Boston College

views updated


A Jesuit coeducational university in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on the borderline of Newton and Boston. Its origins and history are closely allied to the pastoral ministry of the Society of Jesus in Massachusetts that began in 1825 when Benedict Joseph Fenwick, SJ, was named bishop of Boston. In 1847 Fenwick's successor, Bp. JohnB. Fitzpatrick, invited members of the Jesuit society to take charge of St. Mary's Church in Boston's North End.

Boston was one of the principal East-Coast cities inundated, during the late 1840s and early 1850s, with Irish Catholic immigrants seeking sanctuary from the potato famine and from political oppression. Since the majority of these newcomers had little formal education and the demands of a hostile community frequently caused hardship to many young students, there was pressing need for parochial schools in Boston. While Fitzpatrick's most immediate concern was for elementary schools, John McElroy, SJ, at St. Mary's, was considering the possibility of a Catholic college in the city. Following his appointment by President James K. Polk as a chaplain in Zachary Taylor's army during the Mexican War, in 1847 McElroy was assigned to Boston where he continually urged the establishment of a Catholic college. Although the difficulties involved in establishing, financing, and staffing such a college made the prospects discouraging, McElroy pressed forward with determination.

After a long struggle, McElroy obtained a tract of land in a residential area in Boston's South End where he constructed the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the red-brick building that was the nucleus of Boston College. In March 1863, while the Civil War was at its most critical phase, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the university charter. When Boston College formally opened as an institution of advanced learning in September 1864, the first president, John Bapst, SJ, presided over a faculty of six Jesuits and a student body of 22 young Bostonians.

New Location. The modern history of Boston College begins in January 1907 with the appointment of Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, as its 13th president. Shortly after his accession he began the search for a new location to accommodate the growing student body and make room for expansion. He chose the Lawrence farm, a rolling hillside overlooking the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The architect Charles Donagh Maginnis laid elaborate plans for a campus to be constructed in the English Collegiate Gothic style. The original edifice, the Gasson tower building, completed in 1913, continues to dominate the campus.

The period after World War II was a time of further growth with the influx of returning veterans and the financing of the GI Bill. In 1948 enrollment passed the 5,000 mark. Under college president Rev. Michael P. Walsh, SJ, the property was extended, new academic buildings were constructed, student dormitories were built, and a professional faculty was recruited. From a small, all-male, liberal arts commuter college, Boston College had evolved into one of the largest coeducational Catholic universities in the United States. It expanded into dozens of magnificent structures spread over three campuses covering some 200 acres.

The main or middle campus, with gothic-style buildings clustered around the Gasson tower, contains the Jesuit residence, the university libraries, the administrative buildings, and most of the classroom buildings for the College of Arts and Sciences, the graduate school, the Carroll School of Management, the Lynch School of Education, the Graduate School of Social Work, and the College of Advancing Studies. Adjacent to the Bapst Library is the Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections, with an Irish collection composed of rare Irish first editions and manuscripts, as well as works of art by contemporary Irish artists. The newer Thomas P. O'Neill Library, named after the long-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, serves as the main research facility on the campus.

To the east of the middle campus of Boston College is the lower campus, which is the site of several undergraduate dormitories, the university's Robsham Theater, and the University Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. It is also the location of the university's major athletic facilities. West of the middle campus is the upper campus, the location of housing for freshmen and sophomores. In 1974, Boston College acquired Newton College of the Sacred Heart, about a mile-and-a-half west of the main campus. The Newton Campus became the location of the Boston College law school and the Boston College alumni association, as well as several residence halls.

In 1972, Rev. J. Donald Monan, SJ became the 24th president of Boston College, and under his direction the university streamlined its fiscal management, broadened its academic programs, attracted an enrollment of students representing 40 states and 27 foreign countries, and established a national reputation. It was during his tenure in office that the College acquired the property of Newton College of the Sacred Heart. By the end of Monan's twenty-four year presidencythe longest in the history of the institution, Boston College had a total enrollment of some 12,500 students8,500 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students. The number of full-time faculty members had risen to more than 500 lay professors, and 130 Jesuits, many of whom came from Third World countries to pursue graduate study. In the 1980s, the Jesuit community at Boston College established a multi-million-dollar foundation to support the Jesuit Institute, a research center of Catholic theology and thought.

When Father Monan was named chancellor of the university in 1996 he was succeeded in the presidency by the Rev. William P. Leahy, SJ. Under Leahy's direction Boston College continued the 400-year-old tradition of education according to the principles of the Jesuit ratio studiorum.

Bibliography: c. donovan, et al., History of Boston College: From the Beginnings to 1990 (Chestnut Hill 1990). r. dunigan, A History of Boston College (Milwaukee 1947). w. e. murphy, "The Story of Boston College," The Catholic Contribution to Religion and Education v.5 of t. h. o'connor, Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and Its People (Boston 1998). w. s. benson et al., Catholic Builders of the Nation, ed. c. e. mcguire, 5 v. (Boston 1923). e. boyle, Father John McElroy, the Irish Priest (Washington 1878). r. h. lord et al., History of the Archdiocese of Boston in the Various Stages of Its Development, 16041943, 3 v. (New York 1944). o. handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 17901880: A Study of Acculturation (rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass. 1959). m. l. hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 16071860 (Cambridge, Mass. 1940). m. p. harney, The Jesuits in History (Chicago 1962).

[t. h. o'connor]

About this article

Boston College

Updated About content Print Article