As chief of staff for Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Ann Firth acts as Father Jenkins’ adviser and manages his schedule as well as the staff and operations of the Office of the President; serves as liaison to the University’s Board of Trustees; is a member of the President’s Leadership Council and coordinates the work of that group on behalf of Father Jenkins; works with the Budget Working Group and the Faculty Board on Athletics; and serves as vice chair for the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
Growing up in Elgin, Illinois (where, coincidentally, she attended St. Edward High School with John Sejdinaj, the University’s vice president for finance) Firth imagined she might one day become a teacher.
Fluent in German, she’s one of three children born to German immigrant parents who were very patriotic and proud of their U.S. citizenship, but also very proud of their German heritage. “I was the child in third grade in a dirndl and braids,” Firth says.
She completed her undergraduate education at Notre Dame (with majors in political science and German), followed by Notre Dame Law School, where she met her husband, John. “I married a wonderful man I met in law school, and I’m glad to say, we’re still happily married 30 years later,” she says.
Firth practiced law in Chicago but knew she didn’t want to make a career of it — to the dismay of some of her classmates and professors.
She came back to Notre Dame in 1985 as the inaugural director of the Office of Residence Life (now Office of Community Standards) and was the University’s primary student conduct officer for seven years.
Over the next 20 years, Firth held a variety of roles in student life culminating with the position of associate vice president for student affairs, and says that she cherishes those years “working alongside terrific colleagues on the faculty and in student affairs in service of the best students anywhere.”
She joined the Office of the President in 2011 as associate vice president and counselor to the president, and was appointed to the chief of staff position in 2012.
Of her current position, Firth says, “I’m very blessed to be able to work with Father John. In addition to being a wise and dedicated leader, he’s a kind and compassionate person of great integrity and humility. He also happens to have a great sense of humor, which is so important in life. I’m inspired by his vision for Notre Dame as well as his personal example. This is an incredibly exciting time in the University’s history. “
In her free time, she enjoys travel, entertaining, exercise and reading fiction—she’s currently reading “All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr’s New York Times best-seller about a blind French girl and a German boy “whose paths collide in occupied France as they try to survive the devastation of World War II.”
Firth enjoys experimenting with cooking, and—despite her German heritage—is known for her marinara sauce.
She and husband John are the parents of five children—three Notre Dame grads (John, a Ph.D. student in economics at MIT; Molly, a risk management consultant in Boston; and Kate, who works in investment banking on Wall Street); Jim, a current student; and Clare, who’s in high school. When they’re all at home for the holidays, Firth says, “There’s a lot of joyful noise.”
Although she doesn’t spend her days in the classroom, Firth observes, “My sense when I was very young that teaching might be my vocation has, I think, been borne out, but in a different way than I imagined. I’ve been privileged throughout my career to be part of helping students develop their gifts and talents, and at the core, I see myself as an educator.
“I learn so much from the people I work with and the people I meet,” Firth says. “I wake up every day and feel blessed to come to work.”
Father Jenkins adds, “I am daily reminded that what I accomplish is due to the talent and dedication of people with whom I work, and Ann Firth is high on that list. She is a consummate professional, a highly intelligent person with astute judgment, and someone whose life reflects the values of Notre Dame. It is a joy and privilege to have her as a colleague and friend.”
This story was originally published in NDWorks.