2023 COMMENCEMENT SERIES | Following in their fathers’ footsteps

Fifth Joseph E. Tierney to graduate from Marquette on Saturday,
spanning 112 years  

When Joseph E. Tierney V moves his Marquette University tassel from the left side of his graduation cap to the right on May 20, the moment will mark the culmination of a 112-year journey. He will become the fifth consecutive Joseph E. Tierney from his family to receive his degree from Marquette. The first, Joseph E. Tierney, Sr., graduated from Marquette’s first-ever Law School class in 1911.

“I’m definitely nostalgic,” Tierney V says. “I think it’s cool. This milestone connects me to so many familial relationships. I’d like to continue this tradition into the future, and I’m really proud of my family and grateful for all that they have done for me.”

The oldest of six kids from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, the fifth Joseph will graduate with honors, completing a Business degree, majoring in economics.

The most remarkable thing about this five-generation story?

It almost never happened.

The first Joseph to cross the stage was one of five kids born to Irish immigrants. Tragically, both parents died when he was a teenager. His oldest sister became the leader, deciding to keep the family together. The trajectory of Joseph’s life changed when a group of Jesuit priests visited their hometown of Menomonee, Michigan.

Mary Alice Tierney Dunn, the granddaughter of the first Joseph and the great aunt of the fifth Joseph, explains.

“The story could have ended there, but it was just starting,” she says. “Our great grandparents immigrated so that their children could have a better life, and the value of education was so important to them. They created this opportunity for so many of us in our family. We are incredibly grateful to the Jesuits and to Marquette.”

The visiting Jesuits were looking to educate immigrant children at Marquette Academy — the high school at the time — which was connected to the university. While Joseph had completed high school, the Jesuits welcomed him to the university. He came to Milwaukee alone, grateful to the Jesuits for giving him the education his family could never afford.

The rest is literally history.

After graduating, the first Joseph fell in love and married the younger sister of two Law School classmates. He married Alice Jennings in 1915 in the Church of the Gesu and a love story launched. The next three Josephs followed suit, falling in love at Marquette on their way to the altar.

Transcending the test of time
Many of the buildings and even the original location of Marquette University has changed, but as he approaches graduation, the fifth Joseph points to Marquette’s faith and connection to the city as elements that have remained constant.

“For my family, our Catholic faith has always been important to us,” he says. “Marquette both deliberately and accidentally helped facilitate a rediscovery of my faith. The university helped me to grow through developing my intellect and disposition as opposed to faith being a social expectation. My professors helped me to observe my peers and to connect with people on a much deeper level. They helped me to develop my intuition.”

Joseph Tierney, Sr. (middle, far left), graduated as part of Marquette University’s first-ever Law School class of 1911. Photo courtesy of Marquette Special Collections and University Archives.

Flashback more than a century ago, and the first Joseph also leaned on his faith while an undergraduate student. After graduating, he became a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Holy Name Society of his parish, St. Matthias, and St. Jude’s League. He later spent his career giving back by serving in civic roles as the West Allis city attorney and the West Milwaukee village attorney. He thrived as a lawyer in his roles as Circuit Court commissioner and the chief prosecutor for the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.

“Marquette prides itself on being right in the heart of the city, connecting with the needs of the people of Milwaukee,” Mary Alice Tierney Dunn says. “Those needs have changed with each generation, but what stayed the same was Marquette’s presence and commitment to improving the city. Marquette creates men and women for others who serve and give back and that is exactly how we were raised.”

The family’s connections to Marquette run deep to this day. A 1972 Speech alumna, Tierney Dunn has lived out her faith through service as the former chair of the Marquette University Women’s Council, a member of the Marquette Institute for Women’s Leadership Board and as a Legacy Society member.

Bernice Tierney, Mary Alice’s mother, was among a small group of alumnae who created the Marquette University Alumnae Association in 1938 after graduating in 1937. She later established a Law School scholarship in honor of her husband, the second Joseph — Joseph Tierney, Jr. Joseph Tierney III and Mary Alice continue to support the scholarship in their father’s honor. Tierney Jr. also played an important role in starting Marquette’s prestigious Sports Law Institute of which Joseph Tierney III currently teaches a course.

A path that comes full circle
The fifth Joseph Tierney — “You can just call me Joe,” he says — is one of more than 3,000 Marquette students who will graduate at the Fiserv Forum. His quick sense of humor and desire to carry on his family’s tradition are helping to prepare him for his future.

“Our family history gives me some direction to call upon,” he says. “In those tough moments, I can look inward and think, ‘Lord knows, all these guys before me grinded it out and have gone on to do great things.’ I hope that I can also achieve great things in life.”

This story — the one that almost didn’t happen — is now poised to add additional chapters.

“This is a story about legacy. A legacy of love and gratitude, a legacy of integrity and service,” Tierney Dunn says. “It is truly a Marquette story.”

So, as we look ahead, what’s next for Joe?

The answer is easy. The first Joseph, Joe’s great, great grandfather, would be proud.

Joe is headed to the other side of campus.

To Marquette University Law School.

Where the entire story began.

Following in their fathers’ footsteps is the latest piece in Marquette Today’s Commencement Series. Read more stories of how our graduates are setting off to Be The Difference beyond campus: