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An Authentic Lesson

by edward r. leahy '71

Father DrinanFather DrinanFather Drinan


I knew Father Drinan for nearly forty years. We met at the university of Scranton in October 1967. It was the fall of my senior year in college and Father Drinan was visiting the university to speak on some of the legal issues of the day.


At a reception following his remarks, he asked what plans I had for after graduation.When I told him that I intended to go to law school, he fixed those penetrating eyes on me and got right to the point: What were my grades and to which schools had I applied? After I listed six schools (not yet including Boston College), he said, “When you hear from those schools,write to me and tell me what they said. Maybe you should come to Boston College.”

 

Just after Thanksgiving, I wrote to tell him that I had been admitted to all six schools and that each of them had offered me a full scholarship. On December 14, he responded that he still thought that I should come to Boston College and he offered me a full-tuition Presidential Scholarship.

 

I remember being absolutely thrilled by his letter. His remarks at Scranton had been so impressive and thoughtful, and he was so driven yet warm during our conversation afterward. I phoned his office and arranged to visit the Law School and possibly sit in on one or two classes. When I arrived about a month later, Father Drinan personally deposited me in a Torts class taught by Professor Jim Smith and a Constitutional Law class taught by Professor John O’Reilly.

 

Afterward, I went back to Father Drinan’s office to thank him and to say goodbye. Instead, he spent nearly half an hour telling me about his plan to see Boston College Law School into the very first ranks of national law schools. His drive was infectious. He talked about his travels throughout the United States to find talented undergraduates and about how more and more of them were coming to Boston College Law School. He said that the student body—long the domain of Bostonians and other New Englanders—was developing a broad national base with students from Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Washington, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Louisiana, and, true to his word, all of these locales and many others were represented in our first-year class.

 

He went on about the extraordinary faculty that served the Law School. (I always enjoyed it when Father Drinan talked about faculty “serving” the law school. Its roots go back centuries to the ecclesiastical colleges of England.) First, there were the “old masters” such as Emil Slizewski in Trusts and Estates, Richard Sullivan in Equity, and John O’Reilly in Constitutional Law. Then he praised other faculty members such as Richard Huber in Property and Land Use, Peter Donovan in Corporations and Antitrust, Father Francis J. Nicholson in International Law, Jim Smith in Torts, and Bill Willier in Commercial Law. He talked about an unnamed group of young professors he was recruiting to the Law School, people who turned out to be Sanford Katz, John Flackett, Mary Ann Glendon, Hugh Ault, and David Carroll.

 

Although the names themselves did not mean anything to me at the time, Father Drinan’s eyes were electric when he talked about them and all of the other steps he was taking in an effort to propel Boston College to the top ranks of the nation’s finest law schools. He looked at me and said, “I want you to come to Boston College.” Even then, and as he demonstrated later as a politician, he knew how to ask for your vote. I accepted on the spot.

 

Over the next few years, and certainly in retrospect during innumerable conversations, I witnessed how Father Drinan’s vision, his magnetism, and his sheer personal force helped the Law School grow and prosper. He was a man in motion, whether it was personally accompanying a Supreme Court justice or a federal appellate or district court judge to the Law School to judge the Grimes Competition, or working the phones with Boston College graduates to urge them to hire BC Law students.

 

Father Drinan’s leadership and vision during his time as dean were absolutely crucial to the stability and growth of the Law School. To begin with, the atmosphere that prevailed around the Law School in 1968 is difficult for the law student of today to comprehend, let alone appreciate.

 

First, good grades were extremely hard to get. The Law School graded on a ten-point system, with “A plus” being a “ten”,and working its way down to a “C” being a “three”, “D” a “two”, etc. I think that the person who finished first in our class had about a 6.3, just barely above a “B”.

 

Second, back then, students actually used to flunk out of law school. Our class began with more than 200 students and ended with fewer than 170.

 

Third, the war in Vietnam, which was to serve as such an integral part of Father Drinan’s campaign for Congress, was raging. The reality of war was brought home on a regular basis. There is a cemetery immediately behind More Hall, the old Law School building. During services, professors would stop their lectures for a few moments while taps sounded for soldiers being buried there.

