Father J. Donald Monan, SJ Gary Wayne Gilbert photo/courtesy Boston College
For nearly a quarter century his name was synonymous with Boston College. By all accounts he saved what was a floundering, commuter, predominantly men's school and transfigured it into a major research university with a dynamic student body and an expansive athletic program.
He seemed unlikely presidential timber. Trained as a philosopher in the long Jesuit tradition of rigorous academic formation. But he proved to be every bit the do-er as he was the thinker.
Born in Blasdell, N.Y. on Dec. 31, 1924, James Donald Monan was a son of the late Edward and Mary (Ward) Monan; he had two siblings, both deceased: Edward and Gertrude Cheeley. He attended the Jesuit's Canisius High School in Buffalo and entered the New York Province of the Society of Jesus on Sept. 7, 1942, studying at St. Andrew on the Hudson, N.Y.; University of Louvain, Belgium from which he received his doctorate in philosophy. Ordained a priest on June 18, 1955, he taught at LeMoyne, the Jesuit college in Syracuse, N.Y., and from there as its then vice president he was named as the 24th president of Boston College.
Arriving on the Heights in the summer of 1972 to assume the presidency, he found problems which surely seemed both daunting and endless. Enrollment, finances, physical plant, fiscal problems and more were his regular, even daily, concerns.