(7-17-98) -- Charles F. Donovan, SJ, who served Boston College for a half-century as a teacher, pioneering administrator and devoted chronicler of its past, died of heart failure at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton on Friday. He was 86.
Fr. Donovan was the institutional memory of Boston College. Since arriving as a student in 1929, Fr. Donovan served as a faculty member (1948-70); founding dean of the School of Education (1952-65); academic vice president (1961-68); member of the Board of Trustees (1960-72) and its predecessor, the Board of Directors (1968-72); and senior vice president and dean of faculties (1968-79).
The official historian of the University since 1979, Fr. Donovan co-authored History of Boston College: From the Beginnings to 1990, published in 1990 by the University Press of Boston College, and has penned a series of "Occasional Papers on the History of Boston College," which were compiled in 1994 into a book, Boston College: Glimpses of the Past.
Fr. Donovan's remarkable memory was a source of marvel for a student journalist who interviewed him prior to his 85th birthday, on Good Friday 1997.
"He recalls conversations that he had with people in the 1930s with less hesitation than it takes for most people to remember what they had for breakfast," wrote Brian Thomas '98, in the student newspaper The Heights. "He tells stories about men with names that most students only associate with places where they have class or eat lunch - names like Devlin, McElroy and Gasson. To sit down and talk with Fr. Donovan is an enlightening and entertaining experience, one that should be a University core requirement."
Fr. Donovan collaborated with late Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Paul A. Fitzgerald, SJ, on History of Boston College, which builds upon an earlier 1947 history written by David R. Dunigan, SJ, and recounts the University's academic and athletic milestones and postwar physical transformation.
Reflecting on the 540-page work in a 1990 interview, Fr. Donovan acknowledged he was not the most objective of historians when it came to his beloved Boston College. But he said he had done his utmost to capture accurately -- as well as fondly -- the character and spirit of the school.
"I tend to be an optimistic person," he said. "I am a BC alumnus and I have been happy every moment I've been at BC. I've never been anywhere else. I don't mean that I'm uncritical, but I may take a slightly rosy view of the institution and its history."
His "Occasional Papers" on University history included a look at the tradition of debate at Boston College; a profile of Joseph Coolidge Shaw, SJ, the College's first patron; recollections of alumni from the 1890s; analyses of 19th-century classical curricula; profiles of graduates who served Boston through the priesthood; and a profile of the war-time Class of 1917.
Interviewed in 1982 as he was embarking on his research into old University correspondence, presidential decrees, back copies of The Pilot and The Heights, and other documents, the former long-time dean commented: "This is the kind of work I would have been doing 30 years ago if I hadn't become an administrator. So in a sense, I'm living my life in reverse."
Fr. Donovan once said his aim as a historian was to place Boston College within the larger scenario of American higher education in the late-19th and 20th centuries.
"As a historian, you begin with an unanswered question," he said in 1982. "For instance: Was this little school in the South End of Boston isolated from the mainstream of American university life? Come to find out, it wasn't. In 1883, the year The Stylus was founded, the students engaged in an exchange of journals with more non-Jesuit than Jesuit institutions. This grapevine we're so conscious of today - that if students in Peoria cut their hair in a certain way, students at Worcester Tech do the same - was operating in the 19th century as it operates today."
Born in Boston in 1912 and educated at the Boston Latin School, Fr. Donovan arrived at BC as a freshman just 16 years after the school had moved from the South End to its present Chestnut Hill campus. After taking his bachelor's degree from in 1933, he earned a master's in English from Fordham University in 1939, a licentiate in sacred theology from Weston College in 1944 and a doctorate in philosophy of education from Yale University in 1948.
He joined the faculty in 1948 as professor of education philosophy and chairman of the Education Department in the College of Arts and Sciences. Recognizing that departmental status was not adequate, given the rising certification requirements for Massachusetts teachers at the time, Fr. Donovan proposed the establishment of a School of Education. His proposal was quickly approved and, beginning with the school's opening in 1952, Fr. Donovan served as dean for 13 years.
The School of Education established in his honor the Charles F. Donovan, SJ, Teaching Scholars program, which benefits students in the master's degree program who intend to teach in urban schools or work with the underprivileged.
Fr. Donovan was awarded an honorary doctorate by Boston College in 1978. He also received an honorary degree that year from St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia.
In 1985, Boston College awarded Fr. Donovan the Joseph Coolidge Shaw, SJ, Medal. In making the presentation, University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, cited Fr. Donovan's leadership by encouragement and his ability to "appreciate the value of new ideas wherever he found them."
He entered the Society of Jesus in 1933, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1943. Fr. Donovan served the New England Province of the Society of Jesus as its advisor on higher education (1961-68) and as a delegate to assemblies on the provincial level and in Rome. He also served as a trustee at Fairfield University (1968-80), St. Peter's College (1968-75), and Loyola University, Chicago (1969-81).
On the national level, he served on the executive committees of the American Association for Higher Education (1964-67) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (1963-67), and as chairman of the coordinating committee of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (1967-71).
Fr. Donovan has written several score of articles, mostly on the subject of higher education, which have appeared in such publications as Jesuit Education Quarterly, America, Commonweal and Catholic Educational Review. His service to the community also included board memberships at the Perkins Institute for the Blind (1966-71), Action for Boston Community Development (1961-64), and the Model Cities Higher Education Program (1969-72).
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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