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The eight documents presented here were found during searches in archival collections held by, among others, the Boston Archdiocese, the College of the Holy Cross, Boston College, Georgetown University, and the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu at the Jesuit Curia in Rome. While central to Boston College history, they were scattered in part because ultimate responsibility for Boston College was itself dispersed during the first 100 years of the University’s existence, residing with various Jesuit provincials in the United States and ultimately with Jesuit leaders in Rome. Seth Meehan, a doctoral student in history who conducted the searches, returned images of thousands of documents and photographs to Boston College’s own archives. Many materials in this story will appear in A College of Ours, an illustrated history of Boston College, written by Birnbaum and Meehan and scheduled for publication in the fall of 2013.
January 7, 1843
The first reference to a prospective Jesuit college in Boston appears in a letter written on January 7, 1843, by John McElroy, SJ, in Frederick, Maryland, to Boston’s Bishop Benedict Fenwick, another Jesuit, also of the Maryland Province, which then included all of New England. McElroy had visited with Fenwick the previous summer when he came to Boston to lead a religious retreat for priests. In the two-page letter, McElroy—never shy about offering unsolicited advice—recommended that Fenwick begin constructing a cathedral and, once that was completed, an adjacent school. “We can and must erect a College of ours,” McElroy wrote, “ours” being Jesuit argot for what belonged or pertained to the Society of Jesus. Already 60 years old and a founder of two schools in western Maryland (a free school for girls and an academy for boys), McElroy told Fenwick why a day school in Boston was necessary—it would lay “a solid [and] permanent basis for Catholicity”—and he then offered advice on how to finance the development of said school and on the number of students it should enroll (300 was his verdict). “Perhaps,” he concluded in his clear Spencerian hand, “something in time, with God’s blessing, might grow.”
Fenwick did, in fact, establish a Jesuit college later that year, but not in Boston. Anti-Catholicism was so deeply entrenched there that he built his boarding college a safe 45 miles west of town, in Worcester. McElroy returned to Boston in October 1847, posted to serve in a Jesuit parish in the North End; and though mired in work (900 baptisms a year), he still found time to connive with the local bishop (no longer Fenwick) “to have a college in the city.” He was 65 when that conniving began, 71 when the Boston City Council, a stronghold of anti-Catholic feeling, rebuffed his application to build on land he’d bought near the city center, and 76 when he stood with a shovel at the city’s far south edge and helped carve a cruciform in ground once a pauper’s cemetery, where his new church and school would stand. Anthony Ciampi, SJ, who as president of Holy Cross (that college in Worcester) had the misfortune to contend with McElroy on a number of occasions, in 1862 wrote to his and McElroy’s provincial in Maryland, “With Fr. McElroy I have commenced to deal differently. I shut my eyes [and] drive off my thoughts, and endeavor to do what he wishes.”
September 5, 1864
“The Irish of the Northern Cities stand in greater need of instruction than the Fathers from [Maryland] apprehend, and they do not require much urging,” Robert Fulton, SJ, wrote in 1862 to American Jesuit leaders, some of whom had been rather agnostic on the need for a college in Boston. And while they had come around, the state of enrollment at the conclusion of September 5, 1864, Boston College’s opening day of business, might have given them reason to wonder if they’d made the right decision. A program of newspaper advertisements had netted only 22 boys, of whom Fulton as prefect would later say, “only one or two had talent.”
First among those registered were Daniel Murphy Chrysostom McAvoy, 15, and his brother Arthur, Jr., 10, the sons of flourishing Irish immigrants (their father dealt in iron and steel, and their family employed Irish maids in their home not far from the school). While the fates of about a third of the enrollees appear untraceable, the record shows that Daniel would become a store clerk and Arthur a Jesuit.
