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Boston College community bids farewell to Father Monan


  • The funeral Mass for former Boston College president Father J. Donald Monan, SJ, celebrated at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Brighton, March 22. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe
  • Father Robert Keane, SJ, places a cross on Father Monanís casket at the start of the funeral Mass. (Pilot photo/Mark Labbe)

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BRIGHTON -- Friends, family, fellow Jesuits, and Boston College alumni mourned the passing of Father J. Donald Monan, SJ, president of Boston College from 1972 to 1996, during a funeral service at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Brighton, March 22.

The principal celebrant of the service, which saw almost all of the church's pews filled, was Father Robert L. Keane,SJ, rector of the BC Jesuit Community, while Father Joseph M. O'Keefe, SJ, rector of the Ciszek Hall Jesuit Community in New York City, was the homilist.

The readings, the prayers of the faithful, and presentation of gifts were done by members of the Monan family.

In his homily, Father O'Keefe acknowledged the grief those who knew Father Monan must feel at his passing. But, he said, that grief will eventually give way to gratitude, gratitude for Father Monan's long life.

Father Monan died at the age of 92 at the Jesuit's Campion Center in Weston, March 18. As BC's 24th president, he is credited for saving the school from financial crisis and turning it into an academic and financial success.

During his tenure as president, numerous facilities were constructed, including Robsham Theater, the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. research library, the Eugene F. Merkert Chemistry Center, and the McMullen Museum of Art. Additionally, 13 student residence halls were either acquired or built during his presidency. The school's endowment increased dramatically under his watch, as did the enrollment and the number of applications received.

After stepping down as president in 1996, Father Monan became BC's first chancellor.

"Among the myriad reasons for thanksgiving are his scholarship, his graciousness, his practical wisdom, his dedication to public service, and his faithfulness," said Father O'Keefe, who also is a former dean of BC's Lynch School.

"Unfailingly modest and thoughtful, grateful and gracious, (Father Monan) was the quintessential gentleman," he said, adding that "Don had a remarkable ability to balance competence with compassion."

He recalled Father Monan's love of hockey and the pride that he took in BC's Division 1 hockey team, the Eagles, and read a quote by hockey-great Wayne Gretsky, which Father O'Keefe said reminded him of Father Monan's life and work --"A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be."

"Father Monan was a great hockey player. In 1972 when he came to a local college struggling just to stay above water, Father Monan did not play where the puck was, he played where the puck was going to be," said Father O'Keefe.

"He saw possibilities that no one else saw. He was a visionary. And during his long tenure as president and ever since that vision has become a reality," he continued.

"Don Monan entered eternal life eight hours after March 17 on St Patrick's day weekend. For someone with a name like Monan and deep family roots in Portaferry, Northern Ireland, what better weekend to go home to God," Father O'Keefe said.

Two reflections were given -- one by Father Monan's great-nephew Anthony J. Bellia Jr. and the other by Geoffrey T. Boisi, a former chairman of the Boston College Board of Trustees, a long-time friend of Father Monan.

Bellia, speaking first, recalled the love Father Monan had for his families, both the ones he was bound to by blood and the ones he was bound to spiritually, which he said included his fellow clergy members and those involved with Boston College.

"No matter to which of his families you belong, one thing about this great man resonates deeply within all of us. Yes, he made profound public contributions to this university, to the city of Boston, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and far beyond. We all know that well," said Bellia.

"But, his greatest contributions were the countless way he served us, all of us, his family, in private, out of public view, and moved us to be better people, more faithful servants of God and each other," he continued.

"Uncle Don made us want to be better and do better by the sheer force of his example."

He said "no metric" can quantify Father Monan's legacy, adding that "Only the mind of God knows the measure of the good that Uncle Don, one on one, meeting each of us as a child of God, generated through a word-spoken, an ear lent, or a promise kept."

"The kind of good he generated is the kind of good that regenerates itself through those he touched, regenerates itself over and over and over again. As long as there is us, all of his families, there is Father Monan," continued Bellia.

In his reflection, Boisi called to mind Father Monan's deep insights, sharp intelligence, and analytical mind, all of which he said benefitted the Boston College community and the community at large.

In his passing, "Boston College has lost a beloved spiritual leader and its visionary second founder. Boston has lost a true patriot and a respected mediating force. The world has lost a great, great human being, with a generous and giving soul, an elegant and eloquent man with an effective, quiet demeanor who left an immensely powerful legacy," Boisi said.

"I am confident that I can speak for all of us who knew him that it was always a privilege to be in his presence, every single time. To me, it was the greatest honor of my life to have him call me his friend and have him as a mentor."

Following the reflections, and before Father John J. Hanwell, SJ, provincial assistant of the Northeast Province, delivered the Final Commendation, Father William P. Leahy, SJ, the current president of Boston College, thanked those attending the funeral, and offered a few brief words of thanks to the Monan Family.

"Father Monan served at Boston College almost 45 year, 24 as president and the last 21 as chancellor. So, on behalf of the Boston College community, I want to thank the Monan family for sharing your uncle, cousin, friend with Boston College all these years," he said.

Bishops Mark O'Connell and Peter Uglietto, both graduates of Boston College, were in choir during the service.

"I was honored to be at the funeral of Father Monan. Father Monan was able to transform Boston College financially, athletically, and academically while keeping the institution grounded in the Catholic faith and Jesuit tradition. Few figures could have done those things with such class and decency as he did," Bishop O'Connell told The Pilot after the funeral.

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