Honoring exemplary alumni

2022 School of Law awards honor Laura Caldwell, Josie Gough, Brian R. McKillip, and Katie Vannucci

In a school known for turning out graduates who pay it forward, these individuals stand out as particularly strong symbols of service. Here are the recipients of the 2022 Loyola University Chicago School of Law alumni awards, which will be presented at the Reunion and Alumni Awards Dinner on Saturday, October 1.



The Francis J. Rooney/St. Thomas More Award recognizes continuous, outstanding loyalty and dedicated service to the School of Law.

It can almost be said that Laura Caldwell lived several lives in her 52 years: author, lawyer, professor, and founding director of the School of Law’s Life After Innocence program. Caldwell passed away in 2020 following a yearslong battle with breast cancer.

“Laura was able to make every idea she had for her life a reality, and she was successful and made an impact with all of them,” says Christine Smith, Caldwell’s sister. “She was very content with her life and very grateful.”

“All her life, she was just being herself, doing what she wanted to do.”

After earning her law degree in 1992, Caldwell became a trial lawyer specializing in medical malpractice, insurance defense, and entertainment law. She joined the School of Law faculty in 2001. The following year, she published her first novel, Burning the Map, which became a New York Times bestseller. She went on to write 13 more novels, which were published in more than 20 countries and translated into more than a dozen languages.

Caldwell suspended her legal practice as she became busier with writing and teaching. That changed in 2005 when she learned about the criminal case of Jovan Mosley, a man who had been charged with murder and was sitting in a Cook County jail cell for more than five years awaiting trial. Caldwell joined her friend and criminal defense attorney Catharine O’Daniel to defend him, and together, they helped Mosley walk free with a not-guilty verdict.

The experience became the basis of Caldwell’s first nonfiction book, Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. It highlighted the fact that, while many support services existed to help convicted offenders after their release, most states provided no such programs for the wrongly accused.

In 2009, Caldwell established the School of Law’s Life After Innocence program, a nonprofit initiative that helped exonerees to begin their lives again and reclaim their rights as citizens.

Perhaps her fellow attorney and bestselling author Scott Turow said it best to the Chicago Tribune for its obituary of Caldwell: “[Laura] was such a spirited fighter of the things that deserve to be fought.” Take as evidence that, in 2017, she and attorney-author friend Leslie

Klinger compiled the anthology Anatomy of Innocence. Caldwell and Klinger matched prominent mystery and thriller writers, including Sara Paretsky and Lee Child, with recent exonerees to write their stories in compelling detail. Book sales served as a fundraiser for the Life After Innocence program.

“Laura was . . . a gifted author, a dedicated teacher, an exceptional attorney, a devoted public servant, a loyal alum, a fierce advocate for justice, a beloved colleague, a warm friend, and a wonderful human being,” said the School of Law’s then-dean Michael Kaufman at the time of Caldwell’s death. “She was, and always will be, a vital part of the fabric of our Loyola law school community.”

When Smith reflects on her sister’s life, she emphasizes Caldwell’s authenticity.

“I think Laura would be wickedly excited about this award, and probably a little [disbelieving],” says Smith. “All her life, she was just being herself, doing what she wanted to do. She would never expect to be honored for that.”

JOSIE GOUGH (BA ’74, MEd ’78, JD ’84)


The Medal of Excellence honors a member of the School of Law community who exhibits the qualities of character, intellect, and social and professional responsibility that the School of Law fosters.

Josie Gough is a nominator, not a nominee.

That was Gough’s first thought when she learned she had been selected to receive the School of Law’s 2022 Medal of Excellence.

“I had to read the email several times,” she says. “I’ve nominated other faithful alumni, but never thought of myself as someone to be encouraged in this way.”

Her word choice is deliberate. Gough sees the award less as a reflection of past contributions and more as a form of encouragement “to still be of service and to do more,” she says.

Indeed, though Gough retired from the School of Law in December 2021 after 10 years on the faculty, she will return in the fall to co-teach a course on diversity and inclusion that she helped launch last fall. She will also serve on the Dean’s Diversity Council.

