Voices From The Past

Conversations with members of the BC community employed on campus for at least 50 years

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

In this edition, Chronicle features the second in a series of interviews with 50-year Boston College employees, who discuss their decades of experiences at The Heights, as well as their longstanding bond with the University community.

Prof. Emeritus Emil Slizewski (Law), left, and Liturgical Collections Curator William J. Leonard, SJ. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

William J. Leonard, SJ

Fr. Leonard, curator of Liturgical Collections at the Burns Library, has been a member of the Boston College Jesuit Community since 1939. He served as an Army chaplain during World War II and taught theology at Boston College for 34 years. Fr. Leonard was among a small group of Americans who, well before the Second Vatican Council, promoted a renewal in Catholic liturgy and its role in Catholic life. He has authored several books, including an autobiography, The Letter Carrier , and published articles in America , Catholic Digest , and other journals.

"When I first visited BC," said Fr. Leonard, "I was at BC High and ran track. We didn't have a good track at BC High, so the coach brought us up here. We practiced down on the Dust Bowl, which was then the stadium. I'll always remember the Tower bells ringing as I went around the track. I never dreamed that I would spend 50 or 60 years under those bells.

"In my early years here, of course, the great event was the war. There were 18 of us Jesuits who went over to be chaplains. Student enrollment dropped at one point to 200, down from 2,200. One year, they even brought the seniors from BC High out here, just to fill up the place.

"It was very interesting when the war ended and the GIs came back. I remember one story about a certain professor of philosophy who had a big class, of whom only six were not returned GIs. These six were in the back of the main hall in Gasson, and they kept talking and making noise, and the professor was very annoyed. Finally, a tough former sergeant in the front row said, 'Excuse me, Father. If you blankety-blanks don't shut your blankety-blank mouths I'll blankety-blank-blank! Okay, Father, go ahead.' It worked!

"I've enjoyed it, I must say, particularly because of the students. I have many friends among the alumni. I make a big sign of the cross just before I go to sleep - a big sign of the cross including my family and all my friends, but especially the alumni. They had to listen to me, poor things, so I have to do something to make up for that."

Prof. Emeritus Emil Slizewski (Law) '41, JD '43

After passing the Massachusetts Bar exam in the spring of 1944, Slizewski took a job at his alma mater, teaching classes at night, stacking books in the library by day. He remains to this day a fixture at the Law School, where he has taught since it was located in Copley Square and later on Tremont Street near old Scollay Square. Since retiring from full-time teaching in 1988, Slizewski has taught one course a semester in trusts and estate planning.

"If I stop teaching, what will I do? I'll wither away and die," said Slizewski. "I think I broke all records at the University for successive years served without interruption. In September of 1937 I enrolled at Boston College, and I've remained directly in Boston College - as a student, a teacher and an emeritus professor - ever since, without interruption. No leave of absence, no sabbatical.

"I enjoy so much working here. I've had very close friends in the faculty, and since I've been here, we've had the right dean at the right time. Furthermore, I could do the work when I wanted to do it, how I wanted to do it. No one ever told me how to teach - I taught my own way.

"I have never given my students a syllabus. I won't, because I wouldn't follow it. If you teach the case method, you don't know how much you'll cover at a particular time. I want to bring up things at different times. You try to nudge students, get them to talk.

"What would I be doing if I weren't still teaching? I'm still around here with young people. And one of the perquisites of being an emeritus is that you don't have to attend faculty meetings."

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