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April 29, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 16

A picnic at the site of the former Lawrence farm in Chestnut Hill - and future location of the Bapst and Burns libraries - is shown in this photo from 1907, the year Boston College acquired the property. By 1913, the old farm had become the new campus for BC. (Photos courtesy of Boston College Archives)

New Chapter in a Shared History

BC-Archdiocese ties go all the way back to the University's beginnings

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Boston College's purchase of the Boston Archbishop's mansion and adjoining grounds is the latest chapter in a shared history between school and archdiocese that reaches back more than 150 years, says University Historian Thomas O'Connor, who as author of a history of the Church in Boston personifies the ties between the institutional neighbors at Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street.

"Archbishop Sean O'Malley stated he was pleased the property would stay in the family, and that was an appropriate statement," said O'Connor. "BC and the Archdiocese are not only located in the same area: their whole history has been intertwined."

Inspired by a vision of a "college in the city" that would serve the sons of the growing Irish immigrant population, the third bishop of Boston, John Fitzpatrick, in the late 1840s asked Rev. John McElroy, SJ, to secure funds and a site for what would become Boston College, O'Connor said.

The new Jesuit college that eventually was chartered in 1863 was located in the South End, close to where Archbishop John Williams in the following decade would construct the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

When Archbishop William O'Connell, an 1881 graduate of Boston College, looked to move archdiocesan operations from the congested South End to the open spaces of Brighton in the early 1900s, he encouraged BC to follow suit.

"With his sense of 'Romanita,' O'Connell looked westward to the suburbs of Brighton and Newton where a series of hills reminded him of the famous hills of Rome," O'Connor said. "In this area, where his predecessor, Archbishop Williams, had earlier established St. John's Seminary, he could create a 'little Rome.'

"It was in this area that he used a bequest from the B. F. Keith family to construct his new Italianate residence that became today's Cardinal's Residence. He also supplied funds to expand the seminary; supported the nearby St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which had also moved out from the South End; encouraged the establishment of Newton College in the Newton area, and vigorously supported the efforts of Fr. Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, to move Boston College out of the congested South End and into Chestnut Hill."

A 1926 photo shows 1881 graduate Cardinal William O'Connell, who as Boston Archbishop had encouraged Boston College to move from its South End location, walking the grounds of the Chestnut Hill campus. He is accompanied by (R-L) University President James Dolan, SJ, Walter Guyette of Lowell and Jesuit Vice Provincial James Kilroy, SJ.

In 1931, the 50th anniversary of by-then-Cardinal O'Connell's graduation from BC was marked at elaborate Commencement ceremonies with an honorary degree and by a barrage of press coverage, O'Connor said.

Ten years later, when BC sought to buy the Louis K. Liggett estate in Chestnut Hill, the cardinal insisted on donating the entire cost of the property, which a grateful Boston College named Cardinal O'Connell Hall. "This was one more example of the high regard in which Cardinal O'Connell held his alma mater," O'Connor said.

A 1926 image from the Boston College Archives shows Cardinal O'Connell, appearing very much a Prince of the Church in shimmering biretta, cassock and cape, walking the college grounds with black-robed BC President James Dolan, SJ, and other dignitaries.

Cardinal O'Connell was one of the hundreds of men Boston College has provided to the priesthood in Boston over the years.

Another was Cardinal Richard Cushing x'17, who left the Heights for the seminary, yet remained a devoted - and much beloved - son of the college. Cardinal Cushing presided at the dedications of Carney Hall, More Hall and the Cheverus, Fenwick and Fitzpatrick residence halls, and was influential in the founding of what is now the Connell School of Nursing, raising nearly a million dollars toward the nursing-school building that today bears his name.

Cardinal Cushing would mark the 1963 centennial of his alma mater by commissioning a commemorative book, The Crowned Hilltop, and by preaching at a Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Cross Cathedral.

A photo in the Boston College Archives shows Cardinal Cushing, accompanied by BC President Michael Walsh, SJ, in a familiar pose, with a shovelful of earth at a campus groundbreaking [see www.bc.edu/offices/omc/phdb/meta-elements/jpg/a-023-051-05h.jpg].

Now, with the milestone transfer of the archbishop's residence and grounds, Boston College builds its future in Brighton as the Archdiocese returns to its roots in the South End.

"I do see this as a 'Second Spring' for Boston College," O'Connor said. "I see it in terms of similar importance to the original move from the South End to Chestnut Hill. It's a new future for us."

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