Countless “Friends” Attend Fr. Neenan’s Wake, Funeral

by Chris Canniff


Fr. Neenan


William B. Neenan, SJ

Born: January 9, 1929

Entered the Society of Jesus: August 15, 1948

Ordained to the Priesthood: June 15, 1961

Entered into Eternal Life: June 25, 2014


Rev. William Neenan, SJ, the Boston College Jesuit and administrator who passed away Wednesday, June 25 at the age of 85, was remembered this week at a wake and a Mass of Christian Burial, both held at St. Ignatius Church. Several hundred members of the BC community attended these events to pay their last respects.


During a career at Boston College which spanned thirty-five years, Fr. Neenan held numerous administrative posts and became deeply embedded in the lives of everyone on the Heights. Many of these people, including fellow administrators, professors, staff, alumni, and students flocked to St. Ignatius on Monday, June 30 for his wake. Those arriving at 4pm, the start of the visiting hours, already found themselves waiting in a thirty-minute line, which wove around the church and only continued to grow as the afternoon wore on into the evening.

Fr. Neenan in 1948 at the Jesuits' Wisconsin Province Novitiate in Florissant, MO
Fr. Neenan in 1948 at the Jesuits' Wisconsin Province Novitiate in Florissant, MO


In front of the altar, mourners knelt and prayed before Fr. Neenan, who was holding rosary beads in his hands and was clothed in an alb and stole which bore the letters AMDG, the abbreviation of the Jesuit motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God). His brother and sister stood in a receiving line and greeted those in attendance along with Fr. Gene Merz, SJ, a long-time friend of Fr. Neenan who entered the Society in the same year.

Rev T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, Rector of the Boston College Jesuit Community, was the principal celebrant of Fr. Neenan’s funeral Mass on Tuesday, July 1 along with Rev. William Leahy, SJ, President of Boston College, and Rev. Robert Daly, SJ, professor emeritus of theology. Several other priests affiliated with the university and the Society concelebrated the Mass.


Thirty minutes before Mass began, the seats in the church were nearly all taken.  The overflowing crowd filled the aisles and rear of the church, leaving many people standing for the liturgy, which lasted an hour and a half.


Following readings from the Book of Wisdom, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and the Gospel of Luke, Fr. Daly preached a homily.


Of Fr. Neenan’s love for Boston College, Fr. Daly said, “Bill joyfully gloried in the fact that his assignments, his mission, and his love were one.”


“A central part of Bill’s nature, the nature on which he built his graced missionary activity of preaching the good news about BC and about anyone or anything connected with BC, was his need to be in conversation,” Fr. Daly continued.


His Catholic faith was central to his life, and Fr. Daly noted, “This man who came to BC was someone who was already deeply in love with God’s Word and who, like St. Paul, couldn’t keep himself from telling people about it.”


Above all, Fr. Daly wished to underscore the Christ-like and priestly character that abided in Fr. Neenan, saying: “Bill was very human, and in ways that you come to recognize when you live in close proximity with someone who is also holy, his was a humanity and a holiness that attracted, that enabled him, with his mellifluous and friendly voice, in just a few minutes, to be for so many people like Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening up to them the real meaning of their lives.”


Two more speakers eulogized Fr. Neenan following Communion. First was Joseph Quinn, professor of economics, who recently concluded a year of serving as Interim Provost and Dean of Faculties. He shared a close relationship with Fr. Neenan, who was also an economist and who presided over the marriage of Professor Quinn and his wife Diane.


“What really distinguished Bill was his friendship with thousands of Boston College undergraduates. Bill didn’t even teach courses here, yet he knew more undergraduates and then alumni than any ten of us,” said Quinn. Fr. Neenan was known by nearly all students and could be seen eating lunch with them on any given day in Eagle’s Nest.


Noting Fr. Neenan’s love of conversation, Quinn choked up as he concluded, “We have been blessed that Fr. Bill walked and talked—and talked and talked—among us. Goodbye friend.”


Fr. Leahy presented the final eulogy, and he began by noting, as the others also did, that Fr. Neenan loved talking to people and calling them “friend.”


“He always had that engaging greeting: ‘Hi friend.’ Sometimes he had no idea who it was, but he would say, ‘Hi friend.’ And he loved talking to people, especially those he had never met before.”


Fr. Leahy continued, “Fr. Neenan loved people, and people loved him. He enjoyed being with others, and he allowed so many to be a part of his life—a wonderful gift to him and for all of us to reflect upon. In life and in death, he brought many people together as our presence in St. Ignatius shows this morning.”


Like Fr. Daly, Fr. Leahy concluded by noting the priesthood which was so much a part of Fr. Neenan: “We know so well that Fr. Neenan was a tremendous person, and most of all he was a faithful priest and Jesuit. That is how I will most remember him. His life reminds me of a passage in the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament in which the Lord declares, ‘I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my mind and my heart.’”


Fr. Leahy then prayed the Final Commendation and incensed Fr. Neenan’s casket. Just before the casket was taken out of the church, the Jesuits gathered around and chanted the Salve Regina in honor of Mary, Mother and Queen of the Society of Jesus.


Fr. Neenan was laid to rest at the Jesuit Cemetery at Campion Center in Weston, MA.


For more about Fr. Neenan, check out the following links.


America Magazine (video of his Agape Latte talk on 2/4/14)


Boston College (obituary)


Boston College (full video of his funeral Mass; Fr. Daly's homily begins at 22:30; Joe Quinn's eulogy begins at 1:04:05; Fr. Leahy's eulogy begins at 1:12:20)


Boston College (The Neenan Tapes: video interview about his Jesuit formation)


The Boston Globe (obituary)


The Boston Herald (obituary)


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