Jesuit Father James A. Woods has seen a lot after spending over four decades at Boston College (BC.) Since 1968, he has served as dean of the Woods College of Advancing Studies (WCAS) and he will be stepping down from his position this spring.
“My first teacher was my father, a role model who inspired me and others to do our best, to see what could be done,” Fr. Woods said. “We were the closest of friends.”
His father was a milkman, who he often accompanied on milk runs. His mother was an involved community member and parent, who offered him advice and support, and pushed him to make his dreams come true. “She taught me to ‘dream great dreams’ and to work with confidence to make them a reality,” Fr. Woods said.
His parents’ philosophy on life sparked a mindset that has guided him since childhood. “My parents’ outlook sparked optimism and hope,” he said.
Fr. Woods decided to become a Jesuit when he was a senior at Boston College High School, wishing to follow in the footsteps of those who had educated him.
“I was interviewed in the very spot where my office is today, but back then, it was an army barracks,” he said. “In front of the army barracks was an enormous pile of dirt, the forthcoming Fulton Hall. And then I saw the four other buildings that made up Boston College: Gasson, Bapst, St. Mary’s and Devlin Hall.”
He began his studies at the Shadowbrook Jesuit Seminary in Lenox, Mass. After four years, he continued his studies at Weston College, which was a constituent college within BC at the time, where he studied philosophy and worked toward a master’s degree in teaching mathematics for three years. After three years teaching at an all-boys’ boarding school, Cranwell, he returned to Weston College for theological studies, was ordained in 1961 and graduated in 1962.
Before beginning his position as WCAS dean, he was Provincial Secretary for the New England Jesuits and concurrently began working at the university as registrar of the Schools of Liberal Arts, Philosophy and Theology, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Fr. Woods had various other responsibilities and various other jobs over the course of his life, including starting Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, Mass., and serving as Adult Education Advisor to former president Jimmy Carter.
“I met monthly at the White House with a team of experts to facilitate the learning opportunities for a growing, diverse learner population,” he said. “This has been a lifelong commitment to each and [every] student eager and ready to begin their studies part-time.”
“Being responsive to the academic, financial and pastoral needs of the surrounding communities has been my responsibility these past 44 years,” Fr. Woods said. “Serving those students who dream of a Boston College education part-time in the Woods College of Advancing Studies and helping them make it happen has been extraordinarily meaningful for me.”
Cheryl Wright, coordinator of student services for the WCAS, began 30 years ago as a temporary employee filling in for her mother, but stayed ever since.
“He made this school what it is today,” she said. “It’s the love and respect that the students have for him that has made such a difference in their lives and in his life.”
Paul Nee, WCAS ’12, took two weekday classes and a Saturday class his first semester at BC. With two children and a full-time work schedule, he doubted his ability to handle such a full load when his Saturday class began a couple weeks after his other two. This day happened to fall on a football gameday, and as such, he was having trouble finding a place to park.
“I thought, ‘Something’s telling me this is too much for me,’” he said.
As Nee was driving home, however, he saw Fr. Woods standing out in the rain, waving a parking permit, looking for him.
“Here’s the dean of the school,” he said, “and he could have anybody stand out there, but he was there himself. To me, that’s him in a nutshell. He pushed open all the doors and all you had to do was go through them.”
The values instilled in him by his parents are still very important to him, Fr. Woods said.
“Guiding thousands through their educational, personal and spiritual journey with compassion and kindness reflects a deep commitment to improving the human condition with a sense of justice and love of ‘other.’ It brings me back to what was instilled in me by my parents—the sense that there is something greater to be done—so just do it.”
“It’s the pastoral care that I think a lot of people need and want,” Wright said.
Fr. Woods is the only employer who has thanked her for her work every night, she said, and he thanks his students similarly. “It makes a huge difference to know your worth.”
“The strength I draw from being part of something so worthwhile, daily restores me, invites me to grow and reminds me each day that I have been extremely fortunate to have such an opportunity to serve,” Fr. Woods said. “The Jesuit and the entire Boston College community has inspired and invigorated me each day, giving shape to a vocation filled with great joy and the desire to share with all how ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ I am very grateful.”