The 24th president of Boston College, Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., passed away on March 18 at the Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts at age 92. Aside from being remembered as an extraordinary man who treated everyone with warmth and respect, Fr. Monan is credited with preventing Boston College from falling into financial crisis and guiding the university towards the national recognition it enjoys today as one of the leading Catholic universities in the country.
Fr. Monan served as president from 1972 through 1996. According to an announcement published on the BC website on March 18, Fr. Monan transformed Boston College from a mostly-male, financially unstable commuter school into the nationally-ranked residential university it is today. Reinvigorating BC’s commitment to academic excellence, Fr. Monan also sought to make the school stand out as a Catholic and Jesuit institution in its moral and religious formation of students. BC’s growing academic strength began to attract students from all over the country and the world.
In 1974, Boston College bought nearby Newton College of the Sacred Heart, adding 40 acres to Boston College property. This acquisition helped facilitate the construction of many residence halls over the course of Fr. Monan’s 24-year tenure as president. In the 1980s, many athletic and academic buildings were constructed, including Robsham Theater, O’Neill Library, Conte Forum, and Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections. In the 1990s, Merkert Chemistry Center, the McMullen Museum, and a law library were constructed, and Alumni Stadium was expanded. Construction projects under Fr. Monan transformed the campus into what it is today.
Fr. Monan’s impact extended beyond campus and beyond the City of Boston. In 1989, after six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, Fr. Monan was among a delegation of Jesuits who traveled to El Salvador. He was an outspoken critic of the United States’ contributions to the Salvadoran regime. At the funeral Mass on March 22, Fr. Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., former Dean of the Lynch School of Education, said in a homily that Fr. Monan “raised up the laypeople and Jesuits who laid down their lives in El Salvador speaking truth to power” and “truly believed in a faith that does justice.”
Within the City of Boston, Fr. Monan worked tirelessly to establish good relationships between Boston College and the wider community. He created the Boston College Neighborhood Center, which has a variety of community outreach initiatives that connect BC to the Brighton community. Fr. Monan also played a role in the construction of what would later become the TD Garden.
The funeral Mass on March 22 was presided over by Fr. Robert L. Keane, S.J., and attended by current University President Fr. William P. Leahy, S.J., Auxiliary Bishops Mark W. O’Connell and Peter J. Uglietto, many Jesuits and diocesan priests, and countless friends, family, and laypeople impacted by the life of Fr. Monan. Fr. O’Keefe said at the funeral Mass that Fr. Monan would be remembered as a “visionary who saw possibilities no else saw” for Boston College. Speaking of Fr. Monan’s background as a scholar of philosophy, Fr. O’Keefe said that he certainly “had a penetrating intellect but he was also wise... He was a truly alive person.” He will be remembered “in perpetuity” as “unfailingly modest and thoughtful, grateful, and gracious.”