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Boston College announces its $1.5 billion fund drive called Light the World
Before some 400 guests at a black-tie dinner on Saturday, October 11, 2008, Boston College announced its $1.5 billion fund drive called “Light the World.” Subtitled “The 150th Anniversary Campaign for Boston College,” the seven-year effort debuted with $520 million in cash and pledges accrued.
The dinner took place on the new Brighton Campus in a glass-panel pavilion temporarily established on the rear lawn of what Boston College calls “The Residence”—the three-story Renaissance revival evocation of a Roman palace that Cardinal William O’Connell erected in 1927, on a hill above Commonwealth Avenue, as a seat for Boston’s archbishops.
The Boston College Chorale sang. University President William P. Leahy, SJ, offered an invocation. A movie tendered brief profiles of six alumni who “light the world” through their work along with scenes of the annual torch-lighting ceremony below Gasson Tower during which freshmen wearing skirts and chinos (some of the latter even pressed) are commissioned to follow Ignatius’s instruction of 1540 to Francis Xavier “Ite inflammate omnia,” or “Go, set the world aflame.” At the movie’s conclusion, the best-kept secret on campus for six months, the campaign’s name, was publicly sounded and displayed for the first time.
Each of the campaign’s three cochairs made brief remarks during the evening. Chuck Clough ’64 was first to the podium, offering a welcome and then a fact that could not be ignored. The former chief global investment strategist at Merrill Lynch and the president and CEO of Clough Capital Partners noted that Boston College had chosen to launch its capital campaign in “the most difficult economic environment most of us have experienced.” (On the previous day, the Dow had dropped 697 points early, recovering to close 128 points down.) He continued: “You might, with justification, question our timing and our judgment. I do not. For as vivid as these [economic] realities are, for me the story is not the trials we face today but the understanding that through all of the cycles—both up and down—what has sustained us, what has sustained me, is the enduring place that Boston College has played as an anchor in turbulent seas and a touchstone of hope for the future.”
Kathleen McGillicuddy, NC’71, the recently elected vice chair of the Board of Trustees who in 2011 will become the first woman to lead that body, spoke next, offering thanks for some of the gifts, including one of $50 million and three of $25 million, that had made sense of a $1.5 billion goal. And the third cochair, current board head Bill Geary ’80, brought the evening to a close. “We have been called; called to be part of something that is bigger than each of us, called to Boston College, called to light the world,” he said. And as advancement staff members distributed commemorative candles to guests, some 100 Chorale members processed through the pavilion bearing hand-held flickering lights and singing a sweet Latin number that turned out to be a verse from Saint-Saëns’s Christmas Oratorio translating as “Bring offerings and worship the Lord . . . for He comes, Alleluia.”
Leahy, speaking after the movie ended, had the task of parsing the campaign’s theme. “Boston College’s light,” he said, “has shined into the world . . . for close to 150 years, illuminating paths in the darkness, whether from poverty to prosperity, from ignorance to wisdom, from self-doubt to courage.” He then spoke of the alumni who were profiled in the movie, “who are prepared to respond throughout their personal and professional lives to intellectual and moral challenges with clear-sightedness, knowledge, and integrity. . . . The light of Boston College shines through them and thousands of our alumni into wider society.” He concluded:
What lies ahead for Boston College students and alumni, we cannot know. But we do know that they will yearn for what we yearn for—peace, love, knowledge, wisdom, and faith. We are determined to build a better, stronger Boston College that will serve them and the societies in which they will live, a Boston College that will increasingly be a gift to the nations, a Boston College that will truly light the world.
And at regular intervals behind his words, as behind every other speaker’s words and the Chorale’s “Alleluias” and the lush swellings of “For Boston” in the movie soundtrack, Green Line trolleys rattled along Commonwealth Avenue and sounded their bells as they rolled in and out of the station.
Light the World is designed to achieve four aims. One is to double the number of alumni—from 750 today to 1,500 by the campaign’s conclusion—who volunteer to assist Boston College with chapters, reunions, admitted-student receptions, and career advising for students or other alumni.
A second goal is to raise the proportion of undergraduate alumni who make gifts annually from a current figure of 24.8 percent to 35 percent. (The former figure is remarkably—some would say, sadly—low for a selective and successful private university such as Boston College.)
A third has to do with what is referred to, with some delicacy, as “legacy giving.” The aim is to increase the number of alumni who leave money to Boston College in their wills. The advancement office is aware, through attorney and donor notification, of 850 current “provisions.” The aspiration is to achieve awareness of 5,000.
And the fourth objective is, of course, the goal of accruing cash and pledges adding up to (at least) $1.5 billion, triple the $441 million raised in its last major campaign, which concluded five and a half years ago. (Boston College is one of 29 universities nationwide currently engaged in raising a billion dollars or more.)
