Person Of The Year: Rev. James A. Woods, S.J.
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Cheryl Wright, coordinator of student services for the WCAS, began 30 years ago as a temporary employee filling in for her mother, but stayed ever since.
“He made this school what it is today,” she said. “It’s the love and respect that the students have for him that has made such a difference in their lives and in his life.”
His commitment to the students is an accomplishment, Wright said. “His biggest accomplishment is the way he treats the whole student – it’s pastoral, it’s emotional, it’s academic.”
Paul Nee, WCAS ’12, took two weekday classes and a Saturday class his first semester at BC. With two children and a full-time work schedule, he doubted his ability to handle such a full load when his Saturday class began a couple weeks after his other two. This day happened to fall on a football gameday, and as such, he was having trouble finding a place to park.
“I thought, ‘Something’s telling me this is too much for me,’” he said.
As Nee was driving home, however, he saw Woods standing out in the rain, waving a parking permit, looking for him.
“Here’s the dean of the school,” he said, “and he could have anybody stand out there, but he was there himself. To me, that’s him in a nutshell. He pushed open all the doors, and all you had to do was go through them.”
His abiilty to serve without judging is rare, Wright said. “He’s the most nonjudgmental person I’ve ever met. You could say that’s part of his devotion to his calling, but that’s not always true [with others].”
The values instilled in him by his parents are still very important to him, Woods said.
“Guiding thousands through their educational, personal, and spiritual journey with compassion and kindness reflects a deep commitment to improving the human condition with a sense of justice and love of ‘other.’ It brings me back to what was instilled in me by my parents—the sense that there is something greater to be done—so just do it.”
He has a way with students that is unique, Wright said. “He also knows almost intuitively what the student wants even if the student doesn’t know it.”
Nee noted that when Woods first meets a student, he gets a sense for who they are and how to help them realize their academic potential.
“You don’t realize he’s really feeling you out, then he’ll start suggesting classes to you,” he said. “He starts to get to know you as a student. He puts you in a situation where you’re out of your comfort zone, and you end up enjoying it.”
Woods works to educate the whole person, including pastorally.
“It’s the pastoral care that I think a lot of people need and want,” Wright said.
Woods is the only employer who has thanked her for her work every night, she said, and he thanks his students similarly. “It makes a huge difference to know your worth.”
Woods has built a strong staff around him, Nee said. “His staff is fantastic. They really work hard for him, and they work hard for the students, too.”
Mike O’Connor, BC ’06, received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the WCAS.
“His influence goes far beyond the classroom,” O’Connor said. “He has consistently served as a great source of inspiration and confidence.”
Even since graduating, he has continued to seek Woods’ counsel. “It’s just been consistent,” O’Connor said. “I’ve known him for 13 years, and I’ve consistently gone back to him for advice and guidance. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be who I am personally, professionally, and spiritually without Father Woods.”
Woods presides over many weddings, baptisms, and wakes for former students, Wright said. Among these former students is O’Connor, who was married by Woods.
“I essentially planned my wedding around Father Woods’ availability,” O’Connor said.
“The strength I draw from being part of something so worthwhile, daily restores me, invites me to grow, and reminds me each day that I have been extremely fortunate to have such an opportunity to serve,” Woods said. “The Jesuit and the entire Boston College community has inspired and invigorated me each day, giving shape to a vocation filled with great joy and the desire to share with all how ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ I am very grateful.”