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Father Brooks, who guided Holy Cross through major changes, dies at 88

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WORCESTER, Mass. (CNS) -- A Mass of Christian burial was scheduled for July 9 in St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at the College of the Holy Cross for Jesuit Father John E. Brooks, 88, the longest serving president of Holy Cross.

Father Brooks died July 2 at UMass Memorial Hospital -- University Campus in Worcester, after complications from lymphoma.

"Father Brooks embodied Christian charity by giving of himself for the good of his neighbor in body, mind and spirit. May God grant him eternal rest," said Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus upon learning of his death.

During his tenure as the college's 29th president from 1970 to 1994, Father Brooks presided over a period of enormous change at Holy Cross. In addition to moving the college to coeducation and recruiting a significantly more diverse student body, he helped strengthen Holy Cross financially, energize the alumni network and build the college into one of the country's top liberal arts institutions.

At the time of his death, Father Brooks was actively working, serving as president emeritus and Loyola professor of the humanities in the religious studies department. He continued to teach a seminar in contemporary Christology, remained engaged in fundraising and the business of the college, and had close ties with legions of alumni.

In the past year, his leadership at Holy Cross received widespread attention after the publication of the book "Fraternity," chronicling the bold steps he took in the late 1960s and early 1970s to recruit African-American students to the college.

Born July 13, 1923, in Dorchester to John E. and Mildred (McCoy) Brooks, he grew up the oldest of four children in the West Roxbury section of Boston. He graduated from the Boston Latin School and entered Holy Cross as a freshman in 1942.

He volunteered for service in the U.S. Army in 1943, and trained in the Signal Corps. He served in World War II campaigns in Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe until his discharge from the Army in January 1946.

He graduated from Holy Cross in 1949 with a bachelor's degree and major concentration in physics. After pursuing graduate studies in geophysics at Pennsylvania State University, he entered the New England province of the Society of Jesus in 1950. He earned a master's in philosophy in 1954 from Boston College, and immediately returned to Holy Cross as an instructor of mathematics and physics.

In 1956, he began his study of theology at Weston College and was ordained a priest June 13, 1959, by Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston. Having completed a year of ascetical theology study at the Jesuit Tertianship in Pomfret, Conn., he also earned a master's in geophysics from Boston College. Assigned to pursue graduate studies in theology, in 1963 he earned a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, during the early years of the Second Vatican Council.

He returned to Holy Cross as a faculty member in the religious studies department in 1963, and was named department chairman in 1964. He made his final vows as a Jesuit in August 1966.

Right after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, Father Brooks traveled to high schools up and down the East Coast to recruit African-American high school students to attend Holy Cross.

Among the dozens of students he brought to Holy Cross were Clarence Thomas, class of '71, the future Supreme Court justice; Edward P. Jones, '72, who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature; Theodore Wells, '72, who would become one of the nation's most successful defense attorneys; Stanley Grayson, '72, future New York City deputy mayor who would break the color barrier on Wall Street; and Eddie Jenkins, '72, who would play for the Miami Dolphins during their 1972 perfect season.

Also in 1968, Father Brooks was appointed academic vice president and dean of the college, and in 1970, he succeeded Jesuit Father Raymond J. Swords, whose 10-year presidency was the longest at the college at the time. Father Brooks was the first president elected by a combination Jesuit-lay board of trustees.

In 1970, he announced that the previously all-male Holy Cross was to admit women, and in the fall of 1972, about 300 women entered Holy Cross.

He was president in 1990 when his friend and Holy Cross trustee, Jacob Hiatt, along with his daughter and son-in-law, Myra and Robert Kraft, made a major gift to Holy Cross and Brandeis University to endow two professorships in comparative religion: the Kraft-Hiatt chair in Judaic studies at Holy Cross and the Kraft-Hiatt chair in Christian studies at Brandeis University. To this day, the Kraft-Hiatt fund supports campus and community-wide educational initiatives that foster understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture, and dialogue between Jews and Christians.

He is survived by two sisters, a brother and many nieces, nephews, cousins, grandnieces and grandnephews.

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