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Outstanding Leadership & Fidelity

Note: This is the 31st 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 Julie DiBiasio

When Notre Dame Trustee Fred Clarke asked M. Joan McCarthy to join the College’s board in 2001, it was an easy sell. McCarthy, who had been taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame in high school and briefly joined the order after graduating, did not hesitate to serve because all her life she has been grateful for the education she received from the Sisters.

“I didn’t hesitate. ‘Yes’ was the obvious answer,” McCarthy says. “I felt like it was God tapping me on the shoulder. Or, as the Sisters would say, it was providence.”

Throughout her years as a trustee, four of which she served as chair of the board, McCarthy has demonstrated outstanding leadership and service to Notre Dame College. During that time, she has been instrumental in many of the significant milestones in Notre Dame’s recent history.

Among other things, McCarthy participated in the committee that selected Dr. Andrew P. Roth as the College’s 13th president, a process that she says was a source of great bonding for the board.

“To be quite honest, I picked Dr. Roth out of the résumés and I never changed my mind,” McCarthy says. “Everyone on the board felt very strongly about that [selection] process. I’m happy to say it worked out to be a great decision. Dr. Roth is a phenomenal president to work with.”

Joan McCarthy
Joan McCarthy served as chair of Notre Dame's board of trustees for four years.

McCarthy’s leadership also helped the College to build residence halls, buy land, build a parking lot, and acquire the former Regina High School building. As chair of the board, she quietly sought support for the fundraising campaign to renew the College’s Christ the King Chapel, and was the person who secured the major gift that made the campaign a success.

McCarthy’s love for the College is apparent. She strives to make Notre Dame a better place because she believes in the students, faculty and staff. She says it’s the exciting environment, progress and success of the College that keeps her involved.

“It’s so rewarding to see the progress and live the Notre Dame College success story,” she says. “It’s especially rewarding to see how the College is growing not only in quantity but in quality as well.”

McCarthy’s contributions to Notre Dame have not gone unnoticed. On Sept. 20, she became the 27th person to be awarded the Fidelia Award, one of the College’s highest honors. Sixty of her closest friends, relatives and colleagues gathered in the College’s Great Room for a dinner in her honor. 

“Receiving the Fidelia Award is a great honor,” McCarthy says. “I’m very emotional about it. I just don’t think I’ve done anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in the position I was in. It’s a thrill for me, and I was absolutely shocked and dumbfounded when Dr. Roth called me. I was speechless.”

A lifelong Clevelander and the oldest of seven children, McCarthy was raised in St. Coleman’s Parish. She attended St. Stephen’s High School and then Notre Dame. She later transferred to the OSU satellite campus in Lakewood, which then was incorporated into what is now Cleveland State University, where she majored in accounting. She then embarked on a successful management career.

From 1963 to 1987, McCarthy worked in various capacities for Neale Phypers Corporation, an insurance agency with offices in Ohio and Florida. She was the assistant to the president and served as a customer service representative and a property and casualty agent managing the agency’s premium finance and auto finance subsidiary.

McCarthy began to work in association management in 1983, when she took a part-time job managing the local chapter of the Harvard Business School Club. She quickly realized she enjoyed the challenge and environment of the association management industry.

By 1987, the Princeton Club and the Association for Corporate Growth had also hired McCarthy. So she decided to found MJM Services, which provides association management services to alumni groups and professional organizations statewide, nationally and internationally.

In 2010, McCarthy received the President’s Award for Excellence and Achievement by an ACG Chapter Executive from the Association for Corporate Growth Cleveland, for which has served as secretary. She has also served on the board of Fairview Park Junior Women’s Club and the Golden Age Centers of Greater Cleveland.

Among McCarthy’s most fulfilling volunteer work are her 11 years on Notre Dame’s board. In a 2005 interview, she explained why: “The foundation that I received in high school from the Sisters of Notre Dame is something that I have been very grateful for all of my life. It is wonderful to be able to work in an environment that provides the same opportunity to others.”

Julie DiBiasio is the college communications assistant at Notre Dame College.