When Thomas Gasson, S.J., assumed the role of president at Boston College in January 1907, the community soon became aware of his desire to transform the small school into a university. That June, Gasson began petitioning his Jesuit superiors in Rome, college alumni, and local Catholics to support his plan to physically separate the college from its high school program in their shared, cramped quarters in Boston’s South End. In December, he announced the purchase of a new site for the college–a Chestnut Hill farm in the nearby suburb of Newton. Gasson had to bypass doubt from the Jesuit hierarchy, scarcity of local funds, and floundering support from the diocesan leadership when attempting to erect a new campus on “University Heights.”
It was ultimately his dedication that set the course for the emergence of the lavish campus of today.
Gasson held an architectural competition to select the type of campus that would adorn the hilltop grounds. The Gothic design he chose was created by Maginnis & Walsh Architects. Gasson’s detailed construction demands included that the “Recitation Building” was to be the first and most elaborate structure to be built.
The bell tower erected atop this building became the physical manifestation of Gasson’s perseverance to create what he called “the greatest Catholic college in America.” Additionally, the tower ascending above a former farm symbolized the concurrent ascendency of Catholics in the greater area–with once-marginalized Catholics assuming prestigious and influential positions in politics, business, and social circles. Unsurprisingly then, even considering he faced so many obstacles to his efforts, Gasson chose the most expensive option for the bells that would ring down the hillside towards Boston. Today, the chiming of the four brass bells atop the building now bearing Gasson’s name reverberate feelings of nostalgia and tradition within the hearts of so many in the Boston College community.
- Brenna Andreozzi 2017, Sociology & Education & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit #WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.