CV NEWS FEED // Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick, S.J., was determined to open a Catholic college in Boston. But not just any college. He wanted a Jesuit college.
In 1827, shortly after his ordination to the episcopacy, the former Georgetown University president launched his first attempt at founding his college. He furnished a classroom in the cathedral’s basement and personally began instructing the city’s most promising Catholic youth. He called the school “Boston College.”
Unfortunately, it took him 15 years to convince other Jesuits to join him, and by then Protestant city officials had put their foot down. They wanted no Catholic college in Boston.
Unwilling to admit defeat, Fenwick began looking elsewhere for property on which he could build a proper school. He eventually found that property in the small town of Worcester, Massachusetts. He purchased it on February 2, 1843.
The following November, six boys ages 9 to 19 began their studies at Fenwick’s school, which he named “College of the Holy Cross.”
Six years later, the young James Augustine Healy—-later America’s first bishop of African descent—-was valedictorian of the college’s inaugural class. Despite its successes, however, anti–Catholicism continued to dog the school, with Commonwealth officials repeatedly denying the college a charter. Until 1865, when the governor finally relented, diplomas had to be granted through Georgetown University.
In the years that followed, the school flourished, eventually becoming one of the most academically respected liberal arts colleges in the nation. In the years leading up to and following the Second Vatican Council, it also earned a reputation as a center for the emerging Catholic social justice movement and, in 1974, TIME magazine dubbed it “the cradle of the Catholic left.”
In recent years, the college has stood at the center of an ongoing debate about the nature of Catholic higher education and has come under fire for welcoming pro–choice politicians and groups to campus, at times putting it at odds with its local ordinary. Despite the controversy, the school continues to flourish, educating nearly 3,000 undergraduates each year.