Interview: Dean Dave Link– My Wife Barbara was the Architect of my Success

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Secretum Meum Mihi Press


by Kristen West McGuire

(Rev. Dave Link served as the dean of the Notre Dame Law School, and as a university president at a number of schools, including the first Catholic colleges in Australia and South Africa. In this poignant interview, he attributes his worldly successes to his wife, Barbara, who died of ovarian cancer in 2003. He was ordained as a priest in 2007 and served as a prison chaplain, and died in 2021. This interview was conducted in 2007.)

Kristen: How did you and your wife meet?

Dave: We met in high school. She played the Blessed Virgin in our school pageant. She was an incredible woman. She had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, right from the start. People say to me, “Oh, the woman behind the man!” But, no, she was the leader. She changed me, but I didn’t change a thing about her, thank God!

Kristen: Did Barbara ever think of pursuing a career herself?

Dave: She could have been anything she wanted to be. She was so capable! In college, she finished up summa cum laude to my magna cum laude. And she was an outstanding writer.

She was very introverted, and extremely well organized. Most of all, she wanted to be a loving wife and grandmother. She knew that it mattered that she sacrificed for her husband. I suppose there is a generational difference in that.

Kristen: How did Barbara participate in your work?

Dave: She never nagged, but she had a little way of inspiring, just in daily conversation. Somehow she knew the things that had to be talked about…like she was in cahoots with the Holy Spirit. She could see how things might work, problem solve with me.

When I went to Australia to start the first Catholic university, the lead donor had promised us $40 million. He lost all of his fortune in six months and couldn’t give us anything. Barbara said, “This is probably the best thing that ever happened. If he had donated that much, it would be his university.” And she was right. We had to fund raise, one donor at a time. Now there are thousands of people who gave $5! It was a great success not because of me, but because of us.

Kristen: Now, come on, Dave! You’ve got many talents too! Are all your successes centered on your wife’s merits? That seems a little far-fetched. Didn’t you two ever disagree on something?

Dave: Oh, sure we did! We had lots of vision clashes! But the amazing thing is that there was never any suggestion of hers that failed. Sometimes, I thought, “I’m just going to do this and show her that this isn’t going to work.” And then it would work!

When the major donor in Australia defaulted and we were scraping for every penny, Barbara insisted that we start a Center for Social Concerns. That first million went to the heart of what it means to be a Catholic university. We also started a satellite campus in the northern part of Australia, in aboriginal territory. People said, “You’ll never get them to graduate!” Well, the first graduation included 75 aboriginal grads!

Another time, she pointed out that the board of trustees consisted of all white males. And I said to the archbishop,” I don’t mind scrambling for money, but if the board isn’t diversified, then I’m outta’ here.” We all need the courage to do what needs to be done. Barbara had vision and pushed me to hew to that vision.

Kristen: This is a very inspiring. How have you coped in the years after her death?

Dave: Barb showed love by personal example—she taught me about caring for other people. On her deathbed, she said, “When I die, who’s going to take care of Martha?” Martha was an old woman she helped through the St. Stephen ministry at our parish. She’s what you want to think a saint is, a perfect role model. And I miss her, but I’m not sorry. She still helps me.

Kristen: You are studying for the priesthood to serve as a prison chaplain?

Dave: It was her idea for me to become a prison minister. I pointed out to her that I had spent my life putting those people behind bars. And all she said was, “Well, then your skills are needed.”

The guys are really something. One of them told me, “Dave, you’re the reason I became a Catholic.” If you can do that even once, it’s worth it. These guys are pretty tough, and you hope you have an influence.

Barbara still participates in all I do. I told a friend, “The Church doesn’t know it, but they’re about to ordain a woman.”

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