SPOTLIGHT: Judge Francis Larkin

Judge Francis Larkin remembers Father Drinan and the students from the decade that he served as associate dean and professor of law at Boston College Law School.


I am so pleased to respond to this kind invitation to reflect on that golden period in my life–interacting with the legendary Robert F. Drinan, S.J., dean of BC Law, and the wonderful students, among many others, from this years’ reunion classes.

Reflections on Father Drinan

First as to Father Drinan (“Bob” to the countless thousands who knew him and loved him)–his mind and heart were always alive with the possibility of “transformation.” In the beginning, he transformed a law school. Later, in the U.S. Congress, he worked tirelessly to transform an institution that seemed increasingly to forget its values and verities. And, in a decidedly lesser key, with a bow to fortuities of faith and vagaries of chance (to be explained below), he surely transformed my life, as I served as his associate dean for almost a decade.

For me, in retrospect, the opportunity to come to BC Law was truly a great blessing. Father Drinan was such a remarkable individual. He strove constantly to raise the standards of the Law School–its faculty, and students, and in countless other ways. He truly had a unique capacity for friendship and empathy, which extended to all, especially those who were in need. To anyone who, because of a family tragedy or some other loss or defeat, turned to Father Drinan, he was always there with an act of kindness, or a boost in spirit. His devotion to the students at the Law School was legendary. It was evident that he cared passionately for his students, not only collectively, but individually. He treated them as family and made clear in so many ways that they were an important part of his life. On more than one occasion, students who sought Father Drinan’s counsel, when they found it difficult to pay a tuition bill or faced some personal crisis, left his office with spirits raised because of a measure of largesse from his seemingly bottomless “discretionary fund.” If there were a death in the student’s family, no matter how far away the funeral, frequently Father Drinan would be there to celebrate or concelebrate the funeral mass or participate in other religious services. And the personal notes of encouragement, congratulations, compassion, or sympathy that began at the Law School continued through a lifetime.

But, of his many qualities and virtues, the most conspicuous was courage, “moral courage.” On this subject, Boston Globe columnist, Thomas Farraher, wrote recently: “There is an old saying that – roughly paraphrased goes like this: bad things happen when good people remain silent. It turns out that courage is a rare commodity… especially the courage to speak truth to power.” To the very end, in every facet of his life, Father Drinan was always about “moral courage.”

My time at BC Law

And, now, a few personal words on “yours truly.” It is sometimes said that “life is a font of fortuities.” The chapter of my life at BC Law surely argues for the validity of that proposition.

In the late spring of 1963, after four years of active military duty (followed by 28 years in the Reserves–retiring as a full 0-6 colonel), I was concluding the second year of a judicial clerkship on the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit with the Honorable Judge John Hartigan, former attorney general of Rhode Island (and earlier a law partner of the then attorney general of the United States, J. Howard McGrath, another native of Rhode Island.)

Near the end of my clerkship, while in chambers, I received a call one morning from a friend, a Milford attorney named Pacifico “Pat” Decapua, (a fellow Georgetown Law graduate) announcing that Father Drinan, in Pat’s words, “the legendary dean of Boston College Law School” would be speaking that evening at a meeting of the Milford Bar Association (Milford was my hometown). He suggested that I should be there. I responded that I would love to go but I was in Providence, working on opinions for Judge Hartigan, and didn’t have much time to spare. It was near the end of the term (my final year). Unwritten drafts of opinions were alarmingly unfinished and were piling up, so reluctantly, I declined. Providentially, two hours later, Pat called again, repeating more strongly that he thought I really should be there. I decided to go, attended the event and, following his remarks, Father Drinan sought me out. Within less than 10 minutes of talking with him, he said, “How would you like to come with me and be my associate dean at the Law School?” As it turned out, I later found out that on that very afternoon, the Law School had authorized Father Drinan to create and fill a new position of associate dean.

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. This could not happen today. Today there would be a search committee after search committee. All applicants would have to be widely vetted. But, in that era, with the force of his personality and reputation, Father Drinan had the power to just go out and pick someone in whom he believed. In fairness (to Father), in my year as national president of the American Bar Association’s Student Division, our paths had crossed several times. He believed in me and I in him, and we were together for over a fruitful decade, ending when he ran successfully for Congress.

Father and I had a wonderful friendship, professionally and as a friend. (He even baptized four of our six children.) When I arrived, my only instructions were: “Find out where you can help and go to it!”  Essentially, that’s what I did.

May it please the Court

Since, as a student, I had been a member of a Georgetown Law School moot court team that had won the national championship. Sponsored by the Bar Association of the City of New York and held at Christmastime in the headquarters of the Bar Association, it was the most prestigious competition in the nation. I put a lot of effort in seeking to make Boston College a powerhouse in this arena–a fact which I believed would be noticed by law firms in Manhattan and other major cities, including Boston, and by the New England firms. We had good results in this endeavor, winning two national championships and winning the New England regionals in eight out of the 10 years I coached the teams. And, as predicted, for the first time, the national firms came-a-calling.

Inaugurating a tradition

In the year that I had served as president of the ABA’s Student Bar Association, I worked closely with the then president of the ABA, Charles Rhynne, in establishing the Law Day USA effort on May 1st of each year, an annual event which celebrates the law, lawyers, and the legal profession that continues to this day. Working with others in the second year of my tenure, we established a major Law Day event in Boston that was held annually on May 1st at a downtown hotel and featuring major speakers, such as Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, Justice Brennan, and many other prominent members of the legal profession.

As I also ran the Law School’s placement office, I made it a firm point, whenever possible, to have lunch with most of the visiting hiring partners who came to BC Law, building relationships, many of which have endured through the years. This, in addition to teaching at least one course each semester and, not incidentally, serving as a  “special” (i.e., part-time) judge down the road from the Law School in the Newton District Court. Thus, judge in the morning, professor in the afternoon, and, among many other endeavors, in the (late) evenings, it will be obvious how I came to look back upon this time, at least for me, as a truly golden period.

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