Fairfield University's fifth president, Rev. William C. McInnes, S.J., dies


Image: Fr McInnesFairfield University has announced the passing of its fifth president, Fr. William C. McInnes, S.J., at Campion Center in Weston, Mass., on Tuesday, December 8.

Fr. McInnes was 86 and had been a Jesuit priest for 52 years.

Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., who now serves as Fairfield's eighth president, praised Fr. McInnes' contributions to Fairfield, saying, "We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us and we are greatly indebted to Fr. McInnes for the tremendous growth and innovation he brought to this campus. During a time of great social unrest, he addressed challenging issues and through his inspiring and indefatigable leadership led this university to new heights of academic achievement and social awareness. We are saddened by his passing, but so grateful for the generous life he lived here and throughout his entire ministry."

Fr. McInnes' presidency from 1964 to 1973 was marked by dynamic expansion in the physical plant, enrollment and academic programming. Bannow Science Center opened with modern computer facilities, along with the Gustav and Dagmar Nyselius Library, a multi-purpose Campus Center, four new residence halls and a central utility facility. Undergraduate enrollment grew from 1,290 to 2,500, and added were the School of Nursing, the Graduate School of Corporate and Political Communication, and a new Center for Lifetime Learning, along with the expansion of the Graduate School of Education.

During his tenure, the unrest that rumbled through the country found its way onto Fairfield University's campus, resulting in a 10-day student strike and the takeover of two administration buildings. Still, under his leadership, Fairfield navigated several significant changes, including the transition from an all male undergraduate program to co-education in 1970. Efforts were made to recruit a more multicultural and diverse student body; a new academic council gave the faculty a greater voice in university affairs; and the lay advisory board of trustees merged with the board of Jesuit trustees.

At the same time, Fairfield University played a strategic role in a landmark legal battle over the right of church-related colleges to receive aid under the "Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963." With a legal team headed by Edward Bennett Williams, Fairfield joined three other Connecticut Catholic colleges and universities, winning their case before the United States District Court in New Haven. An appeal to the United States Supreme Court was denied the plaintiffs. The decision had long-range implications for the more than 600 church-related colleges and universities across the United States. At the time, Fr. McInnes noted that the justices had "recognized religious pluralism and academic integrity as being compatible." The court, he said, "has not taken down the wall of separation of church and state. It has, rather, shown more clearly where the wall really is."

Fr. McInnes' emphasis on social concerns and the obligation of a university to its surrounding communities translated into his involvement in many initiatives. He was a leader in the cooperative program between Fairfield University and Action for Bridgeport Community Development (ABCD) which resulted in the establishment of the Upward Bound program, which continues to this day at Fairfield.

The Youth Interracial Council gave Fairfield University students the opportunity to volunteer in tutoring and the Big Brother and Big Sister programs. Support of the Glenmary Home Missioners in Appalachia led to the establishment of a local store that sold arts and crafts from Appalachia as well as the Appalachian Festival, held for many years each fall on the campus.

Fr. McInnes also encouraged and supported several cultural and arts festivals at Fairfield, including the Dante Celebration, a Spanish Festival, A Salute to Opera, and others that celebrated Black American Culture, Outstanding Women and Political Humor. Among the prominent figures that took part were Dame Judith Anderson, Jose Greco, Richard Rodgers, David Brubeck, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, and Jules Feiffer.

After his presidency at Fairfield, Fr. McInnes went on to become president of the University of San Francisco, serving until 1977. He then served as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) from 1977 to 1989. He was parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish at the University of Connecticut in Storrs from 1990 to 1996.

A Jesuit of the New England Province, Fr. McInnes spent his later years at Boston College, where he served on the faculty from 1997 to 2008. He also served as chaplain of the BC Alumni Association and began the Campion Visitation Program, bringing students, faculty and staff to visit his fellow Jesuits at the health care center.

In addition to his many Jesuit brothers, Fr. McInnes is survived by his niece, Tina Watson.

A wake will be held at Campion Center in Weston, Mass., on Monday, Dec. 14, from 3 to 5 p.m., with a 4:30 p.m. prayer service. A wake will also be held at St. Mary's Hall at Boston College from 7 to 9 p.m.

The funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. at St. Ignatius Church at Boston College in Chestnut Hill. Interment will be in Campion Center Cemetery.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 10, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 150

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