BC Community Bids Farewell to Fr. Neenan
more than a thousand gather for funeral of william b. neenan, sj
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (7-1-14)—Crowded into the pews of St. Ignatius Church were more than a thousand former colleagues, alumni and students, fellow priests and academics—but whatever their titles or backgrounds, they had known the joy of being called “friend” by Rev. William B. Neenan, S.J.
Fr. Neenan, who died June 25 after more than three decades of administrative leadership and pastoral care at Boston College, was remembered July 1 at a funeral Mass in a packed St. Ignatius, also attended by members of his family. Mourners paid tribute to the beloved Jesuit from Iowa, celebrated for his many accomplishments in key posts at BC—including as academic vice president and dean of faculties—but also for his uniquely personal touch throughout the University community, exemplified by his trademark “Hello, friend” greeting to acquaintance and stranger alike.
In his various roles at BC—he also was Gasson Professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences prior to being named AVP—Fr. Neenan “allowed so many to be part of his life, and brought many people together,” said University President William P. Leahy, S.J., delivering a eulogy. “He would’ve been thoroughly delighted at this gathering today, and the opportunity to exchange greetings and stories.”
Fr. Leahy—to whom Fr. Neenan served as a special assistant for the past 16 years—said Fr. Neenan was the epitome of the “faithful priest” referred to in The Bible (1 Samuel 2:35). “He drew from his Catholic roots in Sioux City, striving to know the mind of God,” said Fr. Leahy, “and to bring people to the faith.”
In one of numerous Fr. Neenan anecdotes shared during the day, Fr. Leahy said Fr. Neenan’s capacity to reach out to others could surface anywhere—even on a road trip through Canada. Stopping at a roadside restaurant, Fr. Leahy recounted, Fr. Neenan spotted an Iowa license plate among the cars in the parking lot. Having memorized the state’s various license plate codes, he was able to identify the county from which the car’s owners had originated; having speculated as to which couple in the diner were from Iowa, Fr. Neenan proceeded to greet them with, “Hi, friends. How are the crops in Le Mars?”
The couple, said Fr. Leahy, “had been ‘Neenanized’: engaged in conversation with someone they didn’t know, but thoroughly enjoyed.”
Professor Emeritus of Theology Robert Daly, S.J., who had shared quarters with Fr. Neenan in the Jesuit community residence Roberts House, said in his homily that the steady flow of tributes and condolences attested to the impact of Fr. Neenan’s “35-year love affair with Boston College, and everyone and everything associated with it.”
Fr. Daly described Fr. Neenan, particularly in his later years, as “an apostle of Boston College. That’s not just a happy metaphor. Those words describe his vision, his mission in life, which was to preach the good news about Boston College far and wide, with an enthusiasm and effectiveness that puts the rest of us to shame.”
Professor of Economics Joseph Quinn, in his eulogy, said Fr. Neenan was “someone who lived every day of his life to the fullest,” whether leading a committee discussion, hosting Holy Thursday lunch, taking part in an alumni event, visiting BC students in the Abbey Theater summer program in Ireland, or telling his many stories in groups small or large.
Quinn also praised Fr. Neenan for his love of conversation and the friendships he cultivated among undergraduates. “He knew more of them than any 10 of us, and he stayed in touch with them, he married them and he baptized their children.
“We are blessed that Fr. Bill walked and talked—and talked and talked—among us,” concluded Quinn. “Goodbye, friend.”
View a video recording of the funeral Mass here.
--Sean Smith, editor of the Boston College Chronicle.