Ireland House Oral History Collection

John Edward Sexton

John E. Sexton, 2 December 2005. Photo by Marion R. Casey.


2 December 2005

1 hour, 11 minutes, 56 seconds

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

John Edward Sexton (b. 1942) attended primary school at St. Francis De Sales in Belle Harbor, Queens and Brooklyn Preparatory High School. He continued his Jesuit education at Fordham College on a full scholarship and at Fordham University receiving his Master of Arts in Comparative Religion and a Ph. D. in the History of American Religion, encouraged by Rev. Timothy Healey, S.J. Sexton received his Juris Doctorate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

While at Fordham University, Sexton began and coached a debate team at St. Brendan’s Diocesan High School for girls in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, leading them to five national championships between 1960 and 1975. His fifteen years with the St. Brendan’s debaters represent a significant period in his life, for which he was named “Outstanding High School Debate Coach of the Last 50 Years” by Emory University.

Sexton taught religion at St. Francis College in Brooklyn from 1966–1975, where he also was Chair of the Religion Department from 1970. After Harvard, he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals judges David Bazelon and Harold Leventhal from 1979–1980 and for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger from 1980–1981. Then he returned to academics, joining the faculty of New York University’s School of Law in 1981 and becoming its Dean in 1988. He was named the fifteenth President of New York University in 2001. Simultaneously he is Benjamin Butler Professor of Law at NYU, continuing to teach and foster connections with students and fellow faculty. At the time of this interview, Sexton was also Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

German on his maternal side, Sexton personally identifies as Irish and attributes this to his father, also a lawyer named John Edward Sexton (1904–1960), the son of Brooklyn Democratic district leader James J. Sexton (1875–1947), an immigrant from County Sligo, Ireland. James Sexton was appointed President of the New York City Board of Taxes and Assessments in 1929 by Mayor James J. Walker.


Photo Credit:

  1. John E. Sexton, 2 December 2005. Photo by Marion R. Casey.


  1. George Washington Plunkitt (1842–1924)