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Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. and Boston College

virtual exhibit spring 2002 - burns library

Introduction | Background | Student | Speaker | Alumnus | Honors | Conclusion

For many Boston College students, emotional ties to their university do not end the moment that they receive their diploma and graduate. Former students have often been active in their regional alumni clubs and activities sponsored by the Alumni Association. Alumni have often enjoyed events, such as athletics, and returned to Boston College for university celebrations. Thomas O'Neill felt indebted for the education that Boston College provided him and often participated in university events. He once told a group of students "In all your endeavors, use not only your minds, which have been educated for inquiry and thought, but also your hearts, which have been trained for compassion and understanding. These are the resources of intellect and sensitivity that your education has developed in you." It is no wonder that O'Neill took pride in Boston College and often lent his name and prestige to help his alma mater develop and grow into the acclaimed university that it is today.


Thomas O'Neill took part in Boston College's Centennial Celebrations in 1963. The highlight of the proceedings was President John F. Kennedy's address to the Centennial Convocation on April 20, 1963. Besides being an important historical milestone for the school, it also spearheaded a major development campaign. O'Neill is pictured here sitting next to Joseph Martin (former House Speaker, Minority Leader and Republican Congressman from Massachusetts from 1925 to 1966) at a Centennial function. Edward Boland and Francis C. Mackin, S.J. stand behind them.


O'Neill returned many times to Boston College. On February 18, 1966, O'Neill returned to his alma mater to give a talk on the Vietnam War.  In 1964, O'Neill was one of the 414 congressmen who unanimously voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution led to an escalation of military activities in Vietnam. After his address to the students, the Congressman started a discussion with the student audience. In his autobiography, O'Neill recalled "as always, they took issue with both my information and my views." He responded by indicating that he had been briefed forty-three times by key military and Johnson administration officials. A student admitted that O'Neill did indeed have a lot of briefings but then challenged him by asking him, "But how many times have you been briefed by the other side?" O'Neill was shocked by the question. It was one of the factors that led him to re-examine his stand on the Vietnam War. A year later, O'Neill became one of the first major Democratic Party figures to oppose Johnson's policy in Vietnam. O'Neill told Johnson that he was "killing too many Democrats."

Like many other alumni, Thomas O'Neill had a lifetime passion for Boston College athletics. As an alum, he often attended hockey and football games. O'Neill is shown here shaking Doug Flutie's hand (Edward Boland is seated). Flutie (BC Class of 1985) had just won the Heisman Trophy and the photograph was taken at a luncheon in his honor. Boston College athletics had a way of affecting all aspects of O'Neill's life. Biographer John Farrell notes that is was during a hockey game that Mildred Miller pressed O'Neill for a long term commitment and they decided to get to married.

O'Neill decided not to run for re-election in 1986 and made the decision to retire from government life. He let Boston College "host" a celebration highlighting his fifty years of public service and use the venue to raise money for the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Scholarship Fund. In an unrelated activity, O'Neill was invited to be the Grand Marshall of Washington's St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday March 16, 1986. As part of this celebration, O'Neill invited Boston College President J. Donald Monan, S.J. to accompany him at the parade's reviewing stand where they are shown in the photograph to the left. The following day, O'Neill introduced Father Monan to the House of Representatives as the guest chaplain and the BC President offered a prayer to open that week's Congressional session. Monan reflected upon the legacy of St. Patrick, concluding, "And mindful that on this St. Patrick's evening, we celebrate in mirth and music and friendship sincere, the 50 illustrious years of public service of our distinguished Speaker, we thank You for him; and we ask Your continuous blessing on him and upon this revered body that he loves so dearly. Amen." The tone was set for the evening's later celebration.

Later that day, 2300 people attended a $1000-per-plate gala reception in honor of O'Neill's fifty years of public service hosted by Boston College at the Washington Hilton. In a detail of a photograph, O'Neill is pictured at the event surrounded by happy friends and colleagues. O'Neill was given tributes by J. Donald Monan, S.J., Senator Ted Kennedy, Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald, Comedian Bob Hope, former President Gerald Ford and President Ronald Reagan. Monan remarked that "Speaker O'Neill could have authorized a salute to his years in a dozen ways without any involvement of Boston College. The fact that he wanted much of the splendor of his own career to reflect upon his Alma Mater is characteristic of him, and gives a clue to why people so enjoyed celebrating his career." The event raised two million dollars for the Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is designed to aid less advantaged youths in the Boston area who without financial assistance could not otherwise attend Boston College.

In May 1986, Thomas O'Neill returned to Boston College to take part in the Class of 1936's Fiftieth Anniversary. In the photograph on the left, O'Neill is seen joyfully taking in the reunion festivities along with Father Monan, an unidentified alum, Alumni Association President Sheila McGovern, and classmate Robert O'Hayre. In 1987, O'Neill honored his alma mater even further by donating his congressional papers to Boston College's John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.



Introduction | Background | Student | Speaker | Alumnus | Honors | Conclusion