The driving force behind the establishment of Boston College, Fr. McElroy fought intense prejudice and labored tirelessly for two decades to realize his vision of a Catholic school of higher education in Boston.
Born in 1782 to a farming family near Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, Fr. McElroy emigrated to the “New World” at 21. He joined the Society of Jesus at Georgetown College and became a prominent figure in the Church as pastor and preacher, director of retreats, and theologian, and served as chaplain to the American forces in the Mexican-American War.
Fr. McElroy first suggested establishing a college in Boston in 1843, several years before he was sent to Boston as pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in the city’s North End. Once in Boston, he was dismayed by the difficulties Catholic families faced in educating their children and became determined to establish a boys’ college.
A virulent anti-Catholic prejudice, common in early 19th-century New England, consistently frustrated Fr. McElroy’s efforts to buy land, secure capital, and raise money. Nonetheless, he worked tirelessly toward his goal, confident that the great need for a quality education for immigrant Catholic boys would overcome opposition.
The chartering of Boston College on April 1, 1863, was a triumph of the faith, hard work, and vision of Fr. John McElroy.