Rich Wood USC Official hero

A message from IACS President Richard Wood

Editor’s note: The message below from IACS President Richard Wood, Ph.D., was originally sent as en e-mail to the IACS community. Join by subscribing at:


Friends of IACS,

Here’s a quick story connecting my life’s journey to my new work at the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC:

Years ago, having earned my bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a bit adrift after having my heart broken, I decided to travel abroad. I had been raised in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where my father worked as a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the development of the hydrogen bomb. My mother was trained as an organic chemist. I shared their deep love of science and research but wasn’t sure how I wanted to move forward.

As I considered my future, I yearned to better understand our world, in all its beauty, tragedy and complexity.

Through personal connections, I had learned about the important work being done by the Catholic Church in Latin America, a region gripped by armed conflict, political strife and economic catastrophe.

So I headed south.

I settled in a small community outside Cuernavaca, Mexico, where I taught at a Catholic school. My new home was among displaced farmers and their families living in poverty at the bottom of a deep ravine. That’s where I met Sr. Dolores, an elderly but dynamic Catholic nun with a small frame and big heart. She walked the dusty dirt streets of the neighborhood each morning and afternoon, visiting residents in their tin-roof homes and teaching Catechism classes to children with paper-bound books of the Gospel of Mark. I often joined her, learning from her powerful example of the Catholic Church quietly working to improve the lives of others in a forgotten corner of society — without fanfare or recognition. Through her, I witnessed first-hand the power of faith, collaborative work and acompanamiento, or “accompaniment”: walking together with others in their struggles, illuminated by the light of faith. By walking together, we expand our horizons and come to see others in new ways — and perhaps even see the spirit at work in the world.

By walking together, we expand our horizons and come to see others in new ways — and perhaps even see the spirit at work in the world.

I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career: first as an ethnographic researcher, then as a professor of sociology and university leader — and now as president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC.

I’m honored to join IACS and excited for our bright future.

In a society ever more narrowly secularist, politically intolerant and religiously sectarian, our Institute’s work has never been more essential — both for the Catholic Church and the world she serves. By drawing on an international pool of scholars from diverse disciplines and spiritual traditions, while simultaneously bringing the broad Catholic intellectual tradition to bear in new ways, IACS serves as a platform to build bridges of dialogue, understanding and respect.

IACS serves as a platform to build bridges of dialogue, understanding and respect.

But we can’t fulfill our mission without your help. Contributions to IACS open doors to new horizons of research and discovery, generating the new ideas and insights that change the lives of individuals and communities.

Your support will have a direct, tangible impact on our programs, including Humanizing Networks: Human Fraternity in the Digital Age — a new IACS collaboration with the Vatican under the patronage of Cardinal Peter Turkson that explores the role of the Catholic Church in guiding the social ethics and shaping the laws that regulate the digital technologies that are transforming our society, including artificial intelligence.

As I reflect on my career and start a new adventure at IACS, I’m reminded of Sr. Dolores and the generous people I lived with in Mexico. Their resilience and hope continue to inspire me, and I’ll carry on their legacy of collaborative work on our journey of faith, knowledge and discovery as we help advance the Catholic intellectual tradition in dialogue with others.

I hope you’ll join us and support our important mission with your generosity.

There are a variety of convenient ways to give:

Visit or text IACS to 71777 from your mobile phone.

And please be sure to get the latest news and insights from IACS by following us on social media: @IACSUSC

Warm regards,

Richard L. Wood, Ph.D.
Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC