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The Legacy of Robert Drinan

Well before I ever arrived as a student at Boston College Law School, the Rev. Robert F. Drinan had left his post there as dean to run for Congress, where he served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Massachusetts. But long after he left BC Law, his spirit remained. I cannot speak about BC today, but when I was there, it was a school with a strong sense of social justice, a commitment to diversity in the student body and support for multiple opportunities for students to gain clinical experience with lower-income clients. There was no doubt in my mind that this was, in part, the legacy of Drinan.

Drinan left Congress in 1981, after the Vatican ruled that no priest could hold a legislative position. From Congress, he went to Georgetown University Law Center, where he continued to teach until his death Sunday at the age of 86. In November, Tony Mauro interviewed Drinan for Legal Times. When Mauro asked him about his legacy, Drinan stepped modestly around the question:

"Drinan's ingrained Jesuit modesty keeps him from responding to the inevitable legacy question: How will he be remembered? Mindful of the scandals that have beset the priesthood in recent years, Drinan allows himself one self-referential moment. 'Maybe it’s been good for the church to have a priest who has brought some glory to the church.'

"But beyond that, he won’t venture a guess. 'No one,' he says, 'can be a judge in his own case.'"

While Drinan was modest about his legacy, others were more certain. At Georgetown, an official statement quoted law school Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff:

"His life was one fully devoted to the service to others -- in the Church, in the classroom and in Congress. His passing is a terrible loss for the community, the country and the world."

And at BC Law, Dean John Garvey said:

"He has been a personal hero to me. I am constantly hearing stories from alumni who were inspired by him, who thank him for getting them into law school and starting their careers."

Sen. John F. Kerry, who was Drinan's 1970 campaign manager, said this to The Boston Globe:

"Father Drinan was a forever gentle, resilient, tenacious advocate for social justice and fundamental decency. He lived out in public life the whole cloth of Catholic teachings. In the most divisive days of Vietnam when things were coming apart, this incredible man and most unlikely of candidates showed America how a man of faith could be a man of peace."

For more on Father Drinan, read reaction from bloggers at Law Blog, Legal Profession Blog, Opinio Juris and Blue Mass Group. Boston College Magazine has a 1995 interview with Drinan and a 1989 piece exploring how Drinan brought down the notorious House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Drinan showed us the best of what a lawyer can be. We would all do well to emulate him.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 31, 2007 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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