Memories of Howard Gray, SJ from Boston College

By J.A. Appleyard, SJ

The idea of inviting Howard Gray to direct the Institute of Ignatian Spirituality at Boston College was born in 1995 on the porch of a cottage several Jesuits had borrowed for two weeks, on a serene lake in the Maine woods.  The Jesuit Community had long wanted to create such an entity and someone mentioned that Howard’s stint as director of the Chicago/Detroit tertianship was coming to an end.  The plan was hatched that evening, to invite him to spend a sabbatical at B.C., help us think about what a spirituality center might involve, and then (of course) invite him to direct it.  The plan worked out better than many Jesuit plans conceived over a glass or two of Scotch.

When Howard arrived at B.C. only Jesuits really knew him.  He had the clever idea of asking the vice presidents to nominate key people from their areas to take part in a seminar about the Jesuit character of BC.  Some 50 responded, so many that he had to devise a structure of small groups to make the “seminar” work.  By the end of that year he was widely known across the university as a wise guide to Ignatian spirituality, counselor, spiritual director, and immensely likeable friend.

A year later B.C. was invited to apply for a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to develop programs that would help students think about their lives and futures from a faith perspective.  Howard became a central figure in the multiple conversations that shaped B.C.’s proposal, in which Ignatian spirituality provided the framework for what we wanted to do.  And, when we won the grant, he played an equally key role in developing the programs themselves.  More importantly, he came to see that, influential as the student focus of the grant was, drawing faculty and administrators into the conversation would have a more substantial and long-run impact on the character of the institution.  The spirit of these programs and their core elements continue to the present day.

These activities barely touch on the impact Howard had on the B.C. community.  His ready smile, his sense of humor that ranged from the sophisticated to the impish, his wisdom and kindness touched hundreds of people.  He could be stern if he had to be.  When he moved into his office shortly after arriving on campus and found it barely furnished, he twice asked a senior administrator in the president’s office to do something about the situation.  When he asked a third time, and was told the facilities people were very busy at the beginning of the semester, he replied “This is Monday.  If the situation isn’t resolved by Friday, then you can explain to the president why I have resigned and returned to Cleveland.”  Of course, he got his furniture and wrote a kind note of thanks to the administrator involved.

When his provincial reassigned Howard, in 2001, a strenuous effort was made to keep him at BC.  But to no avail.  And in retrospect it was unreasonable to hope that we could keep Howard’s gifts to ourselves when there were so many other places where they could be used for God’s greater glory.

J. A. Appleyard taught English literature for many years at B.C. and directed the College of Arts & Sciences Honors Program there  In 1998, he became Vice President for University Mission and Ministry.  He retired from B.C. in 2010.