- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — John Garvey, the dean of Boston College Law School, was named president of Catholic University of America on Tuesday in a leadership shift from a priest to a lay person.

Mr. Garvey, 61, replaces David M. O’Connell who led the school for the past 12 years and was recently tapped as bishop-elect of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.

Mr. Garvey was the law dean at Boston College for more than a decade and said he didn’t leave easily.

“I can think of no other job I would have left BC for,” he said in announcing his new post. “But I have been committed for much of my life to advancing the cause of Catholic higher education, and there is no better place to do that than at The Catholic University of America.”

Mr. Garvey will be the university’s third lay president. The school is the national university of the Roman Catholic Church, and the appointment of its leader requires approval from the Vatican.

Under Mr. O’Connell, Catholic has been focused on renewing the spiritual identity of the Washington campus. Pope Benedict XVI visited the school in 2008.

Before joining Boston College, Mr. Garvey was an assistant to the solicitor general in President Ronald Reagan’s administration and was a law professor at Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky.

Mr. Garvey graduated from Harvard Law School in 1974. He clerked for federal appeals judge Irving R. Kaufman, who presided over the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and imposed their death sentences.

Mr. Garvey’s writings have touched some of the Catholic church’s most divisive issues. In a 2003 law review piece, he wrote that the church had “no credibility” in policing priest’s sexual misconduct. Earlier in a 1996 book, he wrote that freedom of choice had been “exploited to good political effect” by the abortion rights movement.

Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron led a nine-month search as chair of Catholic University’s board of trustees, considering more than 200 people for the job. He said Mr. Garvey brings wisdom about the church’s place in contemporary society.

Mr. Garvey starts work in July for an undisclosed salary.