News Release

May 2012

The CFRC's Judge Kathleen Kearney Receives William D. Reynolds Award from Notre Dame

Established in 1985, the William D. Reynolds Award is conferred on a University of Notre Dame alumnus/ alumna (living or deceased) doing exceptional work with youth for the betterment of quality of life. With this award, Judge Kathleen A. Kearney '77 S.M.C., '80 J.D. is honored for three decades of work on behalf of abused and neglected children.

Judge Kearney graduated from Saint Mary's College in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science and was awarded a certificare in Soviet arid East European Studies from Notre Dame that same year. She served as a resident assistant and assistant rector in Farley Hall while attending Notre Dame Law School. Her interest in the field of child welfare was sparked while working as the director of the Notre Dame Legal Aid and Defender Association.

She took an unpaid internship to live and work in a shelter for abused children sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in Rochester, N.Y., following her second year of law school. The experience led to a life dedicated to protecting vulnerable children and youth.

Following graduation, she began her legal career as staff attorney for a child advocacy organization until joining the State Attorney's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor in 1981. She was appointed to the bench in 1988 and served as a juvenile court judge for more than a decade. During her tenure, she chaired Florida's Dependency Court Improvement Program, served on the faculty of both the Florida Judicial College and the College of Advanced Judicial Studies, and led the state's first judicial mentoring program.

Former governor Jeb Bush appointed her as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 1998. She was the first woman and judge to be appointed to serve in this capacity.

Following her tenure at DCF, she joined the faculty of Florida State University's College of Social Work, where she taught and advised doctoral and master's students in social welfare policy and administration. She was awarded the College of Social Work's "Professor of the Year" award each year she was there. In 2007, Judge Kearney joined the Children and Family Research Center of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is appointed as a clinical professor and senior researcher. Judge Kearney is the proud aunt of 14 nieces and nephews. She serves on the boards of the American Association of Children's Residential Centers and Capital City Youth Services, is a past recipient of the Notre Dame Club of Fort Lauderdale Alumni of the Year Award, and has been a member of the Law Advisory Council for the Notre Dame Law School since her appointment in 1989.

Judge Kearney offers these words of thanks:

"I am so honored to be receiving this award from the Alumni Association. I firmly believe that 'God puts you where you need to be,' and that He led me to the Notre Dame-Saint Mary's community for a reason. It was here that my passion for social justice was sparked. The friends I made here remain a constant and supportive presence in my life to this day. I am particularly honored to be this year's recipient because of my deep love and devotion to the late Sister Jean Lenz, O.S.F., '67 M.A., who received this award in 1991. Her impact on thousands of young men and women was profound and deep. It is in her memory that I gratefully accept this award in honor of all alumni who work on behalf of abused and neglected children and youth."

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