“I’m like that bad penny that keeps turning up,” she jokes.

As the school’s first assistant dean for inclusion, diversity, and equity and also a Curt and Linda Rodin Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Social Justice, Gough launched a number of initiatives designed to ensure that all law students feel they have a place and a voice at Loyola, including the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Awards and Fellowship Program; lunch-and-learn workshops; and first-generation programs.

She also helped to establish the Professional Identity Formation course, which has received national recognition for its approach to addressing systemic racism and inequities within the legal profession.

As for her notion that she’s not awardee material, innumerable people would disagree, to say nothing of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and many other organizations that have recognized her with honors.

“Josie has dedicated herself through countless hours, no matter the time of day, to support our students and alumni,” writes Jeffrey Hammer (JD ’06) in his nomination of Gough. “Josie’s touch and words of encouragement were just the thing that many of us needed to make it through times of monumental change and challenge.”

“Our students know that we have chosen them, and they have chosen us—and I think we’re very lucky when they do.”

Even now, after returning to private practice in May, Gough continues to meet with students one-on-one, to write recommendations and help them make connections for job opportunities.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call or text from a current student, former student, or prospective student,” she says. “That gives me joy.”

That connectedness is at the heart of Gough’s excellence. When she joined the law school as its first director of experiential learning and professional development, her strong relationships in the legal community empowered her to enrich the school’s externships, adding new corporate opportunities and creating the D.C. Externship Program.

Gough says she was inspired by her own mentor from her time as a student: Norman Amaker, renowned civil rights attorney and Loyola law professor from 1976 to 2000.

“He told me he would not let me fail, but he was really saying, ‘You have to make sure you don’t fail,’” Gough says. “He wasn’t talking about a class; he was talking about life. Anything that I’ve done to support students is my effort to give back in the same way that he and others gave to me.”

Countless people who call her professor, colleague, or mentor would say that “Dean Josie,” as she is known, has given back in exponential measure. For students and recent alumni especially, she was a most essential part of their educational and professional success, and more important, of their personal journeys in the years they attended the School of Law.

“I try to build their confidence—to help them bet on themselves,” she says. “When I see how successful and how values-driven our graduates are, I think I was able to do that to some extent. The proof is in the pudding.”



The St. Robert Bellarmine Award recognizes a graduate who earned a JD within the past 15 years for distinguished service to the community, to the legal profession, and to the School of Law.

When Katie Vannucci graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University Maryland, it would have been an easy choice for the Connecticut native to stay in Baltimore for law school.

“All my friends were there. Going to the University of Maryland’s law school would have been like a continuation of college,” she says. “But the Jesuit value of ‘men and women for others’ spoke to me, and I wanted to be surrounded by students and professors who felt the same way.”

“My parents and my Jesuit education taught me to make a difference—to do things the best that I can, and make the biggest impact I can.”

Vannucci has gone on to prove her commitment to that value, not only in her work but also in her service. Most notably, since 2009, she has volunteered as coach of the School of Law’s four-person team in the National Child Welfare and Adoption Law Moot Court Competition. (The law school named her Coach of the Year in 2011.)

“I absolutely love getting to work with students in that capacity,” she says. “They come in very green, we spend a huge amount of time working together very intensely, and it’s all worth it when they get to the competition and I see how far they’ve come.”

Vannucci also is preparing to return to the School of Law for the second consecutive fall semester as an adjunct professor teaching immigration law, her area of practice. She has a long record of service to the profession, including being immediate past chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Chicago Chapter and the 2020–2021 co-chair of the Immigration Section of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.

She was exposed to immigration policy while completing a volunteer project on the U.S.-Mexico border as an undergraduate. Ultimately, immigration law appealed to her as an area in which she could both directly help people and families and also put her Spanish fluency to work.

“In school, I was exposed to a lot of other areas of the law that I also really loved, like family law and criminal law,” she says, “and I realized that immigration law was a perfect blend of all of those things.”

