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Jesuit never forgot Sioux City

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Jesuit Father William B. Neenan of Chestnut Hill, Mass., may have been an accomplished administrator at Boston College, but he was equally proud of his hometown and took every occasion to speak favorably of it.

The Sioux City native passed away June 25, at the Jesuit residence, Roberts House on the campus. He was 85. Services were July 1 at St. Ignatius Church on the Boston College campus.

Father Neenan was born in Sioux City on Jan. 9, 1929, to Dr. Edward W. Neenan – a dental surgeon – and Grace Braunger Neenan, who died shortly following his birth.

His father remarried when Father Neenan was a teenager, and in 1946, he graduated from Trinity High School in Sioux City. He spent two years at St. Louis University, a Jesuit school, where he was inspired to join the order.

In an interview with Bryan Marquard of the Boston Globe, published June 28, Dr. Peter Neenan of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., recalled his older brother’s affinity for the Jesuits.

“Bill told me that when he said he was thinking of joining, my dad said, ‘Well, you picked the best,’ and Bill has always felt that way,” he said.

“He was a quintessential Jesuit,” said Father Neenan’s younger sister, Mary Jo Warnke, of Plain, Wis., “and he was also a very holy and caring person.”

In addition to his brother and sister, Father Neenan is survived by his stepmother, Margaret Braunger Neenan of Spring Green, Wis.

Father Neenan entered the Jesuit order in 1948 and was ordained a priest in June 1961. He was a member of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Prior to coming to Boston College in 1979, Father Neenan achieved prominence as an economist at the University of Michigan, where he received his doctorate in 1967. He was a noted expert in the field of urban and public finance and was a professor of economics and social work at the university.

During his 35 years at Boston College, he served as academic vice president and dean of faculties, vice president and special assistant to the president.

He received many honors and awards, including an honorary doctorate from Boston College in recognition of his distinguished service to the university and the Founders Medal from Boston College Law School. He served as a trustee for several universities including, Creighton University, Omaha; Fordham University, New York City; and Boston College Ireland, Ltd.

Father Neenan’s time at Boston College was supposed to be a brief interlude from teaching at the University of Michigan.

“I was going to be at BC for two years and then go back and spend the rest of my life in Ann Arbor,” he told the Boston Globe in 2000. “But I fell in love with BC and its students.”

The Boston Globe reported Father Neenan held daily lunches with students in the dining area, raised millions from alumni and officiated at the weddings of scores of graduates.

“He was in some ways the pastor of campus,” Father William P. Leahy, president of the college, told the newspaper.

However, throughout his 35 years at Boston College, the Trinity graduate held his childhood in Iowa in his heart. The Boston Globe reported: As an icebreaker, Father Neenan might open a serious meeting by quizzing those present about the major rivers in his home state. He never tired of teasing those in his adopted home about the clear superiority of the Midwest.

“I found many people on the East Coast are challenged in a language way, and to be with people from the Midwest who speak English accurately is comforting,” he said with a smile in a 2006 interview with the Boston Irish Reporter.

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