Person Of The Year: Rev. James A. Woods, S.J.
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Rev. James A. Woods, S.J., has seen a lot after spending over four decades at Boston College. Since 1968, he has served as dean of the Woods College of Advancing Studies (WCAS), formerly the Evening College of Arts, Sciences, and Business Administration, and he will be stepping down from his position this spring.
Woods grew up in Neponset, a part of Quincy. His father was a milkman, who he often accompanied on milk runs.
“My first teacher was my father, a role model who inspired me and others to do our best, to see what could be done,” he said. “We were the closest of friends.”
His mother was an involved community member and parent, who offered him advice and support, and pushed him to make his dreams come true. “She taught me to ‘dream great dreams’ and to work with confidence to make them a reality,” Woods said.
His parents’ philosophy on life sparked a mindset that has guided him since childhood. “My parents’ outlook sparked optimism and hope,” he said.
Woods decided to become a Jesuit when he was a senior at Boston College High School, wishing to follow in the footsteps of those who had educated him. When he was 16, he went to Chestnut Hill for an interview, which took place where McGuinn Hall currently stands.
“I was interviewed in the very spot where my office is today, but back then, it was an army barracks,” he said. “In front of the army barracks was an enormous pile of dirt, the forthcoming Fulton Hall. And then I saw the four other buildings that made up Boston College: Gasson, Bapst, St. Mary’s, and Devlin Hall.”
In September, he began his studies at the Boston College of Liberal Studies at the Shadowbrook Jesuit Seminary in Lenox, Mass. After four years, he continued his studies at Weston College, which was a constituent college within BC at the time, where he studied philosophy and worked toward a master’s degree in teaching mathematics for three years. After three years teaching at an all-boys boarding school, Cranwell, he returned to Weston College for theological studies, was ordained in 1961, and graduated in 1962.
Before beginning his position as WCAS dean, he was Provincial Secretary for the New England Jesuits and concurrently began working at the University as registrar of the Schools of Liberal Arts, Philosophy, and Theology, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
In the 1970s, Woods was appointed University Registrar, and was part of a team that centralized student records, financial aid, and other information onto computers.
“This was at a time when space was very limited on computers – as a result, to put in the entering freshman class, we had to delete one of the classes that graduated and do it all again the following year,” he said.
This computer system is still in use at BC. “Due to the economic downturn a few years ago, the only thing that was cancelled at Boston College was a new computer system that was to replace the one developed in the early ’70s,” Woods said. “That new system is still on hold.”
Woods had various other responsibilities and various other jobs over the course of his life, including starting Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, Mass., and serving as Adult Education Advisor to former president Jimmy Carter.
“I met monthly at the White House with a team of experts to facilitate the learning opportunities for a growing, diverse learner population,” he said. “This has been a lifelong commitment to each and [every] student eager and ready to begin their studies part-time.”
In addition to his jobs, he had various “adventures in eminent domain,” he said. Millionairess Hetty Green’s estate in South Dartmouth, Mass. was the first of such adventures. It was on this estate that MIT had perfected radar technology during World War II, and in 1964, MIT sold it to the Society of Jesus of New England as a retreat. The town of Dartmouth, however, attempted to take it over after the purchase. “A court battle ensued, but the Jesuits prevailed after several years of litigation,” Woods said.
They were not so lucky, however, with the portion of BC High’s land on which the University of Massachusetts, Boston wanted to build their entrance, and by eminent domain, UMass got the land.
In 2002, WCAS received its name through a generous donation by Robert Devlin and his family. Devlin had been a student of Woods’ during his first year at Cranwell in 1955.
“Being responsive to the academic, financial, and pastoral needs of the surrounding communities has been my responsibility these past 44 years,” Woods said. “Serving those students who dream of a Boston College education part-time in the Woods College of Advancing Studies and helping them make it happen has been extraordinarily meaningful for me.”