The official list of “campaign priorities” from the Advancement Office [see sidebar] sorts those dollars into broad use categories. Leahy himself offered a more thematic, and engaging, dissection in his remarks at the launch dinner, when he said the campaign would “help secure a Boston College education for talented poor and middle-class students who seek to be members of our community. It will renew and strengthen liberal arts education. It will fund model student formation programs. It will establish research capabilities that address needs of society. It will help establish Boston College as the world’s leading Catholic university and theological center.”
For Boston College, these are familiar categories of ambition. Affordable education for the “talented poor” was a founding principle of the Jesuit academy that was initiated in Boston’s South End in 1863. And the liberal arts have been a significant touchstone within Jesuit pedagogy since the Renaissance, as has been the notion that students were to be deliberately “formed” through intellectual and spiritual exercises, as is the idea that knowledge that pulls its weight in the world is knowledge of a particularly high order, as is the proposition that the Catholic university has an obligation to serve, in the oft-cited words of Notre Dame’s Theodore Hesburgh, as “the place where the Church does its thinking.”
Less familiar is the small type, the project list, the answers to the only interesting question one can ask about a fundraising campaign: How is the institution going to be different when it’s over?
And so here is a subset of large-scale projects drawn from the campaign’s to-do list. Some of these are entirely prospective at the moment, while others have been initiated. (The five initiated described in the related story “Five Points of Impact” are indicated by boldfaced type, followed, in some cases, by the project aspect that’s being reported on.)
- Center for the Advancement of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition
- Center for Asset Management
- Center for Catholic Education
- Center for the Church in the 21st Century
- Center for Human Rights and International Justice
- Center for Student Formation
- Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy
- Endowed professorships (40)
- Financial aid for undergraduates: “William J. Flynn Endowed Scholarship”
- Graduate fellowships: “GSSW Global Practice Fellowship”
- Humanities Building
- Initiative in Advising
- Institute for Integrated Science: “Biosensor Project Group”
- Institute for the Liberal Arts
- Institute on Aging
- Integrated Science Facility
- McGillicuddy-Logue Center for Undergraduate Global Studies
- Research support for faculty initiatives: “Symposia on Interreligious Dialogue”
- Research support for graduate and undergraduate students
- School of Theology and Ministry
- Society for International Fellows
- Stokes Commons
- Student Recreation Complex
- University Center
October 11 began in midmorning with guided tours of such as the newly re-towered Gasson Hall, the Brighton Campus, and the McMullen’s Georges Rouault exhibit. These explorations were followed by a lunch in McElroy Commons, which was itself followed by a set of faculty and staff presentations on themes including “Research That Matters” and “Boston College’s Institutional Master Plan.” (I attended the research séance because physics professor Michael Naughton had told me he would cap his report on the use of nanostructures in energy generation by displaying a photograph of Gasson Hall at nanoscale—one-thousandth the width of a human hair—and I wanted to see how the building endured the journey across dimensions. Not well, as it turned out. Gasson was recognizable in the projected image, but it also looked as though it had endured Dresden and a season or two in the currents of Atlantis.)
If the dinner was the day’s signal event, lunch was its most striking, at least for me. For one thing, Dining Services delivered itself of an entrée 18 words long— “coriander and mustard seed crusted breast of chicken over tomato and arugula salad with marinated fingerling potato coins,” which I believe sets a Middle Campus record. And for another, the lunch featured the inaugural awarding of the “Andrew Carney Medal for Distinguished Lay Leadership,” which is named for an Irishman who arrived in America in 1816, made a fortune as a clothing manufacturer, sold his business and retired young, and became a pillar of philanthropy in the Boston Catholic community (Carney Hospital is one of his doings).
Carney was also instrumental in the founding of Boston College, serving its inventor John McElroy, SJ—a short-fused human being, by all accounts—as a source not only of funds, but of patient wisdom in the face of the anti-Catholicism of the Boston political establishment. As McElroy is reported to have said on April 6, 1864, at Carney’s funeral in the church on Boston College’s South End campus, “It would have been difficult to carry on such extensive works as these, humanly speaking, if Divine Providence had not raised up for us such a friend as Andrew Carney. His credit was always at our disposal.”
Carney Dining Hall (no relation) was decorated for the awards lunch with long, gauzy white curtains that enclosed a stage and a group of about 200 guests gathered to honor the 11 former chairs of the Boston College Board of Trustees since its founding in November 1972 under then-president and current chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ. It was Monan, just arrived at Boston College that summer, who’d had a dual insight. The first part was that sans the investment of counsel and money by lay men and women, Boston College—however sharp the Jesuits who ran it—was likely doomed to frailty at best (it had come close to bankruptcy just two years earlier). The second part was that few persons of heft and quality (the only kind of person from whom Monan, at least, was going to take counsel) would be willing to invest deeply in a corporation for which they did not feel responsible. And so a board of trustees whose members were drawn from useful quarters of the alumni world took charge of Boston College, and the Jesuit community, which had heretofore exercised legal ownership, relinquished it.