Among others who registered that day were John Bauer, 14, the German-born son of a tailor, who would become a picture-frame maker; Herman P. Chelius, 14, another German-born child and a son of music teachers, who would become Boston College’s organist and a music teacher; Frank Conroy, 14, the son of an Irish-born shoemaker, who dropped out in February 1865 and enlisted in the military two months before the Civil War ended; John Bernardine Aloysius Conroy, 15, who apparently dropped out as well, turning up in the 1870 Boston census at home, with no occupation, along with his Irish-born father (“janitor”) and two older sisters (“seamstresses”); Stephen A. Crowell, 13, a locksmith’s son who never showed up for classes; John F. Aloysius Drew, 14, who would become a policeman and die of tuberculosis at 26; Vincent and Joseph Laforme, the 15- and 10-year old sons of a German-born electric plater and silversmith (Joseph would become a freight clerk, while his brother would find work as “special police” on a steamship); Richard H. Lawler, 14, who would join his Irish-born father in the house-painting business; brothers John B., 12, and Andrew J. Mahar, 14, who would become bookkeepers; Michael J. Millea, 16, the Irish-born son of a tailor and a Bridgewater resident; Francis W. McGinley, 16, the son of an Irish-born auctioneer and the only other registered student not resident in Boston (rather, South Andover, 25 miles north); Francis W. Norris, 14, a carpenter’s son who in the 1910 census turns up selling pharmaceuticals in New York City; Hugh Roe O’Donnell, 18, who would be ordained a priest in 1873; and John Selinger, 14, whose Hungarian-born father and whose brothers worked in a piano factory, and who, as Jean Selinger, would become a noted portrait painter. Also on Fulton’s roster were John Doyle, 13, of Roxbury; Joseph O’Neill, 12, of West Roxbury; James B. McCloskey, 14, of the North End; and Michael J. Kennedy, 14, of West Roxbury, about whom nothing else is known.
August 10, 1909
In December 1907, Thomas Gasson, SJ, just completing his first year as president and rector of Boston College’s Jesuit community (the two jobs were conjoined until 1970), purchased 36 acres in Chestnut Hill on which he hoped to erect “the greatest Catholic college in America.” The launch of this venture, called “University Heights,” would occupy Gasson for the remainder of his presidency—another six years—and so consumed the man that his fellow Jesuits grew alarmed. In August 1908, the provincial reported to the Jesuit hierarchy in Rome that Gasson was “too hard on himself and is apt to let his zeal for this new project interfere with the work of the college professors” (who, presumably, were the prime generators of the complaint). But there were sound reasons for Gasson’s “zeal,” among them that the project—which had been architecturally rendered as an 18-building Collegiate Gothic confection—had run into a series of external obstacles (a threatened tax lien, fundraising restrictions imposed by the archdiocese, gift pledges that went unpaid). The Jesuit leaders in Rome, who until deep into the 20th century carried the ultimate authority to approve or disapprove Boston College building plans, were expressing concern about the project.
In a four-page August 10, 1909, letter to Read Mullan, SJ, one of Gasson’s presidential predecessors and a leading American member of the Society (as well as a sympathizer with the idea of expansion), Gasson described the architectural plan and explained why various objections raised by Rome were invalid. Annotating a map torn from a publicity brochure, Gasson wrote his old friend that approval of the Recitation Building (1, on the map, below what is now College Road) was being unfairly held up because there was as yet no certain plan for a faculty residence. (The faculty, as it turned out, would continue to reside in Boston’s South End until 1917, when St. Mary’s Hall became the campus’s second building.) Gasson wrote that he intended to build in stages (slow progress was always Rome’s preference), and that the designs for the physics and chemistry buildings (structures 9 through 12 had been assigned to the sciences) were only “temporary.” In regard to the Recitation Building, Gasson was concerned about charges from Rome that he was negligent in providing clausura—proper separation between Jesuit living quarters and areas open to lay people. There “are not living rooms” in the Recitation Building, he protested, and “the strictest regulations” of Jesuit clausura would be appropriately applied to the Faculty Building (3) and the Faculty Garden (4).
Gasson likely reached out to Mullan as a man who could advocate his case with the Jesuit hierarchy, and the fact that the letter and map are to be found in the Jesuit Archives in Rome suggests that Mullan did just that. Gasson closed his letter to Mullan: “The tension for myself under these trying circumstances is beyond description.” Relieved of the Boston College presidency in January 1914, he temporarily retired to a Jesuit facility in Maryland, newspapers noted, to recover from a “breakdown in his health.”
July 22, 1910
An 1881 graduate of Boston College, Cardinal William O’Connell had a complex relationship with his alma mater. Over the many years (1907–44) during which he served as leader of Boston’s archdiocese, he was, as a Boston College president said in 1941, the institution’s “most distinguished alumnus and constant benefactor.” Among other gifts, O’Connell contributed most of what would become the Upper Campus, including that aptly named O’Connell House (once a private residence).
