NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Reverend Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., PhD, MSW
Reverend Bernard J. Coughlin* (1922-2020)

Pioneering Contributions

Reverend Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., PhD, MSW, made multiple and unparalleled contributions in his long and illustrious career as an institution-builder, civic leader, university president, social work administrator and scholar, advocate of human rights, social service and social responsibility, and as an extraordinarily effective ambassador of good will to all sections of the community.

As dean of the School of Social Service at St. Louis University from 1964 to 1974, he recruited top-flight faculty, broadened and modernized the masters curriculum, introduced inter-disciplinary courses, developed the country’s only doctoral program focusing on social development, encouraged the establishment of a joint seminar on international social welfare between Saint Louis University and Washington University, and constructed a brand new building to house the School of Social Service.

Rev. Coughlin was the longest-serving President of Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington (1974-1996) and its first Chancellor. His 22-year tenure as President of Gonzaga University was transformative for that institution. He brought the university from a fiscally precarious existence to one of financial stability. Its indebtedness was erased; both the enrollment and endowment increased; new programs were launched; academic reputation soared; town-gown relations improved; and this Jesuit priest, who had personally taken the vow of poverty, proved to be the biggest fundraiser in the history of the university. He was chosen to serve as Chairman of Spokane Chamber of Commerce from1988-1989, an almost unheard of demonstration of affection and esteem for a social worker by the business community, a testimony to his remarkable gift for transcending boundaries and for building bridges between different segments of society.

Biographic Data

Born in Galveston, Texas, Rev. Coughlin obtained his undergraduate degree from Saint Louis University in 1946, where he also pursued graduate studies in Philosophy and Theology. He earned his Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California in 1959 and received his Doctoral Degree in Social Welfare from Brandeis University. He entered the Society of Jesus (S.J.) in 1942 at the age of 20.

Rev. Coughlin was Chairman, Division of Professional Standards of NASW from 1970-1973. He also was a U.S. Representative to the International Council on Social Welfare in Helsinki, Finland. He served as a Fulbright lecturer in Colombia and as a social work consultant in Guatemala, Peru, and Chile in the 1960s.

Significant Achievements and Awards

Recognized for his multi-sided contributions to society, Rev. Coughlin served on many blue-ribbon commissions and received numerous honors and accolades, including:

  • Anti-Defamation League Distinguished Community Service Award in 1992;
  • Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities by Seattle University in 1994;
  • An award by the Boy Scouts of Inland Northwest Council in 1995; and,
  • Bishop’s Award for Outstanding Service, presented by the Bishop of the Diocese of Spokane in 1996.

Significant Publications

Rev. Coughlin was the author of two important books, Church and State in Social Welfare (Columbia University Press, 1965) and The Soul of a Nation (University Press of America).  He also authored or co-authored more than two dozen scholarly articles on such topics as  “Value Orientation in Social Welfare,” “Toward a Conceptualization of Social Action,”  “Social Change and Social Action,” “Social Change: Strategies in Search of Norms” and various opinion pieces in local newspapers and magazines.  

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.