Top College News Subscribe to the Newsletter

Unearthing The History Of The O'Connell House

For The Heights

Published: Monday, February 18, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 01:02

Perched atop the hill that is home to Boston College, Upper Campus is where more than half of the freshman class resides. On the campus, eight red brick dormitories surround recreational spaces like a basketball court and open areas that will be suitable for football and frisbee when the snowmen melt away.

Also encircled by the dorms is an old Welch-inspired mansion, the O’Connell House Student Union. This building is equipped to provide members of the BC community with more resources than many may realize, resources including five managers, all of them BC students, who call the O’Connell House home.

The Storey family built the O’Connell House in 1895, but it was the Liggett Family who, in 1937, donated the property to the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal William O’Connell. Just four years later, the Cardinal donated the estate, a total of nine acres of land, to his alma mater, BC . The rooms of the O’Connell House were originally converted into classrooms that were used by BC’s College of Business Administration, an early Carroll School of Management. The house was later used as a residence for Jesuits. At one point, it was even used as a residence for the football team. But, in 1972, the O’Connell House became a student activities center and began serving the purpose it still serves today.

If you walk into the O’Connell House, you walk into a two-story ballroom with beautiful dark wood floors and paneling. To the left are white parlor doors with mirrored windows and behind them is a room with a fireplace, decorative molding, and an old grand piano. Next-door is the game room where there are two ping-pong tables and a large television. Beyond the game room is a meeting room. When you walk into the meeting room, you are bound to notice the long conference table, but you may not take notice of a wooden plaque hanging on the wall. A heading on the plaque reads, “In honor of the O’Connell House staff members whose loyal and dedicated service founded the student union, developed its living tradition and cared for it lovingly.” Below this inscription, the names of all of the student managers who have lived in the O’Connell House are engraved on gold plates. The names go back to the 1972-1973 school year, the very first year that the mansion served as a Student Union.

The O’Connell House allows for up to six student staff members: three graduate and three undergraduate students. This year, there are only two graduate students, Dennis Carr and Kara Lalonde, both set to graduate from the Lynch Graduate School of Education this spring. They are also both Graduate Assistants in the Student Programs Office, the office that oversees the O’Connell House program. It is this graduate assistantship that brought Carr and Lalonde to be managers and residents of the O’Connell House. The current undergraduate managers are Vanessa Gomez, A&S ’13, Nicole Sandonato, LSOE and A&S ’14, and Alexa Geraniotis, CSON ’15.

Sandonato first got involved in the Student Programs Office when she was a freshman and started to work with Nights on the Heights, another one of the SPO programs. She was on the Middlemarch planning committee her freshman and sophomore year, a committee that decorates the O’Connell House for the annual event. Sandonato was drawn to apply for the position of an O’Connell House manager because she thought it would be a cool opportunity to make an impact on the BC Community. “It’s kind of like being an RA,” she said, “but instead of being available for a floor of students, you are available to anyone who walks in. Students will come in to rent a movie and we will start talking and soon they’re asking me for advice.”


There is an O’Connell House manager on duty from 8 p.m. until midnight from Sunday to Thursday and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. During these hours, if you walk in the O’Connell House and look right, you will find one of the managers in their office, surrounded by DVDs and games available for checkout. If your favorite DVD is not a part of the collection, just ask whoever is on duty to add the title to a waiting list. Last semester, Sandonato estimates that they ordered 20 to 25 movies to enhance their collection. Amongst the DVDs is 13 Rue Madeleine, a 1947 spy film starring James Cagney that includes scenes filmed at the O’Connell House. If you are looking for a manager and they are not in their office, chances are they are walking around the house and checking on all of the rooms, making sure all is well. For an O’Connell House manager, going through all of the rooms is no small task. In addition to the rooms mentioned before, the O’Connell House has a dance studio (which used to be a pool), a study room, another meeting room, a TV room, and a laundry room.

Recommended: Articles that may interest you


Bob Sutherby, '84
Tue Feb 19 2013 22:51
This was a very well written article. The description of O'Connell House brought me back literally 30 years, when I was one of five student managers living there. It was nice to hear that the names of us who served the house are still remembered on a displayed plaque because the many wonderful, uniquely O'Connell, experiences that I enjoyed are forever memorized in my heart. It is reassuring to learn that our former home continues to be everyone's house whose resources continue to expand with the times, maximizing its benefits to the students and appreciative visitors. I share the sentiment expressed in the quote from former manager K.P., '97 and am delighted that this shared feeling of O'Connell was marked on the wall by a departing manager so many years after the time when I served there. It's a great quote. Thanks to contributor Kathleen Fahy for finishing the article with it! Given that the rule was that you had to first "pay your dues" before writing your quote along with your name somewhere in your room before leaving it for good, it is evident that K.P. understood and appreciated the importance of O'Connell House very well. My sense is that contributor Kathleen understands and appreciates it, too. Indeed, O'Connell House is a place that I've never really left. Perhaps, it's time for another reunion of all former managers at the House (and joined by Kathleen Fahy!) where we can share countless stories and very fond memories of experiences that helped make "the House" the special home that it continues to be. It would make for a great sequel to your article, Kathleen! In the meantime, I hope to "B.C.'ing" O'Connell House soon to walk down one of the most memorable of Memory Lanes.
Dick Sullivan
Mon Feb 18 2013 10:33
In the 1960s and early '70s, O'Connell w a combination dorm for the lucky few who were able to live there and an upper campus social center once featuring a "Rathskeller" (bar) for "students over age 21", a coffee house featuring "performance accommodations" for musicians,singers, and poets et al. It also was home to the "Night Office", manned by work study students, which was then Dean of Students Ed Hanrahan S.J.'s weekend working hub. It was a great place to leave messages, meet up and head from out with friends, and or find out what was going on
Mon Feb 18 2013 09:42
I lived in O'Connell House in 1967-68, back in the servants quarters on the second floor. It was one of the few single rooms on campus. That year there were about 25 student O'Connell House residents and several Jesuits. They had the big color tv which we sometimes picked a lock to use. The Liggetts were the founders of Rexall Drugs, a sort of Walgreens of its day. They were a very wealthy family. Rene Durand '69 and his friends outfitted BC's first Coffee House, Middle Earth, at the west end of the House in that same period.

Jim Malone A&S '69

log out