Boston College School of Social Work Director of Continuing Education Vincent Lynch during his farewell reception on Feb. 2. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Colleagues and friends turned out Feb. 2 in Gasson 100 to fete retiring Boston College School of Social Work Continuing Education Director Vincent Lynch, who in his 30 years at BC launched a groundbreaking annual conference on HIV/AIDS and later played a key role in an initiative on clergy sexual abuse issues.

 “It was wonderful. I appreciated seeing so many people from just about every chapter of my career,” said Lynch, interviewed the next day, as he reflected on his association with BC – one that began when he arrived in 1980 to pursue a doctorate in social work.

“I’ve seen BC grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I’m glad to have been part of that. But even as we moved in that direction, for me BC has maintained that ‘mom-and-pop’ feel – a place where relationships are important, as are discussions about values and ideas.”

Lynch was the first continuing education director in BCSSW history when he took the job in December of 1986, at a time when the social work profession had put more focus on continuing education. To meet the challenge of creating such programs, Lynch conferred with focus groups of practitioners and other stakeholders to identify needs and interests. The discussions invariably centered on one area: HIV/AIDS.

“It was just becoming clear how extensive and challenging this problem was for social work,” he recalled. “HIV/AIDS affected a number of the populations with whom social workers engaged. The solution was to have a conference where everyone could compare notes, share experiences and come up with practices and ideas to enable social workers to meet their clients’ needs.”

Originally envisioned as a one-day event, the inaugural National Conference on Social Work and HIV/AIDS ran four days – June 12-15, 1988 – with more than 400 attendees from the U.S. and abroad. It remains the only conference of its type, organized by and for social workers, noted Lynch, who was honored by the Council on Social Work in 1998 for his work as founder and co-organizer.

What shouldn’t be overlooked, Lynch added, is the “stigma and shame” attached to HIV/AIDS at the time. Many segments of society – including the Catholic Church – struggled with their response to the crisis. But then-University President J. Donald Monan, S.J., was supportive of the conference, Lynch said, and also asked Lynch to do an interview with America magazine on Jesuit education’s role in dealing with HIV/AIDS.

“BC has built up a lot of expertise on HIV/AIDS, and I think perhaps the conference helped advance the thinking on it,” he said. “For a Catholic university to co-sponsor this conference was no small thing at the outset. But I always felt supported by the school and the BC community.”

When the clergy sexual abuse scandal surfaced early this century, Lynch said, it was clear that social work, mental health and other professionals providing care to abuse survivors needed deeper insights to grasp the full dimensions of the problem. In 2004, he co-organized a conference – sponsored by BCSSW and the Church in the 21st Century initiative in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Boston – with workshops and talks on such subjects as family relationships, treatment for various abuse-related conditions such as anxiety disorders and PTSD, and the theological and psychological role of the priest. 

“I never felt like I was a maverick, or in over my head,” said Lynch, who also provided consultation to priests and seminarians on issues related to sexual abuse. “Having the support enabled me to feel empowered to address critical areas of need. I always appreciated that.”

Lynch will work at St. John’s Seminary as a consultant on social work-related issues.

–Sean Smith / University Communications