by Andrea Baquero-Degwitz
On August 20, 2007, Boston College purchased 18 acres of land from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, owned by the Boston Archdiocese, for $65 million, adding to the 43 acres of land the university had previously bought from the Archdiocese in 2004 for $99.4 million. Today, the majority of the seminary’s land exists as Boston College’s Brighton Campus, which houses the School of Theology and Ministry, the Cadigan Alumni Center, and the Brighton Dance Studio.
In order to prepare men for the priesthood, Archbishop John J. Williams founded the Boston Ecclesiastical Seminary in 1884, with the intention of forming these men for the Archdiocese of Boston
and other dioceses of New England. The seminary began with 32 students, but the number of seminarians more than doubled to 70 in 1885 and increased to 135 in 1885.
In the 1920s, the seminary underwent a significant expansion through the construction of new facilities, which included a new dining hall, kitchen, heating boilers, and a convent for the sisters who worked at the seminary. In addition, the first cardinal of Boston, Archbishop William O’Connell, transferred the Boston archdiocesan offices to Brighton by building a Roman Renaissance Revival style mansion on the south side of campus for Boston’s future cardinals to reside in. In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Boston and spent the night at the Cardinal’s Residence.
According to Brighton historian William Marchione, "the Cardinal, who loved beautiful architecture, used the money to create a ‘Little Rome’ on the hills of Brighton." Cardinal O’Connell "wished to leave to his successors a residence worthy of the head of so great a See.”
Because the Boston Ecclesiastical Seminary had been dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, the majority of the people knew the seminary under the name of its patron saint as opposed to its legal name. Therefore, in 1941, the General Court of the Commonwealth approved the seminary’s name change to Saint John’s Seminary.
Beginning in the 1970s, the enrollment at St. John’s Seminary began to decline. Furthermore, St. John’s College Seminary closed in 2002. In order to raise money due to the sexual abuse cases in 2002, the Archdiocese of Boston decided to sell the majority of the seminary’s land to Boston College.
“This property was a visible symbol of the imperial archdiocese in the early 20th century, and then, during the very difficult years in 2002 and 2003, it was a site of daily protest and picketing,” said David Quigley, a historian and the Provost and Dean of Faculties at Boston College.
Nevertheless, according to The New York Times, “even before the Archdiocese of Boston sold the land, the Archbishop of Boston, Sean P. O’Malley, who as a Capuchin Franciscan friar had taken a vow of poverty, announced he was not interested in living in the mansion of his predecessors, and moved into a modest cathedral rectory.”
Currently, BC plans to develop Brighton Campus. The university will relocate the McMullen Museum of Art to the Cardinal’s Residence, nearly doubling the museum’s current area in Devlin Hall. The project will be completed in 2016.