O'Connor is University Historian

O'Connor is University Historian

Professor Emeritus to chronicle BC's past

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, has appointed Prof. Emeritus Thomas H. O'Connor (History), a celebrated chronicler of Boston history who has taught for nearly half a century at Boston College, as the University's official historian.

O'Connor succeeds Charles Donovan, SJ, the inaugural holder of the post from 1979 until his death last year.

Widely considered the unofficial dean of Boston historians for his authorship of such critically acclaimed books as Boston Catholics (1998), Civil War Boston (1997) and The Boston Irish: A Political History (1995), South Boston native O'Connor said he is honored to be granted the official title of University historian at his alma mater where he has taught American history since 1950.

O'Connor said that chronicling the past of a university that has played a vital role in the history of the city he loves will be particularly rewarding.

"Boston College is the classic monument to the heights that immigrants have achieved in America," he said. "It is an institution that was literally built nickel by nickel, brick by brick, by penniless immigrants who wanted to make sure their children got an education. That story is really the story of the Irish in Boston."

He recalled the relatively humble circumstances of BC in 1949, the year he graduated, when a drive to build a new business school was launched. "The priests and faculty and students were going from door to door through the streets of the city selling 'bricks for Boston College,'" he said.

Thomas O'Connor.

"You come upon Boston College now and it's glorious, magnificent. But the story takes on greater drama when you get behind the facade and look at the work it took to build it."

Among the first projects he is considering is a half-hour documentary video on the history of Boston College. O'Connor won an Emmy Award in 1996 for his role as historical consultant and narrator for the WGBH documentary "Boston: The Way it Was," and he sees a video history as complementing the History of Boston College co-authored by Fr. Donovan.

He said he plans to continue the series of "Occasional Papers on the History of Boston College" that Fr. Donovan introduced, and to conduct oral history interviews of long-time faculty and staff, including elderly priests at the Jesuit retirement home in Weston.

He said he would also act as a "gadfly" to encourage academic and administrative departments at Boston College to "save their history" by preserving documents.

O'Connor, who earned a doctorate in American history from Boston University in 1957, is a member of the board of directors of the Bostonian Society, a resident fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a member of the Massachusetts Archives Commission, and has served as a member of the President's Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States.

Among his other books are: Lords of the Loom: The Cotton Whigs and the Coming of the Civil War ; Bibles, Brahmins and Bosses: A Short History of Boston ;and South Boston: My Hometown: A History of an Ethnic Neighborhood.

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