Institutional Context: Boston College

Jesuit Founding and Catholic Mission

Recognizing that the population of Irish Catholic immigrants to Boston in the mid-19th century, most of whom were coming to the United States fleeing religious persecution and famine, was growing, Fr. John McElroy, a Jesuit priest, understood the need for a school in Boston that could serve immigrant young men. With permission from his Jesuit superiors, McElroy was able to raise enough funds to open a small school. Although McElroy’s attempt at a college was open only for two years (1857-1859), he planted the seeds for Jesuit, Catholic higher education in Boston. In 1863, what is now Boston College (BC) opened under the auspices of the Society of Jesus in the downtown South End neighborhood of Boston as a “small streetcar college” for commuting students of high school- and college-aged boys, with Johannes Bapst, S.J. serving as the college’s first president. As enrollment in the college increased, so did building needs. Although BC was able to expand, there was insufficient space to enable hoped-for growth, and so in the early 1910s BC relocated to its current main 175-acrc Chestnut Hill home, about six miles west of downtown Boston. In due time, BC developed numerous faculties (nursing, education, social work, evening school, law, business, theology, and ministry), acquired additional neighboring properties, and became fully coeducational in 1970.

Today Boston College is a Carnegie Classified R1 institution with a total enrollment of 14,600 students (about two-thirds undergraduate, one-third graduate) and 860 full-time faculty (Boston College, 2020). While it took a few tries to successfully launch Boston College, the thread throughout has been its Catholic, Jesuit identity, which remains core to its character. This identity inspires the school’s overall mission and informs the learning environment and formation community that appreciates the importance of the life of mind, body, and spirit. While the majority of BC’s students identify as Catholic, there is much religious diversity’ among the students themselves, as well as among the faculty and staff. For individuals of faith who are not Catholic, there is a capaciousness for religious diversity’ and an appreciation among many that religious questions, identities, and explorations are welcome.

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