Monan took BC to heights

March 19, 2017 GMT

Boston College’s chancellor and former longtime president the Rev. J. Donald Monan, under whose leadership the university was transformed from a financially strapped regional Roman Catholic school into a thriving, world-renowned institution, died yesterday. He was 92.

Boston College President William P. Leahy, who succeeded Monan in 1996, issued a statement yesterday praising the university’s longest-serving president for his unwavering commitment to advancing the school’s mission and for guiding the college through a period of extreme financial difficulty.

“Fr. Monan devoted more than four decades of his life to Boston College, playing a decisive role in its reorganization and increased recognition in American higher education,” Leahy said. “He has left a lasting legacy, and earned the gratitude and respect of the entire Boston College community for his leadership during his years as president and chancellor.”

Monan, who was Boston College’s longest-serving president, became the university’s first chancellor when he stepped down in 1996 after 24 years. University officials said Monan died at Campion Renewal Center, a Jesuit community in Weston, after a brief illness.

Monan’s nephew, Edward Monan, of Buffalo, N.Y., remembered his beloved uncle as being “kind and gracious to his family” despite all of the work he did at Boston College.

“He provided support during difficult times. Even during his presidency at BC, he always had time for his family,” Edward Monan told the Herald. “He was always there. He always took the time to make sure he got to see his family during holidays.”

And though his success as president of the college earned him a great deal of recognition, Edward Monan said he will remember his uncle as a “soft-spoken” man who loved to golf, ski and ice skate.

“He was never a person who was boastful,” Edward Monan said. “He was always interested in other people. He’d always check up on everyone and see what they were doing.”

In addition to Edward, Monan is survived by two other nephews, Patrick and Michael Monan, and a niece, Maureen Bellia, all of western New York.

In a statement yesterday, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said Monan “exemplified selfless dedication and service in the name of the Lord.”

“It is well acknowledged that during Fr. Monan’s more than twenty-four years as President of Boston College the university grew in strength and stature, confirming its leadership in Jesuit higher education and providing an important presence of the work of the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston and well beyond,” O’Malley wrote. “We give thanks to God for the gift of Fr. Monan’s priesthood and for the care and concern he showed to countless people through his ministry.”

Monan, who grew up in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, became a Jesuit priest in 1955, taught at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J., and served as a dean and vice president at Le Moyne College in Syracuse before coming to Boston. Under Monan’s guidance, the liberal arts college embarked on a rapid expansion, acquiring a neighboring all-women’s Catholic college and building dozens of dorms and academic and athletic facilities. The college also stepped up its academic standards and student admissions and blossomed into the university it is today, with more than 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Its endowment is among the largest in the nation, and it has a consistently high standing among national rankings.

Charles Clough, who serves on the college’s board of trustees, said Monan’s lasting legacy will be for having “led one of the most remarkable turnarounds in 20th century education.”

“He had a real commitment to deepening the college’s Jesuit Catholic roots,” Clough said. “Things were really working. Academics were really improving. That inspired us to really work hard for the place.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.