On the surface, the relationship was warm and celebratory. O’Connell walked beside Boston College’s president at countless events, from Baccalaureate to Commencement, and was a regular visitor to campus, habitually granting students a holiday from classes. Students returned the favor by dedicating four of their first five yearbooks in his honor. But the relationship was also privately troubled, and particularly in O’Connell’s early years, as he sought to strengthen his hold on Boston by restraining the school’s influence. When Boston College was looking to relocate from the city, the then-new archbishop wasted no time letting the Jesuits know which locations would be acceptable. And while he did like the Chestnut Hill site, which fit nicely into the “little Rome” that O’Connell dreamed he was building on the hills at the city’s western edge, he informed President Gasson that if Boston College ever became a university he would expect the Society to hand him control of the institution. Shortly afterward, O’Connell sabotaged a key element of Gasson’s financial plan by declaring that funds for the new campus could only be solicited within the archdiocese twice a year at a “festival or party” and not through “cliques or coteries in the various parishes”—meaning alumni parishioners, alumni priests, and Jesuits. “Jesuits,” he informed a protesting Gasson, “had bags of gold in Rome.”
“It is the fair word in the open, and the blow in the dark,” Gasson fumed in a letter to his Jesuit superiors; “the plea for regularity and for religious conduct from the pulpit, and the sword of persecution in his residence; the boast of encouragement in the press, and the deed of practical opposition in private. It is impossible to deal with a man of this stamp.”
Gasson’s complaints went for naught (he was in fact chided by his superiors for expressing them). Six subsequent Boston College presidents who were fated to work with His Eminence did better, having figured out how best to use the cardinal’s gifts and also hold him in check. Flattery was central. In June 1931, for example, in recognition of O’Connell’s 50th anniversary as a graduate, Boston College’s Jesuits, seemingly loathe to award O’Connell the expected honorary degree (he never did receive one from the school), instead determined to declare him “Patron of the Liberal Arts.” A portion of Commencement ceremonies was then devoted to the celebration of O’Connell’s achievements, the centerpiece a five-verse “eulogium” recited to the audience. These lines, from the second verse, are representative: “Scholar whose academic excellence has won widespread renown- / Author whose treasured volumes are an ornament to literature- / Orator whose golden vein of eloquence is an inspiration to the land- / Gifted Master in music whose exquisite productions have enriched our Catholic hymnody.” The designation Patron of the Liberal Arts has not since been heard on the Heights.
December 15, 1915
The most important fundraising organization in the history of Boston College was founded at 3:00 p.m., on Wednesday, December 15, 1915, in the Assembly Hall (today’s Gasson 100) of the campus’s one building at University Heights. It was, according to the meeting’s minutes, “a large gathering of friends of Boston College . . . for the purpose of formally organizing the Philomatheia Club.” Those friends were primarily Catholic women with wealthy husbands, and they had been invited by a group of alumni to establish a club that would fund athletics programs—a task at which the alumni themselves had previously proven incompetent. By the end of the day, the club had a president in Mrs. Edwin (Mary K.) Shuman, a chaplain (trustee and prefect of studies Michael Jessup, SJ), had heard a presentation on the meaning of Philomatheia (Greek for love of learning), and had visited a laboratory directed by Michael Ahearn, SJ, a professor of chemistry, geology, and astronomy, for a stereopticon demonstration of “natural colors thrown on a motion-screen.”
Fairly immediately the women led a drive to purchase furnishings for St. Mary’s Hall—still under construction—and then funded a flagpole for the football field, but they soon turned their attention to more significant matters. Over the next five decades—and mostly under the presidency of the singular Mrs. Vincent (Mary) Roberts—the Philomatheia Club was often the first port of call for Boston College presidents looking to fund projects including stained-glass windows, library books, scholarships, Christmas pageants, awards banquets, laboratory equipment, the College Road property on which the Roncalli, Welch, and Williams dormitories would be built in 1964, the Commonwealth Avenue property on which Gabelli and Vouté halls would come to stand in 1988, and the school’s first endowed chair.
