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March 7 BC Law Forum Will Honor Fr. Drinan

Robert Drinan, SJ (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 17, 2011

The life and work of Robert Drinan, SJ, the accomplished Boston College Law School dean who became the first priest to serve in the US Congress, will be celebrated at a BC Law event next month.    

On March 7, the school will host a panel discussion featuring Raymond Schroth, SJ, author of the first comprehensive biography on Fr. Drinan, Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress.    

Also scheduled to take part in the panel: US Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who in 1980 assumed the seat held by Fr. Drinan and in 2009 received a human rights award named for him; BC Law Associate Professor Gregory Kalscheur, SJ, who will discuss Fr. Drinan’s impact on younger Jesuits; and Jerome Grossman, who chaired Fr. Drinan’s congressional campaign committee. Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Law Sanford Katz will moderate the panel.  

The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. in East Wing, Room 120.   Katz, who was recruited to BC Law by Fr. Drinan himself, said the event will both reflect on the life of Drinan and introduce a new generation to the important work of one of BC Law’s brightest stars.  

Fr. Drinan, who graduated from Boston College in 1942 and joined the Society of Jesus that same year, served as BC Law dean from 1956 until 1970. He was widely credited for BC Law’s emergence as one of the nation’s top law schools.     University Historian Thomas O’Connor referred to him as a “dynamic force at Boston College...He attracted the kind of scholars and professors to the law school that would eventually make it one of the most significant in the country.”   

Fr. Drinan was elected to Congress in 1970 on an anti-Vietnam War platform. During his 10 years on Capitol Hill, he was often a lightning rod for controversy, notably his disagreements with Catholic Church leaders over his political support of abortion rights.   

He was the first member of Congress to file a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon — not for Watergate, but for his ordering of the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970.  

In 1980, when Pope John Paul II demanded priests withdraw from election politics, Fr. Drinan opted not to seek reelection instead of renouncing his priesthood. He taught at the Georgetown University Law Center until his death in 2007.   Katz lauded Fr. Drinan’s dynamic personality and storied legacy at BC Law, saying he laid the groundwork for programs that are committed to providing legal assistance for the poor.  

“One of the key and very important missions of the Jesuit order is to pursue social justice,” said Katz. “Fr. Drinan personified that mission of the order.”  

To read more about Fr. Drinan, see this Law School tribute.   

A reception and book signing will follow the March 7 panel discussion. Registration is available here.