BC explores merger with Weston Jesuit

BRIGHTON — The board of trustees at Boston College voted last week for “exploring the possibility of a merger” with Weston Jesuit School of Theology, said BC spokesperson Jack Dunn. The merger would create a new school of theology and ministry, which would utilize Brighton property BC acquired from the archdiocese and would not open before September 2006. The trustees of Weston, a post-graduate divinity school in Cambridge, approved the recent discussions last month.

The new school would incorporate Weston’s programs along with BC’s Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry and the Church in the 21st Century Project, which explores the issues underlying the abuse crisis in hopes of renewing the Church. BC, which is also a Jesuit institution, would still offer a doctorate in theology, and Weston would still offer a doctorate in sacred theology, Dunn said. Degrees in sacred theology are given by institutions such as Weston approved by the Holy See, commonly called pontifical faculties.

"A merger makes sense because it would combine two of the foremost theological entities and would enhance Boston College's theological and apostolic offerings while providing financial security for Weston Jesuit," he said.

It is increasingly difficult for schools like Weston to survive on their own, and Weston would benefit from BC’s national reputation, he added.

BC would also benefit from the merger, Dunn said.

"It would position BC as a leading center of Catholic intellectual thought with the largest Jesuit community in the world," he said.

If the merger takes place, Weston would sell its three buildings and 12,000 square feet of land in Cambridge. The new school would be housed at St. William’s Hall, one of several former chancery buildings purchased by BC from the archdiocese, he said. The archdiocese and BC announced that the college would purchase 43 acres for $99.4 million at a press conference on April 20.

The recent formal discussion of a merger was made possible in part by BC’s acquisition of new property, but talks have been ongoing between the two schools, Dunn said.

"Discussions about the merger have been ongoing for more than 14 years," he said.

Before a merger could take place, both schools would need approval from the superior general of the Society of Jesus, the formal name of the Jesuits, which has 28 affiliate colleges, including BC, Dunn said. Weston would also need approval from Rome because it is a pontifical school.

Getting the approval would take time, which means the new school would open no sooner than September 2006, but officials at both organizations have high hopes, he said.

"We see great promise that would result from this possible merger," he said.