Administration, Top Story, News

BC High Renames McElroy Building Citing Founder’s Slavery Ties, BC Not to Follow

Boston College High School is renaming McElroy Hall, the school’s first building, citing Rev. John McElroy’s, S.J., historical ties to slavery, according to a story published by The Boston Globe.

Boston College has no plans to rename McElroy Commons—also dedicated to John McElroy— in light of BC High’s decision, according to Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn.

“John McElroy, S.J., is recognized at Boston College for the work he did in founding BC in 1863,” Dunn said in a statement to The Heights. “Because of his indispensable contributions to BC’s history, we are not planning to remove his name from McElroy Commons.”

While there are no plans to rename the building, Dunn said BC is funding research to examine McElroy’s life through a biography BC historian Seth Meehan is writing.

“The biography will fully examine Fr. McElroy’s Jesuit years, while also considering him within the context of the times in which he lived and the full scope of his life experiences and accomplishments,” the statement read.

Until Meehan’s research or future campus construction plans pose the need for change, McElroy Commons will retain its name, Dunn said.

Grace Cotter Regan, president of BC High, sent an email to the school’s student body explaining the decision to rename McElroy Hall in early September. In it, she commended McElroy for his unquestionable contributions to generations of BC High School students.

“He was, however, also a man of his controversial times and it became critical to re-examine his life in light of recent findings,” Regan said in the email sent earlier this month, which was obtained by The Boston Globe.

The decision to rename the building was made by the BC High Board of Trustees following recommendations by its Mission and Identity Committee, a group created to research the school’s founders, the email explained.

While BC High will rename its founding building to St. Ignatius Hall, Regan’s email also said a plaque will be installed in the school’s main entrance to “honor and contextualize” McElroy’s legacy.

According to Meehan, associate director for academic programs and special projects at the BC Libraries, McElroy’s ties to slavery primarily trace back to his time as a bookkeeper at Georgetown College.

“At the behest of his religious superiors, he placed advertisements and recorded the transactions of enslaved people owned or hired by the college,” Meehan said in an email to The Heights

Meehan added that because McElroy was not yet ordained as a priest and given an official role in his Jesuit province, his power to intervene was limited.

“So, here he was, a lay brother who had no real authority to make decisions but also one with a lot of responsibility to fulfill the decisions of others,” Meehan said in his email.

In 1838, the Maryland Jesuits engaged in a sale of 272 enslaved people. While McElroy had been ordained by this point, he still did not have an official role in his province yet, according to Meehan.

The sale was controversial among Jesuits of the time, Meehan said. But while some advocated for liberation and some defended slave labor, McElroy remained silent in the wake of the sale.

These events were prior to McElroy founding BC, Meehan said.

After his first visit to Boston in 1842, McElroy wrote to the bishop of Boston and expressed the need for a new Jesuit-led day school in Boston. And by 1847, the bishop was urging the Jesuits to open a day school in Boston under the leadership of McElroy, Meehan explained.

Following a 16-year effort led by McElroy, BC officially opened its doors at its original location in Boston’s South End, Meehan said.

“He officially became the first president of Boston College in 1863, though he served for only a month or so for legal and administrative purposes before yielding the role to John Bapst,” Meehan said in the email.

According to Meehan, while McElroy was not the sole founder of BC, his effort was vital to the University’s inception.

“It is one of those great alt-history questions: Do you get Boston College without John McElroy?” Meehan said. “Knowing his fellow Jesuits at the time … I do not think any of them would have had the appetite, stamina, etc., to have taken on such a daunting project.”


*This story was corrected to clarify Meehan’s current role at BC, that BC officially opened its doors in 1864, that McElroy was not a bookkeeper at Georgetown College during the slave sale of 1838, and that BC High’s Campus is no longer in Boston’s South End.

September 17, 2023