by Peter Klapes
A critical year for Boston College, 1907 marked not only the installation of 48-year-old Thomas I. Gasson, S.J. as President of Boston College, but also the school’s move from Boston’s cramped South End to the wealthy, suburban Chestnut Hill neighborhood.
Fr. Gasson, born in 1859 in Kent, England, was a member of the Church of England until the age of 13 when he moved to the United States and subsequently converted to Catholicism. At the age of 32, in 1891, Fr. Gasson entered the Society of Jesus and came to Boston College four years later to teach ethics and economics until his appointment as President in 1907.
During his first year as President, Fr. Gasson purchased the Chestnut Hill property, then known as Lawrence Farm, a few miles west of Boston. Galvanized by a vision that Boston College would someday be an international institution promoting the Jesuit ideals and providing a world-class education, he immediately began to search for renowned lay faculty in a variety of areas. Later that year, Fr. Gasson organized a world-wide architectural competition that sought for the new campus’ design and architectural master plan. Two years later, in 1909, Charles Donagh Maginnis’ “Oxford in America” proposal was selected. The new campus’ main building, “Recitation Hall,” known simply as the “Tower Building,” was built on Chestnut Hill’s highest point and opened in 1913.
Currently known as Gasson Hall, the building houses the Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, numerous classrooms, and a beautiful rotunda on the first floor with murals of various Jesuits and a marble statue of Archangel Michael overcoming the devil.
Upon his retirement in 1914, a tribute to Fr. Gasson was published in that year’s January edition of The Boston College Stylus, featuring almost four pages of praise from local newspapers and politicians.
“Fr. Gasson has become one of Boston’s institutions,” writes then-Mayor of Boston, John Fitzgerald. “He is a man of most remarkable personality and has entered into every phase of the life of the community. He has labored patiently and zealously day and night for the furtherance of the new Boston College buildings and has set an example of accomplishment which is a pattern to all.”
The Boston Globe corroborates this sentiment: “Fr. Gasson has given years of splendid and fruitful service to Boston College, first as professor in the academic courses and later as president. His was the impelling force that made the magnificent building at University Heights the new home of Boston College, and his name will always be associated with that great undertaking. Besides carrying the heavy burden of his enterprise, Fr. Gasson has found time to identify himself with many diverse movements for ethical and social progress, and has ever shown a tolerant and liberal spirit in his dealings with men of other faiths. Hence regret at his departure is widespread, and all will join in the sincere wish that a much-needed rest will restore him to health.”
Today, Gasson Hall stands as Boston College’s centerpiece, a testament to the President’s remarkable asset to our beloved school. Gasson, in the early 2000’s, underwent significant renovations that were completed in 2008. Its four bells, each named after a notable Jesuit, continue to ring loud today.