What Andrew Carney had been for McElroy, the 11 men who were to be honored on October 11 had been for Monan and Leahy. Seven were present at the lunch ceremony, and the others were represented by family members or friends, all taking seats in a row on stage between master of ceremonies Bill Geary at the lectern, and Monan and Leahy seated at stage right, an Irish (almost entirely) Mount Rushmore.
It was Monan—president from 1972 to 1996—who had the lion’s share of the awards work, presenting eight of the medals as Geary read a brief account of the work each awardee had done for Boston College. Monan began with the late Cornelius W. Owens ’36, whose award was accepted by his niece Jane Rodophele ’74, and then worked his way along the stage through Thomas J. Galligan, Jr. ’41, the late James O’Neill ’42, whose award was accepted by his classmate Thomas Flanagan, the late William F. Connell ’59, his award accepted by his wife Margot Connell, the late David S. Nelson ’57, JD’60, his award accepted by his classmate John Harrington, then Thomas Vanderslice ’53, Jack Connors ’63 (the award jointly made by Monan and Leahy, Connors having chaired the board during both tenures), and finally Geoffrey T. Boisi ’69. Leahy followed, presenting medals to Richard F. Syron ’66, Chuck Clough ’64, and Patrick T. Stokes ’64. (The medal is brass, bright gold, three inches in diameter, and bears a relief of Boston College’s seal on one side and a relief likeness of the bearded Andrew Carney—think: Smith Brother—on the other.)
The presentations were moving, as tend to be all ceremonies in which gray-haired men or women rise to be recognized for extraordinary work they did in their full strength. Among the accomplishments cited were making the deal for the Newton Campus (Owens); leading the first professionally managed capital campaign (O’Neill, from 1976 to 1981, and amounting to $25 million); and hoisting Boston College’s banner on Wall Street (Boisi). A particularly touching moment took place when Geary, out of sensitivity for Tom Galligan’s age and physical condition—he walks with the aid of a cane—avoided asking him to rise when he was to receive the medal from Monan. But Galligan, ignoring the young board leader’s particular consideration, grasped the arms of his chair and thrust down like a gymnast at the parallel bars, boosting himself once, twice, three times, until he was able to gain his footing, and some of us were able to breathe again.
But the most arresting moment in the ceremony occurred after Monan presented his final medal and returned to his seat at the edge of the stage, and Geary said, “Fr. Monan, you led this institution during a remarkable two and a half decades. On behalf of everyone here today, thank you for everything you have done for Boston College.”
It was a courtesy note, and it was followed by about 10 seconds of appropriately warm applause, and then the applause grew more than warm and people began to stand (the indomitable Mr. Galligan again, too), and they stood and applauded for another 35 seconds, the awardees on stage walking toward Monan as they clapped their hands until they and Fr. Leahy nearly surrounded him.
Monan, seated in his chair, looked out at the room with his usual cool gaze, as though he were watching an adequate sunset from the porch. And then his right hand swiped at the outer corner of his right eye, and then his jaw quivered, and he turned away for a moment, and when he turned back he was Rev. J. Donald Monan, SJ, again, but barely.
A few minutes later, Geary offered a similar thanks to Fr. Leahy, and the room must have been full of wise men and women, because while the applause was warm, no one stood. (The standing ovation for Leahy would have to wait for his introduction at dinner.)
Shortly after landing in Boston in the summer of 1978, I took a job as a public relations writer at Boston College—an institution I’d not heard of until the day I saw the position advertised—and soon learned that “BC” was one of those local institutions, like the Red Sox, clam shacks, the T, or Filene’s Basement, on which every native was prepared to offer expert commentary.
The wisdom sometimes took unexpected form. In a mold-fragrant used furniture store in Allston, where I’d come seeking some nursery furnishing for an incipient child, I was tutored as to my new employer by the establishment’s manager, an ancient mariner seated in a worn armchair with a view of spectacular collections of tarnished toasters and hotel ashtrays. He explained, “BC girls are pretty, and the boys are good-looking, too.” I laughed, but he didn’t.
Other sages, both inside and outside the institution, filled me in on a variety of matters: BC alumni owned state and city government; BC was intellectually unreliable (a Catholic university was a contradiction in terms, right?); BC was a place where students received “a good education” while having “a good time”; BC’s principal exports were lawyers, school superintendents, accountants, family physicians, FBI agents, priests, and those politicians noted above, of whom the greatest was Tip O’Neill ’36, who actually got away to Washington but continued to maintain, famously, that “all politics is local.”
