The first president of Boston College was born in La Roche, Switzerland, in 1816. Shortly after his ordination in 1846, the Society of Jesus was expelled from Switzerland. Fr. Bapst emigrated to Maine, where he was assigned to missionary work among Native American tribes. Eventually he pastored most of the Catholic population in the state in the face of tremendous prejudice, even suffering a violent attack that left him permanently scarred.
When Fr. Bapst assumed his role as president in August 1863, the newly established institution faced a debt of more than $150,000––an overwhelming sum at the time that some Jesuits feared was beyond their capacity to meet. A brilliant financial steward who invariably responded to challenges with vigorous action, Fr. Bapst embarked on an ambitious fundraising campaign that retired nearly half the debt within a year, proving to even the most pessimistic that Boston College was a viable proposition.
When the College opened in 1863, it had a student body of 22. In the term following Fr. Bapst’s retirement six years later, enrollment had risen to 130. Upon his departure, he wrote that Boston College faced “prospects so bright as to exceed all expectations”––an accurate prediction and due in large part to his own expert guidance and indefatigable determination.