Note: This is the 47th profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.
By Christian Taske ’07
Notre Dame College’s Fidelia Award depicts Mary with her left hand over her heart and her right hand extended, symbolizing both reflection and service. Its 2002 recipient, James Sennett, was an exemplar of those attributes.
For over 40 years, Sennett had an extraordinary influence on the College as a board member and generous donor. Known for his reflective approach to decision-making, he helped Notre Dame navigate through major changes including construction projects, the addition of academic programs and its decision to accept men.
Born on July 23, 1925, Sennett joined the Air Force after graduating from Cathedral Latin High School in 1943. During World War II he served in the Pacific and participated in the air offensive over Japan as a B-29 navigator with the 315th Bomb Wing.
Sennett enrolled at John Carroll University after the war and graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1950. Four years later he earned his law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. After law school he worked for a federal judge and the U.S. attorney’s office before joining the Jones Day law firm in 1960. He became partner only five years later and retired in 1990.
Sennett’s first wife, Kathleen, died in 1993. The couple of 43 years had five children. Sennett remarried in 1995. With his second wife, Helen Moran, he had six stepchildren. His large family also included six grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Many of Sennett’s family members were in attendance when he accepted the Fidelia Award, one of the College’s highest honors, in 2002. Sennett received the award for more than 40 years of service on Notre Dame’s board of trustees. He had joined the board in 1962 when it was still an advisory board and over the decades became an influential member.
Sennett was elected first vice president of the board in 1964 and served on about every committee. He offered legal and financial advice for the construction of the Administration Building’s west wing and the Keller Center, the establishment of the Weekend College in 1978, and the transition to a coeducational college in 2001.
Sennett also authored the original bylaws and constitution before the advisory board transitioned into a board of trustees in 1990. He collaborated with the board chair, the College president and the Sisters of Notre Dame to ensure these documents were consistent with their mission and ensured stability. He became an honorary life member of the board in 2001.
Sennett was committed to providing students with financial opportunities to attend college. As chairman of the Bequests, Grants and Endowment Scholarship Program he raised nearly $500,000. In 1969 he urged every member of the board and the administration to write letters to the State of Ohio in support of Bill 196. The bill passed a few years later and created the Ohio Choice Grant, a vital ingredient in the financial aid packages of many NDC students.
Sennett was a dedicated civic leader who gave his time and wisdom not only to Notre Dame College. He served on several task forces and was a member of the American Bar Association, the Cleveland Bar Association and the 6th Circuit Judicial Conference.
Notre Dame College, however, was particularly important to him. With his wife Helen he made a major gift to the College to establish a charitable annuity. After he died on March 31, 2005, his family asked for donations to be made in his name to the Notre Dame College Scholarship Fund.
Sennett is a member of the College’s Marian Legacy Society, which recognizes those who are committed to providing future generations with a values-based education at Notre Dame. During his lifetime everything he did for NDC ultimately served that purpose.