Legal History

Legal History

Emil Slizewski played many roles in his 58 years at the Law School

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Prof. Emeritus Emil Slizewski (Law) '41, JD '43 has witnessed firsthand much of the history of Boston College Law School as a student and then a respected teacher over 58 of the school's 70 years.

It could be said that Slizewski carried the Law School on his back in its early years. Not only did he teach many of the subjects in the curriculum, from criminal law to torts, but he personally lugged the books when the Law Library was moved from the second to the third floor of the school's old building on downtown Stuart Street.

His students have included cops and schoolteachers and more than a few future senators and judges. Kevin White was his student before he was mayor of Boston, and Slizewski remembers riding the trolley alongside a bright student from South Boston named William Bulger, later to become Massachusetts Senate president.

"You name them - anyone who graduated between 1943 and 1969 had to suffer me in at least one course along the way," chuckled Slizewski, who taught at the school until last year.

The 80-year-old professor was honored at the Law School's 70th anniversary on Oct. 8, when an award for faculty excellence was established in his name.

Slizewski remains immensely proud of the school he watched grow from a tiny operation tucked in the New England Power Building to a national institution with an impressive Newton campus and a place among the top 30 law schools in the country.

"Doggone it, we did in 70 years what other law schools haven't done in hundreds of years," he said.

After retiring from full-time teaching in 1988, Slizewski continued to teach one course a semester in trusts and estate planning, until failing eyesight and a bad back ended a remarkable run at BC that had proceeded unbroken since he entered the Heights as a student in 1937. He followed the school as it moved from Copley Square to Scollay Square in the 1940s, to More Hall on the BC campus in the 1950s, and to its current location in the 1970s.

After passing the bar exam in 1944, Slizewski took a job at his alma mater, teaching classes at night, stacking books in the library by day, and doing a little bit of everything.

"Heck, I was the librarian," he said. "I used to relieve the secretary when she went out to lunch."

Enrollments so declined during World War II that the school almost went out of business, he recalled, but with the return of GI students and faculty, the reinvigorated Law School moved from Stuart Street to 18 Tremont St., near the current Government Center. The building bordered the historic King's Chapel Burying Ground, and Slizewski recalled negotiating with the city parks commissioner for permission to lower a fire escape into the cemetery.

"The commissioner had a son who was a Jesuit, and he said 'OK,'" he said.

The quarters on Tremont also bordered the old red-light district, Scollay Square, where more than one adventurous student sought extracurricular edification in burlesque palaces like the old Crawford House, home to the famed "Queen of Tassels," Sally Keith. When the Crawford House caught fire in the late 1940s, he claimed, BC Law students shouted from the windows to the firemen: "Please save Sally's tassels!"

The Law School was so bustling with returning veterans after the war that it ran on a three-semester schedule around the calendar. But the facilities were lacking, recalled Slizewski.

"The biggest classroom on the seventh floor faced the burial ground," he said. "When the fire engines came down the street, it was awfully hard to lecture."

In following years the growing law school would move to what Slizewski called "terrific" facilities at More Hall and then at the former Newton College of the Sacred Heart, rising in national stature and reputation along the way.

Night or day, high standards have distinguished BC Law, Slizewski said, reciting a pledge by former D ean William Kenealy, SJ.

"Fr. Kenealy said we were going to have a good law school or none at all."

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