July 2, 2014 — Jesuit Father William B. Neenan, an accomplished administrator at Boston College who served in several key leadership positions during more than three decades at the university, passed away on June 24 in the Jesuit residence on campus. He was 85.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on January 9, 1929, Fr. Neenan graduated from Trinity High School in Sioux City in 1946 and attended Saint Louis University for two years before entering the Society of Jesus. After the novitiate, he returned to Saint Louis University to study philosophy. He went on to receive a master’s in economics there in 1956 and then taught economics at the school for another year. Following that, he taught Latin and American history at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, completed theology studies at St. Mary’s College in Kansas and was ordained a priest at the Gesu Church in Milwaukee in 1961.
Fr. Neenan then earned a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan in 1966 and became a professor of economics and social work there. A respected scholar and economist, Fr. Neenan wrote numerous articles, reviews, books and monographs on subjects ranging from urban economics to public health and taxation and directed several economic institutes and seminars. He left the University of Michigan to complete a visiting professorship at Boston College in 1979, and before his time at Boston College was over, he was asked to become a dean. “I was going to be at BC for two years and then go back and spend the rest of my life in Ann Arbor,” he told the Boston Globe in 2000. “But I fell in love with BC and its students.”
Fr. Neenan served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences until 1987 and as academic vice president and dean of faculties from 1987 to 1998. He is credited with helping former president, Jesuit Father J. Donald Monan, and current president, Jesuit Father William P. Leahy, transform Boston College from a commuter school to a nationally recognized university. He became vice president and special assistant to Fr. Leahy in 1998, serving in that capacity for his last 16 years. “Fr. Neenan was such a presence on our campus and was a tremendous Jesuit priest,” said Fr. Leahy. “We will all miss him greatly.”
Throughout his 35 years of service, Fr. Neenan was an active and in-demand presence at Boston College and a highly sought-after speaker at alumni events nationwide. His annual release of the "Dean's List of Recommended Reading," a lineup of his favorite novels, biographies and histories, became an anticipated yearly rite. In 2004, alumni Margaret and Thomas Vanderslice established the William B. Neenan Millennium Chair in Economics at the university.
Fr. Neenan received the Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam Award from the New England Province of the Society of Jesus in 2003 for his commitment to Jesuit education. He received an honorary degree from Boston College for his distinguished service to the university in 2008 and the Founder’s Medal from the Boston College Law School in 1996. He served as a trustee for a number of schools and universities, including Loyola University Chicago, Fordham University, Nativity Preparatory School and Boston College High School. He also served as director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities from 1988 to 1994 and as a director of America magazine from 1990 to 1991. [Source: Boston College]