Detroit Mercy loses beloved Jesuit, Fr. Gerald F. Cavanagh, S.J.

November 10, 2022

On Nov. 8, the University lost one of its most cherished Jesuits, Fr. Gerald “Jerry” F. Cavanagh, S.J., who died at the Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich. He was 91.

Fr. Cavanagh was a welcoming and friendly face on the McNichols Campus for 42 years. He welcomed students, staff and faculty alike with an open ear, a 100-watt smile and a charming and unforgettable laugh. He supported student-athletes from the stands and led backpacking trips out west for students for 40 years. In recent times, he inspired others with his afternoon fitness walks around the track, his swinging arms holding hand weights.

Fr CavanaghFr. Cavanagh was born Sept. 13, 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Gerald Francis and Margaret Mildred (Gilmore) Cavanagh. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in 1953; a Master of Business Administration from St. Louis University in 1958 and his Licentiate in Philosophy at St. Louis University in 1959. In addition, he earned a Master of Education at St. Louis University in 1960; Licentiate in Theology from Loyola University of Chicago in 1965 and a Doctor in Business Administration from Michigan State University in 1970.

After college and before entering the Society, Fr. Cavanagh made landing gear for aircraft. He entered the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus (at the Milford Novitiate) on Sept. 15, 1953 (and became a member of the Detroit Province when it was formed in 1955), was ordained on June 18, 1964 at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, made Tertianship in Dublin, Ireland (1965-1966), and pronounced final vows on May 30, 1976 at St. Ignatius Chapel on the campus of University of Detroit Mercy.

After earning his doctorate, Jerry was a professor of management at Wayne State University in Detroit (1970-79) and held the Dirsken Chair in Business Ethics at University of Santa Clara (1979-80) before he was missioned to University of Detroit Mercy. For more than four decades, Jerry ministered at Detroit Mercy where he was: a professor of business management (1980-88); academic vice-president and provost (1988-95); the holder of the Charles Fisher Chair of Business Ethics (1995-2004); the interim dean of the College of Business Administration (2008-10); and a professor of management (2010-22). He worked at Detroit Mercy until shortly before his death.

Fr. Cavanagh was a devoted Jesuit and priest. He was always optimistic, had a positive outlook and zest for life. He had a great love for University of Detroit Mercy and supported the University completely. He faithfully attended Detroit Mercy theatre and sporting events — especially the basketball games — where he loved supporting students and visiting with alumni. As with most people, Jerry had some idiosyncrasies — including a very distinctive laugh and he often would only button every-other shirt button (to save time) — but was loved and appreciated by all those he encountered.

Fr. Cavanagh received Detroit Mercy’s first Distinguished Faculty Award in 1998, and championed Detroit Mercy’s Jesuit and Mercy mission to the fullest, providing students a transformative education. He was also one of the most caring and welcoming people on campus, offering a helping hand, open door and counsel to thousands of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends who sought him out for advice and friendship. 

His professional life was as extraordinary as his spirit.

According to Joseph Eisenhauer, dean of the College of Business Administration and a close friend, Fr. Cavanagh co-authored the first scholarly article to discuss ethical norms in organizations and went on to chair the Social Issues Division of the Academy of Management and its Task Force on Ethics.

Fr Cavanagh smilingDuring his illustrious career, which spanned more than 50 years, he delivered nearly 100 presentations to audiences around the globe and published five books, more than a dozen separate chapters, some 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, and numerous encyclopedia entries, book reviews and essays. His research has also been cited more than 3,100 times by other scholars throughout the world. 

His classic textbook, American Business Values, is required reading at business schools around the nation today and was included in Harvard’s list of essential business reading. In total, more than 1,500 libraries around the world carry his books. He received honorary doctorates of humane letters from Siena Heights University and Loyola University of Maryland. In 2018, a group of scholars writing in the professional journal Business & Society recognized Fr. Cavanagh as one of the 12 original founders of the field.

Fr. Cavanagh not only influenced students in the classroom. He was a much loved and long-time advisor for Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity at Detroit Mercy. He loved taking groups of students on weeklong backpacking retreats to the national parks at the end of the academic year. He and his long-time colleague Mary Lou Caspers sought out emerging leaders and helped build up a cohort of student leaders over the 40 years they led the retreat.

In 2019, Jerry received the Detroit Mercy College of Business Administration's Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into its Hall of Honor.

In recent weeks, Fr. Cavanagh was asked how the University and College might celebrate his incredible life and career. He asked that Detroit Mercy and the College of Business Administration establish a fund to support research on solutions to society’s most difficult problems. To honor his request, the Cavanagh Fund for Ethical Solutions to Social Problems will support teams of scholars and practitioners in studying and devising solutions to challenges such as global warming, resource depletion, and racial injustice. The Cavanagh Fund will officially launch at a celebration of Fr. Cavanagh’s legendary career on June 3, 2023.

Gilbert Sunghera, S.J., the superior of Detroit Mercy, remembered Fr. Cavanagh this way:

"The thing I will miss most about Jerry was the way he always welcomed me home when I returned from a trip. We lived across the hall from each other, and he always made a point to come over, and with that jovial laugh and winning smile, he would just simply say 'welcome home, we missed you.' In all honesty, he was one of the major reasons I came to back to Detroit Mercy after ordination. Nothing seemed to get him down or depress him, and with that kind of spirit who could lose. I suspect St. Ignatius had to do the same for his companions when they felt burdened. As they say Jerry was a Jesuit’s Jesuit."