Vannucci says being a lawyer “for others” continues to be her guiding principle. As a reminder, she keeps a photo of the Gaytans, a family she represented when she was a brand-new attorney. One day, she got an emergency phone call: U.S. immigration officers had arrested Mr. Gaytan and he was, at that moment, sitting on a plane waiting to be deported. She flew into action.

“I was able to get him pulled off the plane, was eventually able to secure his release, and later filed for not only his permanent residency, but also his wife’s,” she says. “Fast forward five years, and I was able to do both of their citizenship applications. It was so special.”

Serving others is what matters to Vannucci. “My parents and my Jesuit education taught me to make a difference—to do things the best that I can, and make the biggest impact I can,” she says. “And that’s what I’ve always strived to do.”

BRIAN R. McKILLIP (BA ’68, JD ’72)


The Distinguished Jurist Award recognizes a graduate for outstanding service on the bench. Many of the School of Law’s graduates have contributed to the promotion of justice in our society by serving with distinction on federal and state courts. This award is presented every two years.

“Pay attention to what people are saying. Treat them with respect. Never be mean or petty. It’s so important that people who end up in court have a meaningful opportunity to speak and that they are heard.”

The Honorable Brian R. McKillip’s professional ethic is easy to articulate, but it was developing that ethic and living by it during his 20 years as an associate judge of Illinois’s 18th Judicial Circuit Court that make him a worthy choice for Loyola’s 2022 Distinguished Jurist Award.

McKillip, who was appointed to the bench in 1999 and retired in 2019, says the road to becoming a compassionate jurist was not always smooth. He recalls an incident during his first assignment to divorce court: A woman came in with a post-decree petition. Frustrated by McKillip’s granting her ex-husband’s request for continuance, she threw papers all over the desk and cursed at the judge.

McKillip barked a rebuke at her, and within moments, the situation blew up. After a physical struggle with the deputy, the woman “had some kind of health event and had to be taken out of the courthouse on a stretcher,” he says.

At her next hearing, McKillip addressed the woman in a very different manner.

“I did my best to explain why I had to deny her request,” he says. “Afterward, she thanked me, and I realized the situation got out of control the first time because of the way I treated her. This was proof tome of the difference it makes when you treat people with understanding, and talk to them, rather than at them.”

“Effective advocacy by lawyers in the courtroom makes the whole system work better for the litigants who are caught up in it.”

Examples of McKillip’s efforts to improve the experience of individual sin the justice system are abundant. In 1995, he worked with a group of judges and lawyers, including John W. Darrah (BS ’65, JD ’69), to establish the DuPage County Bar Association’s (DCBA) Keith E. Roberts, Sr. Trial Advocacy Program. The program offers inexperienced lawyers the chance to break down every aspect of a trial, from voir dire to closing arguments, all under the tutelage of expert trial attorneys and judges.

“Effective advocacy by lawyers in the courtroom makes the whole system work better for the litigants who are caught up in it,” says McKillip.

In 1996, while serving on the board of directors of the DCBA, McKillip worked with the Boy Scouts of America’s Three Fires Council to launch a Juvenile Diversion Program—thought to be the first in the Midwest at that time—that offered youth offenders the chance to avoid the court system by successfully completing a special scouting program. For this effort, he received the Illinois State Bar Association’s Community Service Award in 1999.

McKillip also served as chair of multiple DCBA committees. In addition, he is president of the Illinois Judges Foundation and serves on the assembly of the Illinois State Bar Association.

McKillip is proud of his extensive volunteer work, which he sees as an obligation to the field.

“I think all lawyers and judges who recognize a continuing responsibility to the profession improve the overall quality of the justice system,” he says, “and I hope the award can highlight that for young lawyers, to build a perpetuating cycle of improvement.” –Liz Miller (Summer 2022)


Learn how our alumni, faculty, and students drive social change and push for justice. Read the above features from Loyola Law magazine.