Fortunately, I had subtle tutors as well, and one was Jim McGahay ’63, the man who hired me. A local dockworker’s boy with brains and style, he was entirely immune to the sort of anemic boosterism that tended to see the roster of state reps on Beacon Hill as the measure of the University’s standing in the world. In one of our early conversations, a Marlboro burning somewhere in his fingers, Jim mused, “Boston College’s problem is: Now that it’s grown up, it needs to decide what it wants to be.”
That Boston College, then 115 years of age, should still have been trying to discover its adult vocation seemed a stretch to me, but Jim was right. The combination college and high school established in 1863 to furnish education in accordance with Thomistic stringencies on a city block in the South End was a useful neighborhood institution for the 50 or so years of its existence; and so was the local college and then university that developed out in Chestnut Hill during the following 50 or so years as it gradually permitting entry to secular culture and natural science and research and professional studies. By the late 1950s, it could boast—as in a fundraising brochure circa 1960—of 6,200 full-time students, 142 Jesuits, and “450 dedicated lay professors” working at “the third largest Catholic university in America.”
But by then the headwinds were already blowing. Some of the storms—such as civil rights, the baby boomer surge, women’s rights, Vietnam, and the re-jigging of all sorts of cultural mores and tastes—howled through every campus quad. Others were particular to Catholic colleges and included Vatican II, departures from the religious orders that staffed these colleges and that were in many cases their only meaningful endowment, and, most significantly, the falling away of the hyphen that had historically separated “American” from “Catholic” in common locution and imagination (and in Catholic imagination no less than in other kinds). This revolution in grammar was most publicly evidenced by John F. Kennedy’s election to the presidency. But it was no less manifest in the Catholic abandonment of the “ethnic urban village”—Boston College’s Plymouth Rock, and the source of many of its tuition-paying students—for huddles of three-bedroom colonials on Crabapple Circle, and in the swelling of a host of other ambitions in Catholic American hearts, including the yearning to educate sons and daughters at the best colleges in the country, even if these were called Harvard, Smith, or Wesleyan.
Boston College did not quite go down in this hard weather, but it was blown far off its old course, and in 1978, when Jim McGahay pulled me on board, the institution was arduously tacking its way back and forth toward a new home port—as a nationally prominent university, it was rumored—an objective whose existence somewhere over the horizon did not on every day seem a sure thing (even if Monan always claimed that it was).
In the subsequent years, I had reason to quote Jim’s words (occasionally with attribution) in explaining to members of my staff why Boston College didn’t always work like other universities they’d known, and in explaining to friends why the place continued to hold my attention, and most recently, if less frequently, in conversation with new arrivals who turn to me—the now-grizzled éminence grise—to hear the ancient story. And of course I thought of Jim’s words in the days after Light the World was launched.
The luncheon certainly spurred some of my mulling: the tender—even valedictory—response to Fr. Monan; the gray-haired awardees; and Geary (very black-haired), who is the first board chair to have graduated in the 1980s and so the first never to have known or experienced the local university that was Boston College and the crises and divisions and calamities that sank it. (Pretty much the only Boston College he’s known—or that is known today to nearly 100,000 of 152,000 alumni—is a university that was headed for, or had achieved, national prominence.)
But the kickoff dinner itself was also a prod. In part, it’s the $1.5 billion figure, which indicated a certain (admirable) sharp-elbowedness that did not suffuse Boston College in 1978. In part it’s the campaign’s name, which seems oddly pertinent, as “build the world” or “heal the world” or “change the world” would not have been. (And for once, we haven’t drawn from the canon of “heights” or “excellence.”)
But in largest part, it’s the thematic goals that Leahy proffered in his speech and that I have heard deliberated at strategic planning sessions and briefings going back four years (though sometimes I think 30). You could quarrel with these from a number of perspectives, I imagine (or know very well), but not, it seems to me, from the basis that they aren’t central to what Boston College, with clarity, knows itself to be, after a near half century of sometimes arduous becoming.
Emerson wrote of human beings that we find our way through the world like sailing ships, by a series of tacks that only make straight-line sense when viewed from a very high (celestial, perhaps) altitude. The same holds true for human institutions. I’m going to guess that the neighborhood school founded by McElroy in 1863 seemed a wobbly proposition to its exponents on many days over the early decades; and that supporters of the local college and later university established by Gasson at the western edge of the city in 1913 felt similarly challenged: by world wars, by economic depression, by the difference between 1915 and 1965. And the concerns were ultimately legitimate, because those two Boston Colleges are now gone, having left legacies that include this Boston College, which, bearing the responsibilities and hopes (and concerns) of its own place and time, continues the voyage, heading for a harbor that, if we play our cards right, will always be over the horizon.
Our stories on five campus manifestations of Light the World begin here.
Read more by Ben Birnbaum