Roberts was not only generous on behalf of the club and her family, but also endlessly inventive in linking philanthropy and social lubrication. Under her auspices, the women of Philomatheia sponsored an annual ball (“one of the most brilliant assemblies of the Winter social affairs,” said the Boston Globe); weekly bridge games; winter carnivals; fashion shows; bowling parties; intellectual fare (including “Six Evenings with Dante”); a “Lenten Lecture Course”; a “Gentlemen’s Night”; a “May Party” featuring both “Solo Dances” and “Competitive Races”; and a Friday evening in November 1935 during which 4,000 women gathered in the now defunct auditorium in the basement of Bapst Library to view a dozen tableaux vivants of “Famous Paintings of Famous Women,” ranging from Correggio’s “Madonna Adoring Child” (with Miss Virginia Grimes as the Madonna) to Cyrus Dallin’s 1922 bronze of the proto-feminist Puritan Anne Hutchinson (represented by Mrs. Grover J. Cronin, with Miss Kathleen Scanlan as Hutchinson’s daughter Susanna). While the participants held their poses on the stage within large golden frames, Mary Roberts offered historical commentary.
January 26, 1929
The first of Boston College’s professional divisions was its law school, founded in 1929. As with the other pre-war professional schools (Social Work in 1936 and Business Administration in 1938), the impetus behind the founding was the understanding, shared by the Jesuits and the archdiocese, that Boston College bore a responsibility to educate men and women who could serve the needs of the growing Boston Catholic community in a manner consistent with Catholic faith claims. In his January 26, 1929, letter to the provincial advancing a law school, Boston College President James Dolan, SJ, waxed passionate on the matter, contending that a Boston College law school would offer “a remedy against subversive influences prevailing in Law Schools associated with Secular Institutions.” Dolan—who seems to have enjoyed his capital letters—traced that corruption to disregard for “Natural Law” in favor of a “Pragmatic Norm Morality” and the replacement of “Divine Authority” with the “absolute authority” of “Government and Law.” As to “The Remedy,” Dolan proffered a Boston College law school in which “the doctrines of Aquinas, Bellarmine, Suarez and DiVittoria” would be taught. And, Dolan added, turning neatly from God’s requirements to those of mammon, “as in every University, [a law school would be] a most reliable and outstanding source of annual profit.” The man could hardly have been denied, and he wasn’t. The provincial took the idea to the Jesuit leadership in Rome, and Rome said yes.
Stocked with a faculty experienced in local legal practice, the law school became an immediate success, exceeding enrollment goals in its first year and by 1933 serving 86 students in full- and part-time programs, with tuitions, respectively, of $200 and $150 per year. That same year, the school was approved by the American Bar Association (one of only 81 of the nation’s 240 law schools so distinguished), which gave its graduates entry to the bar exam in at least 20 states. Interestingly, while the faculty was decidedly Catholic—in the program’s first year, all 16 professors were—an examination of the school catalogues through 1940 shows not a single course in natural law or required reading in Aquinas, Bellermine, et. al. It is difficult to believe that Dolan and his colleagues would have acted disingenuously; that they would have attempted to deceive authorities in Rome in order to gain a law school. More likely is that upon opening the school they soon determined that the appetite of their customers for teleology was dwarfed by a hunger to understand “Preparation and Trial of Cases” (a popular course, taught by a Harvard-trained lawyer), and that they then made a prudential decision not to immediately place the Summa between those budding lawyers and their prospective courtroom triumphs.
August 13, 1958
On August 13, 1958, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in Rome granted President Michael P. Walsh, SJ, license to allow Boston College faculty and students access to books included on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. By then, “the Index,” first published with papal authority in 1559, consisted of some 4,000 books deemed by the Sacred Congregation to be dangerous to the faith or morality of Catholics. Among the texts were Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and his Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures; Montesquieu’s Notre-Dame de Paris; and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. So were Gibbon’s history of the Roman Empire (decreed in 1783); Nazi foreign office head Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1934), because “it enunciates the principle of a mythical faith of blood or race”; and the Book of Common Prayer (1714). All of Sartre’s works and those by Machiavelli were also forbidden (the latter for “trying to separate the unity of mind responses”).
