he taught courses in professional ethics and general management. In 2004, his colleagues elected him to be the first chair of the faculty of the College of Business.

At about this time, the University’s Catholic Studies program, which had first been formed in the mid-1990s, was taking more formal shape as an academic department. Having been active informally in the program for a number of years, Kennedy was invited to accept an appointment in the new department. He has since had a joint appointment in Catholic Studies and the College of Business. In 2009, he completed a four-year term as chair of the Department of Catholic Studies.

In 2003, Kennedy became founding co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy. This center, a collaboration between the Center for Catholic Studies and the University of St. Thomas’s School of Law, focuses on the integration of law and the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Kennedy’s research and publications explore issues in professional ethics, especially concerning business and the military, and also elements of the economic dimension of the Catholic social tradition.

Robert Kennedy’s Publications


The Dignity of Work, ed. with Gary Atkinson and Michael Naughton (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1995).

Religion and Public Life: The Legacy of Msgr.  John A. Ryan, ed. with Christine Athans, Bernard Brady, William McDonough, and Michael Naughton (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001).

The Good that Business Does (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Acton Institute, 2006).

Other Publications and Papers

“Pope John Paul II and Business Practice,” in Human Action in Business, vol. 5 of Praxiology: The International Annual of Practical Philosophy and Methodology, ed. Wojciech W. Gasparski and Leo Ryan (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1996), 115–18.

“Virtue and Corporate Culture,” St.  John’s Review of Business, 17 (1996): 10–15.

“Review Essay: John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe,” with Kenneth Kemp, St.  Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 41 (1996): 1–24.

“The Virtue of Solidarity and the Theory of the Firm,” The Second International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education, Antwerp, July 1997, in Rethinking the Purpose of Business: Interdisciplinary Essays from the Catholic Social Tradition, ed. S. A. Cortright and Michael Naughton (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 2002), 48–64.

“Will We Ever Have Enough Priests?” America, 13 Sept. 1997, 18–22; also in Catholic Digest, June 1998.

“Might a Little Dissent Be a Good Thing?” Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, 22 (1999): 11–13.

“Irregular Payments in an Age of Globalization,” 11th International Symposium on Ethics, Business, and Society, Barcelona, Spain, 5 July 2001.

“The Ethics of Enron,” Finance et bien commun (Switzerland), 9 (Winter 2001–2): 6–8.

“Does Professional Ethics Fail the Profession of Arms?” Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, Washington, D.C, 24 Jan. 2002.

“The Practice of Just Compensation,” Lilly Fellows Program Second National Research Conference, Baylor University, 8 November 2002; The Journal of Religion and Business Ethics, 1 (2010), http://via.library.depaul.edu/jrbe/

“The Professionalization of Work,” in Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Work as Key to the Social Question (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002), 99–110.

Review: “Edward N. Peters, The 1917 Pio–Benedictine Code of Canon Law,” Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, 25 (2002): 36–38.

“Introduction to Pope Pius XII’s Radio Message: The Anniversary of Rerum novarum,Logos, 5 (Fall 2002): 152–55.

“Can Interrogatory Torture Be Morally Legitimate?” Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, Washington, DC, 31 Jan. 2003; in You Decide, 2nd ed., ed. John T. Rourke (Darien, Ill.: Longman, 2004).

Review: “Sherwin Klein, Ethical Business Leadership: Balancing Theory and Practice,The Journal of Markets and Morality, 6 (2003): 282–84.

“Spirituality and the Christian Manager,” in Business, Religion and Spirituality: A New Synthesis, ed. Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C. (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 2003), 81–93.

“Professional or Profession: What’s in a Name?” Minnesota Physician, 17 (2003): 1, 10–11.

“Development of Doctrine in Moral Theology: Can What Was Once Wrong Now Be Right?” University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 1 (2003): 253–73.

“Does a Business Corporation Have a Responsibility to Society?” Religion and Liberty, 13 (Nov.–Dec. 2003): 6–9.

“Why Military Officers Must Have Training in Ethics,” Military Review, 84 (Jan.–Feb. 2004): 10–16.

“Ethics, Courage and Self-Discipline,” Finance et bien commun (Switzerland), 18–19 (Spring–Summer 2004): 136–39; rev. in Enron and World Finance: A Case Study in Ethics, ed. John T. Rourke (Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006), 206–16.

“Is the Doctrine of Preemption a Legitimate Element of the Just War Tradition?” Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics, Washington, D.C., 27 Jan. 2005.

Review: “Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, Pay Without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation,The Journal of Markets and Morality, 8 (2005): 142–45.

“Corporations, Common Goods, and Human Persons,” Ave Maria Law Review, 4 (2006): 1–32.

“Wealth Creation within the Catholic Social Tradition,” in Rediscovering Abundance, ed. H. Alford, et al. (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 2006), 57–86.

“Business and the Common Good,” in Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy, ed. Philip Booth (London: Institute for Economic Affairs, 2006), 164–89.

“You Have Written Well of Me” (St. Thomas Aquinas), The Word Among Us, Sept. 2005, 50–56.

“Serving the God of Surprises” (St. Catherine of Siena), The Word Among Us, Advent 2006, 49–54.

“Just Price,” in Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society (Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage, 2007).

“A Light in the ‘Dark Ages’” (St. Gregory the Great), The Word Among Us, Nov. 2007, 53–57.

“Is the Just War Theory Obsolete?” International Society for Military Ethics, San Diego, Cal., 25 Jan. 2008.

“The Witness of a Joy-Filled Sacrifice” (St. Ignatius of Antioch), The Word Among Us, Oct. 2008, 55–58.

“On Being Truly Practical: Why Virtue Matters in Business,” Conference on Business and Practical Wisdom, Catholic University, Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany, 25 Sept. 2009.

“A Different Kind of Bishop.” (St. Ambrose of Milan), The Word Among Us, Nov. 2009, 23–28.

“Who May Be Attacked in War?” International Society for Military Ethics, San Diego, Cal., 28 January 2010.

Review: “Paul Dembinski, Finance: Servant or Deceiver?The Journal of Markets and Morality, 12 (2010) 419–21.