Tim Hipskind, S.J., had this to say:

"For many years, Jerry was in charge of getting movies for the Detroit Mercy community on Friday nights. He took his job quite seriously. He would read the New York Times Review to find the best movies. Then he would persuade the Detroit Mercy Library to buy them, so he could get the movies for free. When the library no longer purchased movies, Jerry convinced the community to switch to watching the PBS News Hour, which is still a community practice. He would also go over to the Athletics Department at the beginning of the season and get tickets for the Jesuit community. Early on this was easy, but in recent years he had to do more and more persuading to get the tickets for free. If you are picking up a theme here, Jerry was quite a spend-thrift. Further proof: He used to cut his own hair as well to avoid that cost."

Click here to read an interview with Jerry that was published in the Detroit Catholic.


Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022

2-5 p.m. Visitation, Lansing-Reilly Hall, 4001 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI 48221

6-7 p.m. Visitation (7 p.m. Wake Service), Gesu Parish, 17180 Oak Dr., Detroit, MI 48221

Mass of Christian Burial

Friday, Nov. 18, 2022

9-10 a.m. Visitation, 10 a.m. Mass, Gesu Parish, 17180 Oak Dr., Detroit, MI 48221

Lunch reception following the funeral mass at Lansing-Reilly Hall.


Nov. 18, 2022

2 p.m. Jesuit Cemetery, Colombiere Center, 9075 Big Lake Road, Clarkston, MI 48346

Both the Wake and the Mass of Christian Burial can be viewed via LiveStream.

Ample parking for all services at Gesu is available at University of Detroit Mercy.


Detroit Jesuit Community, c/o Gilbert Sunghera, S.J., Lansing-Reilly Hall, 4001 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI 48221,


If you would like to share a short remembrance of Fr. Cavanagh with the Detroit Mercy community, please email Please be sure to include Fr. Cavanagh in the subject line. It may appear on this page in the near future.

"Fr. Jerry was one of the greats in the field of business ethics and a fantastic Jesuit and role model. I came to know him well during my undergraduate days and would always catch up (with him) at University events and basketball games. I'll always miss his positivity and infectious laugh." — Bob Sadler '88

"Fr. Cavanagh and Mary Lou Caspers invited a few staff people along on their annual backpacking trip to Shenandoah. It was a great trip. We celebrated a very informal mass each day in the woods. We trekked up and down hills, took in the views, laughed a lot and we referred to our group for years afterwards as the Shenandoah Shufflers. When Jerry and I spoke this past summer, we warmly reminisced about that trip 30-plus years ago. RIP Jerry." — Jeffrey McDowell, Director of the Office of Residence Life, 1989-99

"Though I never had any classes with Fr. Cavanagh, I was no stranger to his positive presence across campus. I remember having many conversations with him and Sr. Beth about cura personalis and kindness in the world. Fr. Cavanagh was a brilliant person with a sharp mind and quicker wit. His infectious laugh spread like wildfire at every event he attended and I feel like my life was enhanced by just knowing him. He survives by the sharing of our many memories, our ability to forgive one another, and the reminder to always find the joy in our days." — Timmy Nelson '11

"In 1970, Fr. Jerry, my friend of 52 years, joined the Business School faculty at Wayne State University. Without his development and teaching of Business and Society courses at the undergraduate and MBA levels, the School would not have attained national (AACSB) accreditation. Fr. Cavanagh served as Chair of the Department of Management from 1976-79. He was a very effective leader, who made many significant contributions to our teaching, research, and service missions during his time at Wayne State." — John Maurer, former dean, School of Business, Wayne State University

"Jerry Cavanagh was one of the founders and stalwarts of the Social Issues in Management Division of the Academy of Management — a pioneer in business ethics and management, especially with his pathbreaking and prescient book, American Business Values. But he was far more than just an innovative scholar. I first met Jerry at the Academy of Management in the early 1980s and Jerry turned up at Boston College as the (University-wide) Gasson Professor for a year, raising important issues for the school about incorporating ethics and social issues into our curriculum. His contributions to the field — and courage in speaking out about the importance of ethics and values in management education — will be greatly missed, along with that smile and infectious laugh." — Sandra Waddock, professor of management, Boston College

"Fr. Jerry was an incandescent light shining brightly on issues of importance — the centrality of ethics in the conduct of business. Having met him decades ago at business ethics conference, Fr. Cavanagh would thoughtfully reflect upon everyone's point of view. His cheerful humility combined with his pragmatic and passionate spirit brought to life the prevalence of ethical reasoning in all decisions — large and small. He will be missed." — Jennifer Griffin, chair in business ethics, School of Business, Loyola University Chicago

"Fr. Cavanagh was one of the most influential teachers I ever had. He taught a business ethics course that I was fortunate enough to have taken during my MBA studies at U-D. I still remember those class lessons — and to this day, I don’t make purchases from certain corporations based on the cases we studied. He was such a great human!" — Denise Vecellio '85

"I was part of his backpacking leadership retreat in 1979 with Sr. Marg Betz. Jerry was a very, very special person — one of the greats, but very humble at the same time. Jerry gave my boyfriend Mike the sacrament of first Eucharist at a retreat two weeks before our wedding, which he performed in 1980. At the picnic reception afterward, he gave me his yellow sneakers to wear because my feet were killing me in white pumps, and he happily walked around barefoot in the park for the rest of the afternoon. I will never forget his caring, his dedication to his students, his smile, his down-to-earth attitude, his scholarship, his compassion. He will be greatly missed." — Rose Callahan

Fr. Cavanagh at shenendoah
Fr. Cavanagh with tommy
Fr. Cavanagh teaching a class
Fr. Cavanagh with students in cba
Fr. Cavanagh outside with students
Five people stand outdoors posing for a photo.
Fr. Cavanagh instructing a student at left and posing for a photo on the right.
Two people stand inside of the McNichols Campus Library.
Three people standing and looking at the camera indoors.