Seeing the Full Range of Possibilities

Seeing the Full Range of Possibilities

It took a while, but John Boylan discovered BC's true essence

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

For many years, John Boylan says, he kept his focus on his flourishing science career at Boston College, and took little notice of the wider University community values around him.

John Boylan, manager of the Merkert Chemistry Center's nuclear magnetic resonance laboratory, is the 2003 Community Service Award winner. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
But after an introduction to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises six years ago, Boylan, the manager of the Merkert Chemistry Center's nuclear magnetic resonance laboratory, changed his life goals dramatically.

Boylan became an active member of Ignacio Volunteers and subsequently led groups of students on multiple service trips to Mexico and Belize. The Belize experience prompted Boylan and his wife Rebecca to financially sponsor a 15-year-old Belize girl who is now able to continue her education because of the couple's generosity.

Boylan also volunteers for a weekly shift at Rosie's Place shelter for homeless women in the Boston area.

In recognition of these service commitments, University President William P. Leahy, SJ presented Boylan with the 2003 Community Service Award at a special dinner last night in the Heights Room of the Lower Campus Dining Hall.

"Wouldn't it be great if everything in life was so easy," mused Boylan, "to be recognized for doing those things that really animate you, the things that you love to do, and being with the people that you love to be with?

"This is a part of the Boston College community that I value - the ideals around service - and to be a part of that is a great honor."

Boylan arrived at BC in 1992, fresh from post-doctoral study in chemistry at Boston University Medical School. He took charge of the then-new Merkert NMH laboratory where he supervises operations and teaches graduate students how to utilize the complex technical facility.

"I have always been very consumed with my career in science," said Boylan, who earned a degree in biology from St. Louis University and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri. "I had always sort of knuckled-down on my career path.
"Boston College opened possibilities and awakenings through a variety of things. I think what really started it for me was making the Spiritual Exercises in 1997. In fact, I stayed on and helped direct that retreat for another four years. It was that and also the community, the guys I was playing basketball with or the people that I was praying next to in church. It's been a great place to be. There's a lot more to life than just science."

Another turning point for Boylan was his chance meeting with former Ignacio Volunteers director Rev. Ted Dziak, SJ, in 1999. "I was looking for opportunities to do something outside of my responsibilities here in the laboratory," he recalled. "I was really looking for a way to connect to the larger community here at BC. Fr. Ted said, 'I need you for Mexico.'"

Soon, Boylan was leading a group of 15 students on a work project at a shelter for homeless migrant workers in Tijuana. His group undertook a variety of service assignments, from preparing meals to visiting youth detention centers and prisons.

"It turned out to be a really life-changing experience in a number of ways," Boylan said, "not only from my own perspective of service, but also in terms of the connection I was able to make with students - a very different connection than I had here in the laboratory."

A year later, Boylan led a group of Ignacio Volunteers to a small village in the Central American nation of Belize, where the group taught in local schools and supervised youth activities.

Boylan has returned to Belize several times. "On our second trip down there, I met Rosebelle, a young girl who had just graduated from elementary school, but really didn't have a family that was present. She was unable to go on to high school, and the principal of her school asked if there was any way we might be able to help her."

Boylan and his wife agreed to support Rosebelle financially. "She's a marvelous young girl, very engaging," he said. "We have made a couple of trips down on our own to visit her. Rosebelle has become very dear to us."

Boylan began volunteering his services one night per week at Boston's Rosie's Place in 1998. "That also turned out to be a great connection, because it was the same night of the week that the PULSE program kids from BC were down there and I wound up driving the PULSE van.

"I also met my wife there," he added. "Rebecca is an architect from Cambridge and had been volunteering and was on Rosie's board of directors.

"They sort of just fixed us up," he said with a laugh.

John and Rebecca were married in Gasson Hall last June. The flower girls at the ceremony were seven children from the couple's Fields Corner neighborhood, and the wedding guests included a contingent of Belize residents who had flown in for the festivities.


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