William J. Kenealy, S.J.

 

Fr. Kenealy receives award at Alumni Association Law Day Dinner in 1966.

Fr. Kenealy receives award at Alumni Association Law Day Dinner in 1966.

The following remembrance of Fr. Kenealy appeared in BC Law’s 50th anniversary book:

Dean William J. Kenealy, S.J., is best remembered as the man who built St. Thomas More Hall. That is to be expected, since build­ings are a plainer sign of achievement than such intangibles as hard grading, good teaching, or friendly alumni relations. But, at heart, Fr. Kenea­ly was far more concerned with the intangibles. For him, the Law School building was simply a means to an end. He wanted to take the Law School as far and as fast as possible.

Fr. Kenealy was associated with the Law School from its beginning. He was a member of the first class, although he later transferred to Georgetown Law School to finish his degree. While at the Law School in 1929 and 1930, he taught speech in the extension school at night. Fr. Kenealy had both an A.B. and A.M. from Boston College, and a Ph.D. from the Gregorian Universi­ty in Rome. He had been a professor of classical Latin at Boston College and had supervised the Fulton Debating Society.

One of Fr. Kenealy’s first tasks after appoint­ment in 1939 was very difficult: to convince the wary legal community that a priest could be an ef­fective dean in the worldly profession of law. His friendly nature, practical attitude, and sense of humor soon broke the lawyers’ reserve. Fr. Kenea­ly was simply likeable, with a wit that sparkled. His reports and routine speeches entertained as well as informed. The public podium was his true element, however. Trained in a tradition of public speaking, he commanded an audience.

Fr. Kenealy’s effervescent personality tended to disguise the serious scholar. He wanted to make the Law School a scholarly legal center, not a mere training ground for lawyers. While dean, he had little chance to do scholarly work himself, but introduced courses in jurisprudence, and recruited faculty members who favored research and writing. His grading standards, both personal­ly and for the school as a whole, are legendary; but, when he felt that a student had been unfairly failed, he wrote a lengthy dissent for a faculty meeting.

The delicate negotiations with the university president and city officials that resulted in the location and building of St. Thomas More Hall will never be precisely known. However, Fr. Kenealy got just what he wanted, and was not bothered when the building cost more than first thought. The Law School was holding its own financially, and could pay the debt in time. For a while, the Law School had the best of both worlds. It was part of the university yet apart from it, close to transit but far from the soot, noise, and distrac­tions of downtown Boston.

After Fr. Kenealy recovered from the injuries he suffered in a 1956 auto accident, he was ap­pointed as a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he served as acting dean for a time. From 1961 to 1963, he was a law professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Once back at full­time teaching, he devoted himself to scholarly writing on civil rights and church-state relations, and established himself as an authority in the two areas, which were then relatively unstudied.

In 1963, Fr. Kenealy returned to the Law School as a professor. The students found him as de­manding as ever; they wrote an ode to his grading in the school magazine. He was also in great de­mand as a pubIic speaker. In 1966, he was honored by the alumni at the annual Law Day Dinner. Fr. Kenealy retired from teaching in 1969. He died in 1975.

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