Dec. 31, 1924 – March 18, 2017
The Rev. J. Donald Monan, the Blasdell native who, as the longest-serving president of Boston College, transformed it into one of the leading Catholic colleges in the nation, died Saturday in Weston, Mass. He was 92.
Boston College had debt of more than $30 million and an endowment of just $6 million when Rev. Monan became its 24th president in 1972. By 1996, when he retired and became BC’s first chancellor, a post specially created for him, the college had greatly grown physically and academically, and its endowment exceeded $500 million.
“Father 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,” said Father William P. Leahy, his successor as president. “He has left a lasting legacy.”
“He was responsible for taking this commuter school and setting it in the direction to become a major university in the country,” said Jack Connors, former chairman of BC’s board of trustees.
Rev. Monan attended Canisius High School, where he was goalie on the championship hockey team and learned public speaking, then studied at the New York Province of the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson. He earned undergraduate degrees from Woodstock College, a Jesuit college in Woodstock, Md., was an instructor at St. Peter’s College, in Jersey City, N.J., from 1949 to 1952, and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1955.
He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Louvain in Belgium, took postdoctoral work at Oxford University and the universities of Paris and Munich, then joined the philosophy department at Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 1960. A noted Aristotelian philosopher, he became LeMoyne’s academic dean and vice president in 1967 and later served as its acting president.
He declined the traditional inauguration ceremony at Boston College because of its fiscal problems and spent his first year as president immersed in strategic and financial planning.
“I wouldn’t have come to Boston College at all if I hadn’t thought it had great existing strength, despite its problems,” he told the Heights, the BC student newspaper, on his 20th anniversary in 1992. “It had a marvelous campus, a strong student body and very good faculty. ... Coming from the outside, with a fresh perspective, I could see that the existing strength held potential for even greater advancement.”
Rev. Monan installed a new accounting system, restructured the board of directors and put an emphasis on alumni donations. He gave the college a balanced budget every year he was president.
He oversaw predominantly male BC’s acquisition of the neighboring Newton College of the Sacred Heart, an all-female Catholic school. Under his tenure, numerous new buildings were constructed, including a sports arena and 13 residence halls. He considered his greatest success the establishment of the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Library, the college’s main research library.
In recognition of his contributions to BC’s football program, which included expansion of the stadium and his fostering of Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame presented him with its Distinguished American Award in 1996.
Once characterized as the city’s best politician by Boston Magazine, he played a key role in keeping the New England Patriots from moving to Hartford, Conn., in 1999. Six years earlier, he salvaged the negotiations to allow the replacement of Boston Garden by the FleetCenter, now TD Garden.
He was as a director of the Bank of Boston for 20 years, was a member of the board of directors of One to One/The National Mentoring Partnership and served nine years as co-chairman of the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership.
Last month he was honored as one of the “Four Pillars of Mass Mentoring Partnership’s First 25 Years” at the organization’s anniversary celebration.
In recognition of his leadership skills, in 1983 he was elected the head of both the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
He also was a member of the Jesuit Philosophical Association, the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, the Society of Ancient Greek Philosophy and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
His book, “Moral Knowledge and Its Methodology in Aristotle,” was published in 1968. He also helped write two textbooks, “The Philosophy of Human Knowing” in 1952 and “A Prelude to Metaphysics” in 1967.
Surviving are three nephews and a niece.
Funeral arrangements will be announced.