Dec. 1, 2021 – Fr. James A. Woods, SJ, was born in Boston on March 24, 1931, and grew up in nearby Quincy. He commuted to the old Boston College High School in Boston’s South End and when he graduated, in 1948, he entered the novitiate of the New England Province, Shadowbrook, in West Stockbridge, Mass.
From 1952 to 1955, he studied philosophy and took courses in mathematics at Weston College. He then taught English and math, prefected boarding students, and helped supervise intramural athletics for three years at the Cranwell School in Lenox, Mass. In 1958, he returned to Weston for theology studies and continued his math studies, earning a master’s degree in mathematics from Boston College. He also took on the duties of registrar at Weston, which for academic-credit purposes was a constituent unit of B.C. He was ordained at Weston in June of 1961.
He was asked to fill in for a year as the provincial’s secretary (1962-1963), then did tertianship, at Pomfret, Conn. In 1964, he returned to the province office and continued as secretary to the new provincial, J. V. O’Connor, for the next four years, becoming an all but indispensable figure in the functioning of the office.
In 1968, he moved to Boston College, where he was to remain for the next 44 years or, as he said with evident satisfaction, “forever” (when asked what he did there he replied “everything”). His first job was as Dean of the Evening College, which offered college-level courses for students who had full-time jobs and could move toward a college degree only on a part-time basis. From 1972 to 1975 he was also University Registrar, where he centralized and computerized the registration process and financial aid. While continuing as Dean of the Evening College, he served for fifteen years as Dean of the Summer Session. In the midst of all these commitments he satisfied the requirements for a doctoral degree in education at Boston University, which he received in 1974.
In 1996 he oversaw the Evening College’s change of name to the College of Advancing Studies, reflecting the multiplicity of master’s and certificate programs the school had added to its offerings as well as hybrid programs with B.C.’s professional schools. In 2002 the College underwent a further name change when a B.C. trustee made a substantial gift to acknowledge the role Fr. Woods had played as a life-long mentor to him and his family. In recognition the College was renamed the Woods College of Advancing Studies.
He celebrated Mass daily at St. Ignatius Church and officiated at the marriages of nearly a thousand students and graduates of the College and baptized many of their children. All his Jesuit life his counsel was sought out by numberless students and graduates about their studies, their careers, and their personal lives.
When he retired, in 2012, the Woods College published a remarkable book, Defying Expectations: Redefining Dreams, a collection of fascinating and moving accounts, by graduates of the College, of their life journeys and how they had been affected by their experiences there.
He moved to Campion Health Center, where he continued to keep in touch with his numerous friends and his booming laugh regularly echoed through the hallways. He did not leave his organizational habits behind: he once said that he had all his Christmas cards finished by April, adding, in a tone of gleeful surprise that you would think otherwise, his trademark, “Of course!”
He died peacefully on November 20, 2021.