ND Law names four first-year law students as 2023-24 Murphy Fellows

Author: Denise Wager

2023 Murphy Fellows

Breck Giltner, Blake Perry, Jessica Smith, and Dennis Wieboldt, all first-year Notre Dame Law School students, have been named 2023-24 Murphy Fellows.

Notre Dame Law School established the fellowship last year to support students exploring the area of law and religion. The Murphy Fellowship is named in honor of longtime and former Notre Dame Law Professor Edward J. Murphy, an exemplary Catholic legal scholar and law teacher.

Murphy joined the faculty in 1957, served as acting dean during the 1970-71 academic year, and directed the Notre Dame Summer Program in Japan in 1974. He was appointed the John N. Matthews Professor of Law in 1979, becoming the first chaired law professor at Notre Dame.

Fellows participate in the programming of both the Program on Church, State & Society and the Religious Liberty Initiative. In addition, they will have the opportunity, during their second and third years, to participate in the Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic.

The Murphy Fellowship is awarded annually to first-year law students and fellows are selected through a written application process.

Richard Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and director of Notre Dame Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society said, "The Law School is profoundly grateful to the generous benefactors who endowed the Murphy Fellowship and helped support these outstanding students' legal education. Prof. Murphy is a Notre Dame legend, and it is an honor to be associated with him."

Meet the 2023-24 Fellows

Breck Giltner
Breck Giltner

Breck Giltner earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Dallas. Before coming to law school, she worked on Capitol Hill and at the World Youth Alliance, an international NGO committed to advocacy for human dignity in culture, policy, and education.

Giltner said she chose ND Law for its Catholic identity and for the opportunity to study in an intellectual culture focused on exploring the philosophical and moral principles implicit in the structure of law and the effect those principles have on human life and the order of society.

“In addition, Notre Dame Law School’s academic rigor, rich community of students and faculty, and focus on service as the measure of a successful law career ultimately led me here,” said Giltner.

“I’m very grateful to be here as a Murphy fellow and I’m looking forward to engaging in conversation on issues facing religious liberty today and discovering how to integrate the legal reasoning, knowledge, and skills we’re learning into that conversation,” said Giltner.

“I’m excited to learn from the scholarship and meaningful discussion that the Program on Church, State & Society develops and particularly, to gain perspective on various social and legal challenges to religious liberty globally.”


Blake Perry
Blake Perry

Blake Perry received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. While an undergraduate he became interested in religious freedom after taking several classes with Professor Daniel Philpott, who is also a fellow with the Program on Church, State and Society. Perry said he would like to explore the relationship between law, society, and religion, particularly with regard to how the law protects and promotes the flourishing of religious institutions.

He said he chose ND Law for its Catholic character and because it provides a place where he can openly practice and discuss his faith, and it fosters a learning environment characterized by charity and civil discourse.

“Notre Dame Law School offers a rare combination of exceptional academics, genuine community, and caring faculty. I particularly appreciate the Law School’s commitment to educating lawyers who are not only competent in the law but also deeply interested in and cognizant of the law’s moral foundations,” said Perry.

He said he is excited to be part of a program committed to advancing the Catholic mission of the Law School and exploring questions of morality, law, and culture.

“I’m deeply grateful to Professor Rick Garnett and the Program for these opportunities and for their generous support of my legal education,” said Perry.


Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is from Houston and attended Samford University. She said she was first attracted to Notre Dame Law School because of its commitment to educating a different kind of lawyer and the Law School’s view of the law as a noble profession.

“Once I discovered more about ND Law, I found a school with an incredible and accessible faculty and a commitment to civil discourse, where all beliefs and opinions are welcome. It is a rare combination of qualities I am grateful to have found in a law school,” said Smith.

She said she is looking forward to opportunities for engagement with the Religious Liberty Initiative and Religious Liberty Clinic.

“Beyond my interest in religious liberty issues, I am excited about the community now being made between two classes and the opportunities to get to know the fellows in the class ahead of us and to learn from them,” said Smith.


Dennis Wieboldt
Dennis Wieboldt

Dennis Wieboldt is from Martinsville, New Jersey. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Boston College. While at Notre Dame, he will be pursuing both a J.D. and a Ph.D. in history. His doctoral research focuses on the relationship between law, politics, and religion in the twentieth-century United States.

“I am confident that the Law School's outstanding legal historians and First Amendment scholars are uniquely well-poised to contribute to my intellectual formation at Notre Dame,” said Wieboldt.

He said another factor that contributed to his coming to Notre Dame was the collegiality of the University generally and the Law School in particular.

“As a Murphy Fellow, I am excited about the opportunity to build relationships with peers, faculty, and other affiliates of the Program on Church, State & Society who share similar interests and who can expose me to ideas and methods with which I might not be familiar, or even comfortable,” said Wieboldt.

Learn more about the fellowship here and about the Program on Church, State & Society at churchstate.nd.edu.

Photos by Alicia Sachau/Notre Dame Law School.