Obituary: Father James A. Woods, SJ, founding dean of Boston College School of Advancing Studies

A priest with roots in Boston and who spent almost his entire priestly life at Boston College died at Campion Healthcare Center in Weston on Nov. 20. Born in Boston's Neponset section on March 24, 1931, he was raised in St. Ann Parish, attended Boston College High School and entered the Society of Jesus in 1948. Following his preparation first at Shadowbrook in Lenox, and then at Weston College, Weston, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 17, 1961.

He was secretary of the Jesuit Provincial and founding faculty member of Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River. In 1968, he returned to Chestnut Hill, the scene of his own undergraduate days as the founding dean of the then "Evening College." Following his retirement in 2012, the school was renamed the Woods College of Advancing Studies. In some ways, that school served as a reminder of Boston College's early days as a commuter school, serving primarily local, more particularly, Boston students.

Father Woods was a fixture on the BC campus and was readily available to assist any students who were fortunate enough or wise enough to seek him out. While he was principally responsible for the "evening college" students, he was ready and willing and more than able to help out any students, counseling regarding course selection, choice of major fields of study, or any issue for which his sage advice was always appreciated.

Boston College president and fellow Jesuit, Father William P. Leahy, SJ, said that "Father Woods was such a force for good at Boston College from the time he arrived on campus, always positive, caring, and helpful to those around him." He continued to say that "Many benefited from his encouragement, especially to pursue education and earn degrees at BC. He enjoyed life, and I will always remember him as a faithful Jesuit and priest."

Father Woods was omnipresent on the BC campus, trekking between his office and his Jesuit residence at St. Mary Hall, he was inevitably smiling and eminently approachable and available. Tall and visible from afar, decked out in his Jesuit cassock he seemed to sail across the campus he so much loved.

During his long and accomplished tenure, Father Woods oversaw comprehensive changes in the curriculum and designed and introduced graduate degree programs for part-time students. At his request, the name of the Evening College was changed in 1996 to the College of Advancing Studies to reflect its evolving mission and expanded academic program.

At the 2013 commencement, the year following his 2012 retirement, Father Woods was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston College at the University's 137th Commencement. His honorary degree citation read, in part:

"We pay tribute to a superlative career as Jesuit priest, educator, mentor, colleague, and friend.

"Father James Woods of the Society of Jesus headed a school that not only bears his name, but also reflects his vision and vocation, and continues his commitment to the education of first-generation students and adult learners.

"An inspiration to generations of Woods College students, he has contributed immeasurably to Boston College and its mission."

In his later years, Father Woods lived at Campion Healthcare in Weston, where he had studied theology in preparation for his ordination half a century before. His funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, Newton, on Dec. 1 and he was buried in the Jesuit Cemetery, Weston.

Father Woods is survived by his sisters, Kathleen and Elinor, both of Nashua, N.H. He was predeceased by his sister Ann Dunn and his parents Thomas and Helen (Ward) Woods.

[Ed. -- Mr. Jack Dunn, assistant vice president for Communications at Boston College and Father Robert M. O'Grady, Pilot staff, both contributed to Father Woods' obituary.]