A funeral Mass was held Dec. 5 for retired College of Arts and Sciences Senior Associate Dean Marie T. McHugh, the first woman to hold a dean’s position in A&S, who died on Nov. 28. She was 85.

Dr. McHugh was a professor in, and chair of, the History Department at Newton College of the Sacred Heart in 1975 when the college was acquired by Boston College – an event that Dr. McHugh, in a 1984 interview, called “a shock.” But after moving to BC as A&S assistant dean, she played a key leadership role in integrating Newton College’s Catholic legacy into BC’s Jesuit educational and formational mission, and during her tenure became a mentor to administrators, faculty and students alike.

Marie McHugh
Dr. Marie McHugh

Speaking at Dr. McHugh’s funeral, former Vice Provost for Faculties Patricia DeLeeuw recalled her longtime colleague and friend as “a calm, reasonable presence, always the problem-solver, always optimistic, and always kind and generous with colleagues and with the thousands of students whose lives she touched.”

 “Marie taught me to be, at once, academic and professional,” said former A&S Honors Program director Mark O’Connor, who was on the program faculty at the time of Dr. McHugh’s appointment. “She could immerse herself in departmental strategic planning but also give equal thought to concerns about students’ needs and interests. This was a person who got things done, no muss, no fuss, but she wasn’t egotistical in any way and was always willing to give others credit.”

Clare Dunsford, who joined A&S as an associate dean in 1997, said, “Marie had everyday common sense, but also a deeper wisdom about life. She was somebody who handled all the responsibilities as dean in such a way that seemed effortless – and in a patient, gracious manner.”

In 1980, Dr. McHugh was appointed as associate dean, and when A&S Dean William B. Neenan, S.J. – who had originally appointed her as assistant dean and would become one of her closest friends at BC, colleagues said – left the school in 1987 to become BC’s academic vice president and dean of faculties, she served as interim dean for the academic year. She resumed her position as senior associate dean when J. Robert Barth, S.J., became A&S dean in 1989.

 Dr. McHugh took on an increasingly higher profile at the University, from working with the A&S Board of Chairs to taking part in the Administrative Officers Council, a forum created in 1997 to discuss institution-wide issues and improve communication regarding major initiatives. Outside of BC, she chaired the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Yet even as she cultivated a reputation as an experienced, valued administrator, Dr. McHugh continued to teach as an adjunct professor of history and in the A&S Honors Program: “I knew when I was in school that all I wanted to do was teach history,” she told The Heights in 1987 when she was appointed A&S interim dean. “I loved it, and I wanted to teach it.”

O’Connor noted that Dr. McHugh’s involvement in Newton College’s Studies in Western Culture program prepared her well for teaching at BC.

“SIWC was one of Newton College’s crown jewels, an integrated program that combined history and literature in ways similar to what we were doing in the Honors Program, so she moved into the classroom here seamlessly. Marie was an historian at heart, and the History Department had a lot of respect for her.”

A native of Waltham and a graduate of Manhattanville College with a bachelor's degree in history and French literature, Dr. McHugh received her master's and doctoral degrees in European history from Harvard University. She was in the vanguard generation of women who sought to fashion careers in higher education while also cultivating lives as spouses and mothers, colleagues said. DeLeeuw related Dr. McHugh’s reminiscence of working on her dissertation while her daughter Cathy was a toddler: “Marie described to me an afternoon at the Widener Library holding Cathy on top of the card catalog with one hand while flipping through cards looking for a reference with the other.”

Although she retired at the end of the 1998-99 academic year, Dr. McHugh regularly visited old friends and colleagues on campus. “Marie would hold a salon, asking about each of us, enjoying our stories of professional victories and challenges, and when prodded, describing for us her golf game, the courses she was teaching in a life-long-learning program at Duke – and with clearly the most pleasure, telling us about the achievements of her grandchildren,” DeLeeuw recalled. 

“Marie was the most mentally healthy person we knew: genuinely happy to hear all the news about BC, but with no regret that she had left it behind.”

Boston College also had a family dimension for Dr. McHugh, whose father, son and granddaughter all graduated from the University.

Dr. McHugh was the widow of Edward J. McHugh and is survived by her husband, Richard Kenney; her children, Cathy Engstrom, Janet Kelly, Edward McHugh and Ellen McHugh; step-children Catherine Kenney Morrison, Richard Kenney, Mary Beth Kenney Sweet, Terence Kenneth and Anne Kenney Utley; her sister Eileen Mullin, and her grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

–Sean Smith / University Communications