Rourke Bequest Creates Physics Professorship

Rourke Bequest Creates Physics Professorship

By Jack Dunn
Director of Public Affairs

Boston College has received a $3 million bequest, the largest in its history, from the estates of late siblings John and Mary Rourke, longtime owners of Rourke's Pharmacy in Brighton.

The gift will be used to create an endowed chair in physics that will be filled by Prof. Kevin Bedell, establish a research fund in chemistry, and help fund construction of a new student service center.

"This is a very special gift that came as a wonderful surprise to us," said University President William P. Leahy, SJ. "John Rourke was a devoted alumnus and his sister Mary was a life-long supporter of the University, but we never expected them to make a bequest of this size. It is a testament to their hard work and frugality that they were able to save so much money from a small family business. We are honored to be a recipient of their generosity."

John Rourke, '41, ran the Brighton Center landmark for more than 60 years with the help of his sister Mary, a kindergarten teacher who mixed fountain drinks at the pharmacy until she was in her 80s. The Rourkes, who received communion daily from College of Advancing Studies Dean James Woods, SJ, inherited the pharmacy from their father, Dennis, who founded it in 1897.

Rourke's Pharmacy, located on the corner of Market and Washington streets, was an old-fashioned family pharmacy complete with syrup and soda-water drinks, hand-packed ice cream and homemade hot fudge. According to local residents, it was the most popular meeting place in the neighborhood for young and old, and a place where credit was extended to help families through difficult times.

"John knew everyone in Brighton because everyone came to the pharmacy," said his cousin Linda Manning, who visited the soda fountain since childhood. "He and Mary were hard-working people who were very dedicated to the business, to each other and to their sister Mildred. They lived quiet, modest lives without vacations or any personal luxuries. But they were also very generous people who were willing to help out their customers at a time of need. They were truly loved by Brighton residents."

John and Mary Rourke died within months of each other in 1997, and it wasn't until after their deaths that the true extent of their generosity was revealed. Never having married, they willed their estates to Boston College, resulting in the record-breaking $3 million bequest.

As a result, Bedell, who is nationally known for his work on high-temperature superconductors, has been named to the newly established John H. Rourke Chair in Physics.

Since coming to BC as Physics chairman from the United States Atomic Testing Labs at Los Alamos, NM, Bedell has overseen a renaissance in the department. Most visible is a major expansion and renovation of its physical facilities in Higgins Hall.

"I am particularly honored to be named to a chair born out of the hard work of an Irish-American family in a melting-pot city neighborhood," said Bedell. "I look forward to honoring the memory of the Rourkes through the work of this department."

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