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Biden inauguration priest resigns as president of Jesuit university

The Rev. Kevin O’Brien’s resignation comes about two months after he was placed on leave while he was under investigation for unspecified allegations.

The Rev. Kevin O’Brien speaks in a video for Santa Clara University in 2019. Video screengrab

(RNS) — The Rev. Kevin O’Brien, a Jesuit priest who presided over an inaugural Mass for President Joe Biden, has resigned as president of Santa Clara University in Northern California after university officials said he engaged in behaviors “inconsistent” with Jesuit protocols.

O’Brien’s resignation comes about two months after the Jesuits USA West Province placed him on leave in March when an investigation of unspecified allegations involving O’Brien was announced.

In a letter Wednesday (May 12), John M. Sobrato, who chairs the university’s board of trustees, said the investigation found O’Brien “engaged in behaviors, consisting primarily of conversations, during a series of informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students that were inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”

Alcohol was involved and “no inappropriate behavior was found in any settings outside of these dinners,” Sobrato said in the letter.

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Sobrato said O’Brien, who had been named president of the university just two years ago, was directed to “remain on leave and to enroll in a four- to six-month therapeutic outpatient program, which he has now begun, to address related personal issues, including alcohol and stress counseling.”

However, O’Brien submitted his resignation and the board of trustees accepted it on Monday, according to Sobrato’s letter.

Acting President Lisa Kloppenberg will continue to serve in the role as the trustees conduct a search for the next president, Sobrato said in the letter.

The Mercury News published O’Brien’s resignation letter, in which he detailed the outpatient treatment program he is undertaking. O’Brien said Jesuit Provincial Scott Santarosa advised him to enter a therapeutic program “to address related personal issues, including my use of alcohol and stress management.”

The program is expected to take him four to six months, he said in the letter, adding that it’s a treatment “many Jesuits over the years have found helpful in living a full, healthy life of service.”

“My extended absence from campus during these challenging times does not serve the university well. After much prayer and thought and out of deep love for Santa Clara, I have concluded that the best service I can offer to our beloved university is to step aside now,” O’Brien said in the letter.

O’Brien included in the letter that he expects to return to active ministry as a Jesuit priest after completing the program, but he said, “it will not be at Santa Clara as president — a statement which is very hard for me to write.”

O’Brien has been friends with the Biden family for nearly 15 years, dating back to his service at Georgetown University, according to the Jesuits.

He gave the service at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in January for Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, their families and elected officials before the inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. 

“We have much to look forward to as a country because of your and Kamala Harris’ leadership. Every day, you will strive to heal our nation’s wounds and reconcile differences and bring us together. You know too well the challenges ahead and the cost of service,” O’Brien said in his homily.

O’Brien joined the Society of Jesus in 1996, according to the university, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006.

Located in Silicon Valley, the university has an annual undergraduate enrollment of about 5,500 students. The private university, a Jesuit institution, counts California Govs. Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown among its alumni.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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