Our Story

History of LEO

In 2004, the Mendoza College of Business and CCUSA together launched an educational program, From Mission to Service, which provided mission-based leadership training for representatives from the Catholic Charities national network. The successful From Mission to Service program drove CCUSA and the University of Notre Dame to explore what additional ways collaboration could foster their shared mission to serve those in need. 

A natural opportunity presented itself when in 2007, Catholic Charities USA, under the direction of Fr. Larry Snyder, embarked on an ambitious campaign to reduce poverty in America. The National Opportunity and Community Renewal Act (NOCRA), a cornerstone of this campaign, was introduced in Congress in 2010. A transformative piece of anti-poverty legislation, NOCRA, among other things, emphasizes the importance of rigorous research to promote evidence-based programs and policies. 

In the fall of 2012, professors Bill Evans and Jim Sullivan at Notre Dame’s Department of Economics, together with the leadership team from Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), launched the Lab for Economic Opportunities, marking another milestone in the longstanding relationship between the two preeminent Catholic institutions. 

Several years after the launch, LEO received an endowment of $15 million from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, founded by Christopher Wilson (ND '85) and Lorraine Sheehan Wilson (SMC '85). The Wilsons believe that  "The entire philanthropic community will benefit from LEO’s research, and as a result, the world’s poor will be served by more effective services." Dean of the College of Arts & Letters, John McGreevy, voiced a similar opinion saying that "This gift will allow us to establish LEO as a nationwide leader in poverty research. LEO exemplifies the University’s commitment to use research and scholarship to make real changes in the lives of the disadvantaged by improving the effectiveness of the programs that serve them." 

Partners with a Shared Mission

LEO works with social service providers to identify effective and replicable solutions to the overwhelming challenges associated with poverty. Our anchor partner in this endeavor has been Catholic Charities USA, the nation's largest network of private social service providers in the United States. The mission statements of both Catholic Charities USA and the University of Notre Dame embody our shared goal to help those most in need:

“To cultivate… a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many."

— University of Notre Dame’s mission statement

“To provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire church and other people of good will to do the same."

— Catholic Charities USA’s mission statement

With the launch of LEO, the unique strengths of these two institutions – Notre Dame as a prominent research university and Catholic Charities as the largest private provider of services to the poor in America – work together to build programs and policies that help to reduce poverty in America.