Dec. 16, 2021 – Fr. Robert G. McMillan, SJ, was born in New Bedford, Mass., on Feb. 23, 1932, the son of Theresa (Gurl) and Robert McMillan. He attended the parish grammar school there and, after the family moved to Quincy, Boston College High School. When he graduated, in 1949, he entered the New England Province novitiate at Shadowbrook, in West Stockbridge in the Berkshires.
He did the usual four years of novitiate and juniorate there and in 1953 was sent for philosophy studies to Vals in south-central France (1953-1956). His regency assignment was at Cranwell School in Lenox, Mass., where for two years he taught Latin, English, and speech and was a prefect in one of the student dormitories. Then in 1958-1959 he studied sociology at Fordham University, earning a master’s degree. He did theology studies at Weston College (1959-1963) and was ordained there in June 1962. He finished his Jesuit studies in the tertianship program at Pomfret, Conn. (1963-1964).
He began doctoral studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, resulting in a PhD in 1968. That year he began the first of his two stints at the College of the Holy Cross, teaching social problems, social policy, and related topics.
In 1972, Fr. McMillan was named vice-provincial for formation. Five years later he returned to teaching at Holy Cross but—partly under the influence of the Society’s 1975 commitment to linking justice with faith in all its ministries—he gradually came to realize that an academic approach to social problems and social policy were not enough to satisfy the activist in him. In 1981, he moved to Boston to see what concretely could be done to turn into reality a conversation that had been simmering among a group of Jesuits about what they could do to address some of the critical needs of a city like Boston. He lived in the South End Jesuit community attached to the largely unused Immaculate Conception Church and the buildings that were the original site of Boston College and then of Boston College High School.
For two years he explored the realities of urban life. In 1983, he opened Common Life, a 20-bed shelter for homeless runaway kids, in a space only a few yards from Boston Common and two short blocks from the notorious Combat Zone. The shelter offered a temporary refuge, sympathetic ears, and referrals to social-service resources in the city.
The shelter was more of a success than he hoped but he realized that 20 beds did little to address the magnitude of the city’s problems. An opportunity to expand appeared when the provincial offered him the use of the church and buildings at “the Immaculate.” He moved the shelter there in 1983 and became superior of the Jesuit community still living in the old rectory and school buildings. An ambitious plan took shape, to create within the walls of the now empty church a “Jesuit Urban Center.” He would be director and the Center would include the homeless shelter, space for liturgies, and offices and function space for a variety of urban ministries, as well as living accommodations for Jesuits and lay staff.
While there were multiple delays in the implementation of the plan, the Jesuit Urban Center survived and went on to minister to the gay community, AIDs victims, the medical community from the nearby hospitals, and its South End neighbors.
After eight years, Fr. McMillan took a year off and lived at a parish in Roxbury while looking at what might come next. The archdiocese of Boston asked him to head its Office of Planning and Research, whose task was to develop a plan for assessing the health and resources of each of its more than 400 parishes and develop proposals for combining and, if necessary, closing some number of its parishes.
When he stepped down from this position, in 2008, he took some sabbatical time and then became treasurer and guest master in the Loyola House community on Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay, where he had been living while he worked for the archdiocese.
He remained there until 2018, when he moved to Campion Center, the Jesuit health facility in Weston. He had been dealing with health issues for some time, but few in the community knew the extent of them, so it was something of a surprise when he died peacefully in the afternoon of Dec. 9, 2021.