New scholarship is tribute to generosity of a teacher and mentor

By Mark Sullivan

Staff Writer

A new scholarship fund at the Woods College of Advancing Studies has been named for one of the school's most respected teachers, Rev. Robert D. Farrell, SJ, who has instilled a love for English literature in students from Baghdad to Boston over a distinguished 45-year teaching career.

Rev. Robert D. Farrell, SJ.
Three-hundred-fifty guests attended a benefit dinner at Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston April 30 for the Fr. Farrell Scholarship Fund, which will support local part-time students in the school. A former student, Erik Weihenmayer '91, first blind climber to conquer Mount Everest, and this year's BC Commencement speaker, gave the keynote address.

"The amount of personal caring and mentoring he has done for students over the years makes him really stand out," Dean James Woods, SJ, said of Fr. Farrell, a part-time faculty member in English and Advancing Studies who has taught in the evening college for 13 years.

Leominster native Fr. Farrell, who wore a khaki cassock in Mesopotamian sands before teaching for years in Portland, Maine, has remained true to his New England roots.

He teaches a Capstone course, Five Heroic Americans, which focuses on New England writers Frost, Dickinson, Emerson, Thoreau and Mary Rowlandson, the 17th-century Lancaster woman whose captivity narrative from the King Philip's War was America's first best-seller.

Fr. Farrell taught at the former Jesuit-run Baghdad College in Iraq from 1958-61. His other teaching posts have included the Jesuits' Shadowbrook seminary (1966-68) and Cranwell School (1968-74) in Lenox, Mass., and Cheverus High School in Portland (1975-90).

A brochure for the scholarship fund describes Fr. Farrell thus: "With a sense of awe and adventure, this popular teacher awakens students' souls, sending spirits soaring toward Heights unbounded...His is a life lived unabridged. In showing us the place where truth can be met, this teacher shows where he stands. The teacher is the real maker of history."

The testimonials that have come in from current and former students strike a similar note.

Diane Neylon WCAS '01, of Watertown, a medical records assistant in University Health Services, writes: "I have taken your courses and enjoyed the literature and learning. My daughter, Betsy ['02], has rated your class as her No. 1 favorite. It's a joy to know we both experienced such a wonderful mentor who touches and speaks to the young and old at Boston College."

Writes Anna Szabados WCAS '02 of Concord: "You opened my eyes to beauty I never thought I could behold. Thank you."

Fr. Farrell said he was pleased the scholarship would help students working their way through the evening college. "I'm impressed by their motivation, by the hard work they put in," he said.

"A lot of them come straight from work - they have a drink of Coca-Cola and head right into two-and-a-half hours of class. A lot of them are raising families. They are very, very highly motivated - and very bright."

Teaching has been central to his calling as a Jesuit, Fr. Farrell said.

"Our vocation is to go any place there is a need of God's work to be done," he said. "Literature is a wonderful answer to Ignatius' call to find God in all things. It opens the minds and hearts of students to God's works in the world.

"I often say I've never worked a day in my life, because I've enjoyed every minute."

Contributions to the Robert D. Farrell, SJ, Scholarship Fund may be sent to the Woods College of Advancing Studies, Boston College, Chestnut Hill MA 02467.


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