Remembering “Sir Alec”

Remembering "Sir Alec"

The death of Sir Alec Guinness at age 86 last month was a sad event for many, but Boston College - the only American university to bestow an honorary degree on him - had special reason to mourn the legendary British actor's passing.

Guinness' connection to Boston College was through former Lowell Lecture Humanities Series Director Francis Sweeney, SJ, who developed a close friendship with the star of numerous plays and films like "Bridge On the River Kwai," "Tunes of Glory" and "Star Wars."
At Fr. Sweeney's request, Guinness made an appearance at Boston College in November of 1959 and read some of his favorite poems.

"He was reluctant at first," said Fr. Sweeney of the Oscar-winning actor. "But he had the most wonderful voice and I thought he would draw a large audience - and he did."

Guinness returned to campus the following spring to receive an honorary degree at Commencement, the only one he ever accepted from an American university. Fr. Sweeney recalls the graduates serenading the actor by whistling the famous "Colonel Bogey's March" theme from "Bridge On the River Kwai."

Their association did not end there. Fr. Sweeney - who directed the Humanities Series for more than four decades until retiring in 1998 - was invited many times to stay in Guinness' apartment in New York City and attended some of his stage performances.

"Afterwards, he liked to relax and we would talk about anything and everything, but he had such an interest in asking me about theology," said Fr. Sweeney of Guinness, who converted to Catholicism when he was middle-aged.

Time, work and other factors gradually curtailed these New York get-togethers, but Fr. Sweeney did see Guinness one last time while visiting London about seven years ago.

"He had a quality of generosity unlike anyone else," he said.

- Stephen Gawlik


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