Orange Alert

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend delivers inaugural Borgognoni Lecture at SU Oct. 15

Daughter of late U.S. senator to discuss 'Keeping Catholic in Turbulent Times'

Sept. 14, 2012, by Rob Enslin

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—eldest daughter of late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy and author of “Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches Are Mixing God With Politics and Losing Their Way” (Warner Books, 2007)—is visiting Syracuse University.

Townsend will deliver the inaugural Joseph and Amelia Borgognoni Lecture in Catholic Theology and Religion in Society on Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in Maxwell Auditorium. Titled “Keeping Catholic in Turbulent Times,” the event is organized and presented by the Department of Religion in The College of Arts and Sciences.

Earlier in the day at 2 p.m., she will discuss “Three Weeks Out: Competing Visions for America” in the Public Events Room (220 Eggers Hall). The lecture is sponsored by the Campbell Public Affairs Institute in the Maxwell School.

Both events, including a reception after the Borgognoni Lecture, are free and open to the public. Paid parking is available in Irving Garage. For more information, call 315-443-3863.

Townsend’s visit is made possible by the Borgognoni Fund, held in the religion department, with additional support from the Campbell Institute and The College’s Religion and Society Program.

“We are honored to present Ms. Townsend, whose work lies at the intersection of faith and politics,” says James Watts, The William P. Tolley Professor in the Humanities and chair of the religion department. “Ms. Townsend’s evening lecture will likely reference her rich political background, her family’s commitment to social justice, and her own journey of faith. Anyone interested in the public humanities or social sciences or both will be intrigued by what she has to say.”

The Borgognoni Lecture is made possible by the late Monsignor Charles L. Borgognoni (a.k.a. Father Charles), longtime Roman Catholic chaplain of the St. Thomas More Campus Ministry. Before his death in 2007, Monsignor Borgognoni established a fund in memory of his parents, Joseph and Amelia, to promote the study of Catholic theology and religion in society at SU.

Charles A. Borgognoni ’75, the monsignor’s nephew, says Townsend’s visit is in keeping with his uncle’s commitment to an “intellectually honest exchange of perspectives on important issues.”

"My uncle was a man of genuine intellect, sincerity, and compassion who touched countless lives as a spiritual mentor, community leader, teacher, and friend,” says Charles, executive director of the Central New York School Boards Association. “The Borgognoni Fund evolved out of his deep reverence for Roman Catholic theology and the Church’s historic perspective on an individual’s responsibility to develop a well-formed conscience. He believed that both elements were vital to addressing religious and societal concerns."

Monsignor Charles Borgognoni
Monsignor Charles Borgognoni
During his 30 years at SU, Monsignor Borgognoni raised more than $1 million for the construction of the John G. Alibrandi Catholic Center, and was chaplain of the men’s football and basketball teams. He also directed local productions of Broadway musicals with the Pompeian Players theater group.

That Monsignor Borgognoni met Robert Kennedy during a 1964 campus visit further underscores SU’s choice of speaker, says Charles.
“It was All Saints Day, and my uncle delayed mass for nearly an hour, so Kennedy could attend,” remembers Charles, adding that the future senator was in town on a campaign stop. “Afterward, he engaged my uncle in a brief, but inquisitive conversation about the Catholic community at SU. After shaking hands to leave, Kennedy--who, like his brothers Joseph and John, was a Navy veteran--turned around and came back to my uncle to thank him for including 'The Navy Hymn' [as a recessional] in the liturgy. My uncle received a follow-up note from the senator, and maintained correspondence with him until his death, four years later."

The Borgognoni Fund relies on the generosity of SU friends and alumni. One such alumna is Judith Pistaki Zelisko ’72, who provided an important leadership gift and has been co-chairing the fundraising effort with Charles. Speaking by phone from her office in Chicago, she recalls Monsignor Borgognoni’s “infectious personality and ability to weave his faith into teachable moments.”

“He had the ability to reach people in a way that wasn’t preachy, but helped shape their moral compass,” says Zelisko, a vice president of the Brunswick Corporation and a member of The College’s Board of Visitors. “During the homily at our wedding, he quoted to my husband, Paul, and me the famous line from ‘The Music Man’—that I’d want a man to be more interested in me than he is in himself, as well as more interested in us than in me. The truth was that Father Charles was more interested in us than he was in himself.”

Zelisko hopes the Borgognoni Lecture will evolve into an annual or biannual event and will encompass a teaching fellowship. “Father Charles was a real inspiration to me. He lived his faith every day,” she adds.

Father Linus DeSantis, SU’s Catholic chaplain, also uses the ‘compass’ metaphor to describe Monsignor Borgognoni: “Whether at prayer, or on the sidelines at a football or basketball game, or on stage for a rehearsal for one of his shows, he had Christian values and ethics [that] were his life’s compass. He was a man of conviction.”

At her afternoon talk, Townsend will set forward and comment on the two polarized visions for the United States embedded in the politics of this year’s presidential election--visions which reflect equally divergent views about religion.  Her remarks will draw in part from her book. 

"It's a thrill for us at Campbell to be hosting a leading political figure from a family that has helped to shape American politics,” says Grant Reeher, professor of political science and director of the Campbell Institute. “I'm looking forward, in particular, to hear her consideration of politics and religion, a complicated blend which seems to figure increasingly in our public discourse.”

The afternoon event is organized by Reeher and by Margaret Susan Thompson, associate professor of history and political science, as well as a senior research associate in the Campbell Institute. Thompson also chairs the faculty steering committee for the Borgognoni Fund, on behalf of the religion department. 

Townsend has a long history of accomplishment in the public and private sectors. From 1995 to 2003, she served as Maryland’s first female lieutenant governor and, before that, was the United States’ assistant attorney general. Presently, she is a director at The Rock Creek Group, which provides investment and advisory services to major investors; the chair of the Institute of Human Virology at The University of Maryland; and a board member of The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, and National Catholic Reporter.
For more information about the Borgognoni Fund, contact Karen Weiss Jones at 315-443-2028 or

Media Contact

Rob Enslin