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Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Former Congressman and Dean of Boston College Law School, Dies Aged 86

Robert F. Drinan, SJ, a former congressman and dean of the Boston College Law School who fought for human rights abroad and promoted justice and civil rights at home, died Sunday in Washington at the age of 86.

A wake will be held from 7-9 p.m. in St. Mary's Chapel on Friday, Feb. 2, he will lie in state at St. Ignatius Church from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Feb. 3. A Funeral Mass is scheduled for St. Ignatius Church at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3.

At Boston College, Fr. Drinan is primarily remembered for his robust leadership of the law school from 1956 to 1970 – a period in which he took what had been a well-regarded local institute and transformed it into one of the nation’s top law schools.

“Father Drinan was a vigorous and dynamic force at Boston College,” said Boston College University Historian Thomas O’Connor. “He attracted the kind of scholars and professors to the law school that would eventually make it one of the most significant in the country.”

During Fr. Drinan’s stewardship, the school’s faculty nearly doubled in size.


John Garvey, the law school’s current dean, called Fr. Drinan one of the most influential leaders in the school’s history.

“He has been a personal hero to me,” Garvey said of Fr. Drinan. “I am constantly hearing stories from alumni who were inspired by him, who thank him for getting them into law school and starting their careers.”

Fr. Drinan left Boston College in 1970 to run for a seat in Congress, which he won. He served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Massachusetts, and was the first congressman to call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. He also played a central role in rewriting federal bankruptcy rules.

In 1980, the Vatican ruled that no priest could hold a legislative position, and Fr. Drinan complied, leaving Congress in 1981.

Since then, he taught at Georgetown University Law Center, including courses in legal ethics and international human rights. He has also written eleven books, including Religious Freedom and World War: Can God and Caesar Coexist?

Prof. George Brown, who last year became the inaugural holder of the Robert F. Drinan, S.J. Endowed Chair at the Boston College Law School, said what made the former dean extraordinary was his excellence in so many fields of endeavor, from higher education administration to politics to scholarly research on matters of constitutional law and international human rights.

“He is really an inspiration for people in legal education but also for lawyers generally,” Brown said.

During the 1960s, Fr. Drinan was Boston College’s leading spokesman on civil rights matters. He condemned what he called the de facto segregation of Boston public schools and openly challenged BC students to become involved in civil rights issues.

Brown recalled that in at least two recent speeches, Fr. Drinan had stressed the importance of including minority students at law schools.

“He clearly remembered this as one of his priorities, and I think it’s one of the aspects of his life of which he would be most proud,” Brown said.

Fr. Drinan grew up in the Readville section of Boston and graduated from high school in 1938. He received a B.A. and an M.A. from Boston College in 1942 and joined the Jesuit Order the same year. He was ordained in 1953. He received law degrees from Georgetown University in 1950, and a doctorate in theology from Gregorian University in Rome in 1954, in addition to receiving 21 honorary degrees throughout his life.

James Woods, SJ, dean of the College of Advancing Studies at BC, first met Fr. Drinan in the early 1950s when both men were studying at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology.

“His intense drive and boundless energy characterized Bob’s daily fulfillment of his Jesuit vocation,” Woods said.

Fr. Drinan served on the board of directors of the International League for Human Rights, the Lawyer's Committee for International Human Rights, the Council for a Livable World Educational Fund, the International Labor Rights Fund, Americans for Democratic Action, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“In an amazing career that has spanned more than half a century, Father Drinan has never faltered in his extraordinary humanitarian efforts and support for justice under the law,” the American Bar Association said in 2004 when it selected Fr. Drinan as the recipient of the ABA Medal, its highest honor.

“He has demonstrated to lawyers what it means to be committed to public service and to countless law students what is embodied in the highest dedication to ethical, moral legal practice.”


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