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A Brief History of Boston College

from commuter school to national university

Boston College was founded by the Society of Jesus in 1863 and, with three teachers and 22 students, opened its doors on September 5, 1864. Through its first seven decades, it remained a small undergraduate institution, offering the sons of the Irish working class a rigorous course load in theology and philosophy, classical languages, rhetoric, math and science.

Originally located on Harrison Avenue in Boston's South End, the College outgrew its urban setting early in the 20th century and moved to the former Lawrence Farm in Chestnut Hill, where ground was broken on June 19, 1909, for the construction of a central Recitation Building, later named Gasson Hall in honor of President Thomas I. Gasson, S.J., who led the relocation. The Recitation Building opened in March 1913. The three other buildings that still shape the core of the campus--St. Mary's Hall, Devlin Hall, and Bapst Library--opened in 1917, 1924, and 1928, respectively.

Though incorporated as a university since its beginning, Boston College did not begin to fill out the dimensions of its University charter until the 1920s, with the inauguration of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Law School, and the Evening College, today the James A. Woods, S.J., College of Advancing Studies. The 1930s saws the introduction of the Graduate School of Social Work (now the Boston College School of Social Work) and the College of Business Administration—today the Wallace E. Carroll School of Management. The School of Nursing—named in honor of William F. Connell in 2003—and the School of Education--today named for Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch—followed in 1947 and 1952, respectively. Boston College first offered doctoral programs in 1952. By 1970 all undergraduate programs had become coeducational, and today women comprise more than half of the University's enrollment.

In 1974, Boston College acquired a 40-acre site, 1.5 miles from the Chestnut Hill Campus, which had been owned by Newton College of the Sacred Heart. The land is the present site of the Boston College Law School and of residence halls housing some 800 freshmen. Thirty years later, the University acquired a 65-acre parcel from the Boston Archdiocese, just across Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton. The Brighton Campus now hosts the School of Theology and Ministry, which was established in 2008, after the re-affiliation of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and Boston College's Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.

In 2005, the Church in the 21st Century Initiative, which was founded in the midst of the sex abuse scandal as a catalyst and resource for engaging critical issues facing the Catholic Church, became a permanent center at Boston College.

In October 2008, the University launched “Light the World" campaign, setting a goal of $1.5 billion to support a strategic plan that advances academic program development, faculty expansion and research, and endows undergraduate financial aid, student formation programs, capital projects, and efforts to advance Boston College as the world's leading Catholic university.

To honor its 150th anniversary, Boston College embarked in September 2012 on a three-semester celebration that began with a Mass at Fenway Park for nearly 20,000 alumni, students, faculty, and friends, academic symposia, a naturalization ceremony, student and alumni service projects and a student concert at Symphony Hall.

In 2015, the College of Arts & Sciences, the University’s oldest and largest school, was renamed the Robert J. Morrissey College of Arts & Sciences in honor of 1960 alumnus Robert Morrissey, Boston College’s largest benefactor.