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Gallagher Explores Crossroads Of Religious, Secular History

Professor Profile

Heights Editor

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 00:02

Housing over 51,000 volumes of factual information, 150 series titles, and a plethora of electronic journals and journal databases pertaining to art, museum studies, photography, and architecture, Boston College’s Bapst Art Library has existed as a crucial asset for research and teaching purposes since 1925. Among this vast compilation and inside the first edition of Sub Turri—the official yearbook of BC—is a photograph of the late Rev. Peter F. Cusick, S.J., a professor within the chemistry and earth and environmental sciences departments who taught at BC from 1909 until 1913. A little more than a century later, Rev. Charles Gallagher, S.J. followed in his great, great uncle’s footsteps to the Heights—completely unaware of this coincidental familial connection.    
Born in Binghamton, N.Y., Gallagher and his three siblings spent time in both New York and Nantucket, Mass. while growing up. After childhood, he initially attended Saint Anslem College in Manchester, N.H. in hopes of becoming a Benedictine monk. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that men pursuing the priesthood have to make, however, the Order of Saint Benedict requires a vow of stability—an oath under which candidates must remain within the same monastery throughout their lives—and eventually Gallagher resolved to reexamine his vocation elsewhere. “I couldn’t come to terms with the vow of stability,” he said.

Therefore, Gallagher transferred to Marquette University to complete his undergraduate studies. Upon meeting Jesuits in the classroom, he developed an interest in the priesthood after realizing that an intellectual vocation could exist simultaneously alongside a religious calling. “At first, I didn’t have enough confidence to become a Jesuit—I considered them to be the ‘intellectual elite,’ and I didn’t think I was intellectually gifted enough to enter,” Gallagher said. He earned a B.A. in history from MU in 1988, and following graduation, decided to enter graduate school at Binghamton University.

Well known for its Judaic studies program, Binghamton inspired Gallagher: many of his Jewish peers were enthusiastic with regard to learning about their faith, and Gallagher therefore cultivated greater interest in becoming enriched in the tradition of his own and moving into a community of religious scholars. Consequently, Gallagher pursued a master’s in history with a concentration on U.S. religious history—which he attained in 1991—and began, once again, to consider religious and intellectual vocations. His mentor throughout his studies at Binghamton was a rabbi, however, and he advised Gallagher to seek mentorship from someone more “well grounded” in aspects of the Catholic faith, Gallagher said.

“I knew a Jesuit in the history department at Marquette, and my instinct was to go back there to get my doctorate,” he said. In addition to obtaining his Ph.D. in history in 1998, Gallagher entered the Jesuits in 2000 and was ordained a priest in 2010. “The Jesuit vocation … St. Ignatius’ vision was a perfect fit: go out to meet people, to serve, to be present to people,” he said. “That is an integral part of how God wants me to live out His will.”    
While at Marquette, Gallagher found writing his dissertation, “Patriot Bishop: The Diplomatic and Episcopal Career of Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, 1937-1967,” to be a particularly enriching experience, and he later published it as a book—Vatican Secret Diplomacy—with Yale University Press in 2008 and received the American Catholic Historical Association’s John Gilmary Shea Prize for the work. Currently, he is working on his second book, Swastika in South Boston, which, similar to the first, uses declassified OSS intelligence records to tell a narrative about Nazi propaganda and the Christian Front—an American anti-Semitic political organization—in Boston that was active from 1938 until Pearl Harbor.

From 2004 until 2006, Gallagher taught at the College of the Holy Cross within the history department. There, he gave 20th century surveys on American history, instructed religious studies, and created a course on terrorism in America.

In 2010, after receiving an invitation to apply, Gallagher came to BC, where—unbeknownst to him until last year—his great-great uncle had taught 101 years before him. “I was very grateful—it is a great opportunity to advance as a junior scholar given the profile of the department,” he said. “I always want to challenge myself in my academic work, and there is a high level of academic professionalism in this department that is known nationwide.”
At the University, Gallagher specializes in papal diplomacy, American Catholicism, and the Holocaust, and he teaches Terror and the American Century and Spies, Spying, and the Presidency. “I have great support here—the liberty you have as a scholar is very attractive, to design and teach new courses, it’s more than I could’ve dreamed for ... a truly wonderful opportunity,” he said.

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