 

Some of us had already committed to military service after law school. Others had already served. Others had educational or other types of deferments. Still others were available for the draft. In most cases, however, the general impression was that if you flunked out, you were headed to Southeast Asia.

 

Amid this type of tension, Father Drinan’s leadership was key. He was always there when the Law School needed him. Even with his dizzying travel schedule, he seemed always to be present at just the right time to make all of us feel that we were an integral part of an institution that was staking its place firmly on the national legal scene.

 

Students were getting excellent judicial clerkships in New England and, more and more, throughout the country. They were getting jobs in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and points in between. Father Drinan guided students in the classes of ’69 and ’70 to start the still-thriving Legal Assistance Bureau, which constituted the first major effort to bring clinical education to BC Law. In the late 1960s, our moot court team won the National Championship. And, during that same decade, under Father Drinan’s leadership, Boston College inaugurated the Boston College Law Review, the Annual Survey of Massachusetts Law, the Uniform Commercial Code Reporter-Digest, and the Environmental Affairs Law Review.

 

One person can make a difference. For Boston College Law School, Father Drinan did. In March 1970, I was elected editor-in-chief of the Boston College Law Review. That began a steady stream of nights and weekends, working in the law review office, in order to publish six quality issues of the review. Often leaving at midnight, I felt certain that I was the only person in the entire building. But, most nights when I left, no matter how late, there was one car in the parking lot behind More Hall and a light still burning in Father Drinan’s office.

 

Father Drinan led by example, and when you see somebody lead with such conviction, passion and vigor, it makes you want even more to be a part of his grand enterprise. It has been said that very little of any significance was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. This, in part, accounts for the string of successes and firsts that the Law School enjoyed during the Drinan years—his mission was clear and his energy boundless.

 

The eulogist at Father Drinan’s funeral mass in Washington said that he had breakfast with Father Drinan just a few days before his last illness. Father was detailing his travel, speaking, writing, and teaching schedules for the coming month. He told Father Drinan that the schedule was an exhausting one and that he should schedule some naps as well. Father Drinan’s only reply: “I never rest during the daytime.” Of course, some of us had long wondered whether he ever rested at night either.

 

Even after Father Drinan left the Law School to serve in Congress, his love of the school remained. He was always willing to meet with “old” graduates for fund raising purposes and, when he learned, in 1973, that I had been offered a clerkship with Supreme Court Associate Justice William Brennan, I remember that he phoned me to say how important this was, not for me, but for the Law School. He always put the Law School first.

 

The bottom line is that excellence doesn’t just happen. Father Drinan had a broad plan for the success of the Law School, and he saw it through to its smallest details. Attracting gifted faculty dedicated to teaching and scholarship; finding the best students and involving them in his dreams for the school; developing broad geographic, racial, and socio-economic representation within the student body by the judicious distribution of Presidential Scholarships; bringing famous judges, practitioners, civil rights leaders, and politicians to lecture at the Law School; all may seem commonplace to the Law School community of the twenty-first century. After all, today Boston College (if not the Law School) sits with the largest endowment of any Jesuit university in the world. But, in 1968, these events unfolded on the doorstep of a university that had no endowment to speak of, and was, in fact, a few dollars to the right side of being broke. In that environment, these actions were farsighted to the point of audacity. And that is why Father Drinan will always stand as such a transforming dean in the history of Boston College Law School.

 

Many of us recall how Father Drinan liked to quote Hammurabi, who said that “the purpose of law is to protect the powerless from the powerful.” But, thinking back on his life, his example, and the dramatic ways in which he contributed to the rise of Boston College Law School as a national institution, I believe that in his life and in his work, he embodied the spirit of lines written by St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ, the newest Jesuit saint, who said: “In order to teach, it is enough to know something. But to educate, one must be something. True education consists in giving oneself as a living model, an authentic lesson.”


To such a grand educator, generations of law students owe thanks.