The Boston College librarian, to protect students and faculty, quarantined books from the Index in a metal cage under lock and key (some sources place it in the Bapst basement). Before the summer of 1958, the area remained sealed to visitors—including faculty—unless they carried authorization from Rome. A few years earlier, however, the president of Fordham had obtained permission from Roman authorities to allow use of the texts at his university, and Walsh was inspired by that example and by a sustained campaign from the chairman of the theology department, Richard W. Rousseau, SJ, (related, one wants to imagine, to the Rousseau whose Emile, Social Contract, and three other works were on the Index in 1958). Rousseau argued that as Boston College had become “a large university” (nine schools, more than 8,000 students, and nearly 500 faculty members), the inaccessibility of the texts, including “many of the most influential and important books of the ancient and modern worlds,” presented “particularly acute” pedagogic problems for the departments of theology, history, government, English, philosophy, and modern languages. American students, he argued, were already exposed “implicitly or explicitly” to the ideas within the texts, so why not “study these same books and influences under the guidance and direction of Catholic professors and in the atmosphere of a Catholic college?” In response to an application made in Walsh’s seventh month as president and submitted by the provincial, the Sacred Congregation permitted access to the prohibited books at Boston College but with several conditions: Permission was to be granted by Walsh on an individual basis (“pro singulis casibus“), and the indult (license) lasted only as long as his tenure as president and rector (“durante munere Rectoris“). In the fall of 1958, the University printed 100 copies of a document explaining how students could secure books on the Index (“except of course for books professedly obscene”). All requests had to be countersigned by a faculty member, submitted to a librarian, and then submitted by the librarian to the president, who would stamp the card to indicate approval (or not) and return it to the library. Walsh was also authorized to sign off on the purchase of forbidden books assigned for class reading.
In June 1966, six months after the close of Vatican II, the newly designated Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suppressed the Index, declaring that, though the list retained its “significance and moral value . . . in full vigor,” it no longer had “any juridical value under ecclesiastical law.”
September 17, 1962
In September 1962, Boston College opened Greycliff Hall as a dormitory for some of the approximately 300 female resident students who were attending classes on the Chestnut Hill Campus following the relocation of the nursing school from downtown Boston to Cushing Hall in April 1960. Before Greycliff—located across Commonwealth Avenue at the corner of Greycliff Road—resident nursing students had limited housing options. They could rent rooms in a University-approved private residence near City Hospital in the South End, or they could rent in approved homes near the Chestnut Hill Campus.
Greycliff Hall offered a collegiate solution, but it was not a University-run facility like the dormitories that had been built for men between 1955 and 1960 on the Upper Campus. Rather, it was an apartment building owned by a company that, by arrangement with the University, rented only to Boston College women, charging $800 annually. The students were responsible for their own housekeeping and cooked their meals in eight shared kitchens (female students were allowed access to the University’s snack bar but not the McElroy dining hall).
When Greycliff opened, the 40-plus students who were to live in its double rooms received a set of regulations from Marion Mahoney, Boston College’s first director of women’s housing, who had previously held jobs as a high school teacher and “industrial editor” at the Mutual Boiler Insurance Company. The “General Housing Regulations” ran four mimeographed pages and were designed to ensure the “standards of conduct befitting a Catholic college student.” Accompanied by a stern warning in Mahoney’s cover letter that “ANY VIOLATION OF THESE RULES WILL BE REPORTED TO COLLEGE AUTHORITIES AND COULD RESULT IN SUSPENSION OR EXPULSION,” the rules touched first on housekeeping—beds were to be made each morning, and clothes and shoes left in “their proper places.” Safety was a second focus, with sunlamps, hotplates, and smoking in bed banned; and etiquette was a third, with smoking, kerchiefs, curlers, and shorts (except on Saturdays) prohibited at meals, and laundry in the bathroom sink verboten at all times.
Dealings with the outside world received particular attention. Calls on the shared house telephone were limited to five minutes, unless a parent was on the line, and no student was permitted to hold a “conversation with people outside the building while she is inside the building.” Additionally, any resident departing the building after 7:30 p.m. was compelled to provide “full and accurate information about the time of departure, destination, and name of escort or companion.” When saying goodnight to an escort, residents were not to “remain parked in front of the residence.” From Sunday to Thursday, curfew was 10:00 p.m., and lights were required to be off at 11:00 p.m. Curfew was extended to midnight on Fridays and 1:00 a.m. on Saturdays for upperclassmen and second-semester freshmen. Special permissions were extended for proms, the military ball, dinner dances, and athletic events. The University purchased Greycliff in 1969 and remodeled it four years later. In 2011, the Heights rated the coed dormitory a 9.5 out of a possible 10.
Note: Boston College Magazine is indebted to Martha “Muffie” Martin ’66, P’96, for her recent gift of the original Greycliff regulations to the Boston College Archives. Readers who have unique items for potential inclusion in the University Archives should contact the Burns Library at email@example.com or 617-552-3282.