From the Desk of the AD: In Memory of Father Neenan
July 7, 2014
Within 24 hours of being honored by an offer from Father Leahy to come to Boston College as Director of Athletics, I received an email from Vice President William B. Neenan. Father Neenan had quickly calculated the chronology of our paths and realized that our times at the University of Michigan had overlapped and with that quick welcoming note began a relationship to which everyone within the BC community can relate: One of adoring the man.
I never saw Father Neenan alone; he was always with someone and often it was a gathering of people. From football games to the vice presidents' meetings to taking a former graduate student to lunch to speaking to high school students to spending time with alums during reunion weekend, he was the consummate `friend' perpetually demonstrating the definition of friendship in his daily actions while symbolically articulating `hello friend' as he greeted everyone with his renowned fist-bump.
One of the most memorable evenings we have enjoyed in Chestnut Hill was dinner at Roberts House initiated by an invitation from Father Neenan. With the invitation came parking directions and an itinerary of mass, reception and dinner and during the reception, we had a delightful discussion that covered a diversity of topics represented by a variety of experiences, expertise and exceptional knowledge from a very intellectual group of Jesuit residents. The dialogue continued into dinner and dessert and while the inevitable topics of contemporary sports issues certainly were covered, it was the wealth of non-sports topics that were most enjoyable. The evening is one I will never forget and all forged by a man who has a history of connecting people.
Father Neenan loved athletics; he enjoyed the competition, entertainment, coaches and students. He was intimately aware of BC student-athletes and coaches and even followed our recruiting efforts and scrutinized future schedules. He was particularly proud of our students and deeply understood their commitment to their sports as they represented us in very public venues against some of the best amateur athletes in the country. On October 30, 2013, I was with Father at a dinner. Guests were finishing their meals when he abruptly got up from the table to leave. Although this was uncharacteristic of him there was a very understandable reason - game six of the World Series pitting his St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox was to begin in 10 minutes and he was hurrying home to catch the action.
Father Neenan's "Dean's List of Suggested Readings" was a treasure I did not realize existed until I read his obituary and have already begun to explore his recommendations. To see previously consumed books that he suggested is to validate personal choices in the past. In addition, to experience the literature that surpassed his threshold of quality is one of the many gifts he has provided and will not only influence future readers in meaningful ways but will serve as an ongoing reminder of his life, values and actions.
On the evening of Father Neenan's wake I met Father Gene Merz who had flown to the Heights from Wisconsin. The two had entered the Provincial together, vacationed annually with one another and were dear friends. His parting words to me will forever inspire my future days: "You saw how he lived his life, now serve his legacy by living your life the same way!" I can't think of a greater tribute to a great man.