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

Fr. Cavanagh in classOn Nov. 8, the University lost one of its most cherished Jesuits, Fr. Gerald “Jerry” F. Cavanagh, S.J. 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 nearly 40 years. In recent times, he inspired others with his afternoon fitness walks around the track, his swinging arms holding hand weights.

Fr. Cavanagh as a young manFr. 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.

Fr. Cavanagh received Detroit Mercy’s first Distinguished Faculty Award, 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 with studentsDuring 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 and alumniIn 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.

To contribute to the betterment of society with a gift to the Cavanagh Fund, please go to, and use the drop-down designation menu to select: Fr. Cavanagh—Ethical Solutions to Social Problems.


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.


  1. Jeanne Turner

    I loved father Kavanaugh. He had a genuine and contagious smile, was kind of laid-back and easy-going and was genuinely concerned with the students and their issues. I came to know him while visiting my uncle Fr. Herman Muller often over the years. He was highly regarded by Fr.Muller.
    May he rest in peace in our Lord’s arms

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay in the know

Subscribe below to receive a weekly update of Detroit Mercy alumni stories!

%d bloggers like this: