A Legacy of Excellence

Boston College Celebrates Monan Era

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, accepted the gratitude of the Boston College community for his 24 years of achievement, and offered his own in return, at a special tribute to his presidency held May 1 in Conte Forum.

The two-and-a-half hour event, "A Legacy of Excellence: Boston College Celebrates J. Donald Monan, SJ," brought together approximately 2,500 administrators, faculty, students, alumni and special guests to show their appreciation for Fr. Monan.

Fr. Monan views a video tribute on the Conte Forum screen at the event. With him, from left, are Newton Mayor Thomas Concannon, Vice President Margaret Dwyer and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

Following a program of speakers, video presentations and musical performances, Fr. Monan thanked the audience members for their support not only of himself, but of Boston College throughout his administration.

"I cannot recall any assembly," he said, "that better represented the full spectrum of individuals whose proven friendship and love for Boston College has meant so much to the University, and so much to me.

"Each of your contributions has been different," Fr. Monan said, "and they formed a mosaic of strength and beauty that could have been created in no other way. "

Fr. Monan said his pride in having served as president "is clear-eyed enough to recognize excellence and rejoice in it, but a pride that is astute enough to trace accomplishment to its origins, where there stands not one person but a legion even larger than this room. "

Fr. Monan said that because the University 's aspirations are so much higher now than they were when he assumed the presidency, the challenges facing his successor, William P. Leahy, SJ, are larger than the ones he faced in 1972. But he expressed confidence in the ability of the University to realize its high self-expectations.

"These past 24 years have taught me, if teaching was ever needed, that ambitions for an institution as complex as a modern university do not depend on its president, " he said. "The talent, dedication, goodwill and generosity of literally thousands of people will play their part in shaping its future. "

The "prospects of increasing excellence" are compelling, he said, and the hands to assist in these efforts are so much more numerous and energetic.

Drawing on his well-known affection for hockey for an analogy, Fr. Monan -- who will step down from the presidency on July 31 -- said the fact that his "turn on the ice has been so long has made it all the more enjoyable."

"Even if I never score another goal, I will continue to be a member of the team," he concluded with a smile, "and perhaps enjoy the action even more while watching behind the protective glass. "

Clear skies and comfortable temperatures provided a pleasant backdrop for the tribute, which began with a parade through the Middle and Lower campuses and into Conte Forum. Prior to the start of the program, those attending mingled on the forum floor or in the concourse, where an exhibit showcasing highlights of Fr. Monan s administration was on display. Among the guests were Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Newton Mayor Thomas Concannon, as well as members of Fr. Monan s family.

After a chorus of University performing groups led the singing of America the Beautiful, Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ -- the master of ceremonies -- formally began the event. Fr. Monan made his entrance after the invocation by Assoc. Prof. Michael McFarland, SJ (CSOM), acknowledging the standing ovation -- the first of three during the event -- with a modest wave of his hand before taking his seat.

In his remarks, Fr. Neenan likened Fr. Monan s career at Boston College to an epic poem "awash in characters who, whatever their stature, are essential to the complex mosaic which characterizes the great story line.

"Fr. Monan would be the first to recognize that Boston College's success over the past 24 years is due to the contribution of a large cast of characters," said Fr. Neenan, introducing the first of many such "characters," who offered their respective homages to Fr. Monan.

The first part of the tribute, "The Legacy and Its Making," featured four presentations examining specific areas of Fr. Monan's career. Board of Trustees Chairman Geoffrey T. Boisi recalled Fr. Monan 's leadership and public service roles, such as the Greater Boston One to One mentoring program, the negotiations which resulted in construction of the Fleet Center, and in national higher education issues.

"It means a great deal to all of us and gives us tremendous comfort that you will still be with us," Boisi said of Fr. Monan's forthcoming appointment as University chancellor. "We will be able to continue to benefit from your spiritual guidance and have you represent Boston College as the leading international educator and religious statesman you are, providing this community with strategic counsel and further creatively developing the resources of the University to execute our long-range plans.

"You have run this place with soul and your record of accomplishment speaks for itself."

Executive Vice President Frank B. Campanella spoke of Fr. Monan's distinctive management style in shaping Boston College as a major university.

"If the final measure of a leader is how he leaves the organization to deal with its future," Campanella said, "then Fr. Monan has built a foundation that places Boston College among the top 30 or 40 institutions in this country and ... we arrive amidst those competitor institutions strong and feisty, ready to be launched."

Prof. Robert Faulkner (Political Science) reviewed Fr. Monan s numerous accomplishments in building the University s physical, academic and student resources. He cited the additions of Newton Campus, O'Neill Library and Robsham Theater, the rise in performance and dramatic arts, and the establishment of women s and AHANA programs as examples.

"What will stand out for future generations is the solidity of it all," Faulkner said. "The University s progress rests upon firm foundations -- not just in money, but in the hearts of its alumni and benefactors, in able management, in a substantial and growing endowment and in its attractiveness to students."

Fr. Monan has upheld many venerable traditions in his presidency, said Prof. Mary Brabeck (SOE), chief among them the Catholic and Jesuit concern for social justice. This care is reflected in the Jesuit Institute, the International Center for Higher Educat ion, the undergraduate core curriculum cultural diversity requirement, and the PULSE and Faith, Peace and Justice programs, she said, as well as in Fr. Monan s advocacy for justice in the 1989 slayings at the University of Central America in El Salvador.

"Institutional identity emerges from mission, not the reverse," Brabeck said. "If we want to know who we are, who we have become and what we are going to be, we must look to that mission and the forces that shaped it ... [This university] has been shaped by Aristotelian philosophy and Ignatian spiritualit y, the venerable traditions through which Fr. Monan has written, spoken and led Boston College."

Fr. Monan s legacy continued to grow even while he was being honored, noted Fr. Neenan, who announced that the University already has filled next year's freshman class and would not have to draw students from its waiting list.

The last phase of the tribute saw speakers representing alumni, staff and students comment on Fr. Monan s impact from their perspectives and present tokens of affection.

Some of the event's presenters literally sang Fr. Monan's praises. Deirdre Seaver, a Dublin native pursuing a master s degree in the School of Education, played the Irish harp and sang a 17th century Irish folk song "Mo ghile mear (My Spirited Servant)" in Gaelic and English. Later, the University Chorale performed "Tollite Hostias (Bring Your Offerings)" by the French composer Charles Saint-Saens.

Two video presentations were also shown at the event. "Building the Legacy," produced by the Office of Public Affairs, provided a retrospective of Fr. Monan's career through interviews and images. In "The Unknown Father Monan," Assoc. Prof. Peter Olivieri (CSOM) offered a humorous view of the Monan years through inventive use of television and movie clips, including Apollo 13.

At the conclusion of the event, Fr. Monan greeted hundreds of faculty, staff, students and alumni individually for over an hour.

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