Skip to main content

Philip J. and Mary Stack McNiff papers

Collection MS-2005-038: Philip J. and Mary Stack McNiff papers


  • Creation: circa 1880-1991
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1946 - 1988

Scope and Contents

This collection is composed of correspondence, related enclosures, and printed materials, mainly from fine print presses and library-issued pressings. Printed materials include bookplates, broadside poems, exhibition programs, invitations, mass cards, pamphlets, and prayer booklets. The collection also includes a small number of audiocassettes, audiotape reels, photographs, and wood blocks used in printing that may have been used by Philip in instruction.

Mary McNiff corresponded with or collected items from a number of notable individuals, including artists Bernard Childs, Allan Rohan Crite, and Fritz Eichenberg; poets Sean O’Faolain, John Holmes, and Archibald MacLeish; Boston College Humanities Series participants Martin (M.C.) D’Arcy and Sir Alec Guinness; Rose Kennedy; and Robert F. Kennedy and his wife. Other correspondents include many clergy: Hildeleth Cumming of Stanbrook Abbey Press, Richard Cardinal Cushing, William J. Leonard, John Petit, Anselm Strittmatter, M. Madeleva Wolff, and John J. Cardinal Wright. Booklets from Humanities Series speaker Robert Frost are also included in correspondence.

Photographs include family pictures of Mary McNiff with son Brian; photographs of Father Thomas Gasson and of an unidentified priest; and vacation photographs taken by Yen-Tsai Feng.


Language of Materials

Materials are written predominantly in English, with a small number in Irish.

Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

Copyright interests have not been transferred to Boston College.

Biographical Note

Philip J. McNiff was born February 10, 1912, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended Brookline High School before graduating from Boston College in 1933. After graduating from Columbia University Graduate School of Library Science in 1940, Philip started his library career in the Brookline and Newton public libraries. He later moved on to the Harvard University Libraries before taking the position of Director and Librarian of Boston Public Library in 1965. Under his eighteen-year leadership at the Boston Public Library, the Johnson building was constructed and the regional library system was developed. In 1983, Philip retired from the Boston Public Library; he passed away in 1994.

Like her husband, Mary was a member of the library profession, also working at Brookline Public Library and Harvard, and at St. John’s Seminary as Assistant to the Librarian. Mary also wrote book reviews for Catholic publications The Pilot and Commonweal, and the Boston Globe. Philip and Mary had a son, Brian, who was born in 1938 and graduated from Boston College in 1959. Mary passed away in 1976.

The couple were devoted Catholics, as reflected through the large number of religious correspondents and other religious items in the collection. They participated actively in the communities of Boston College and St. John’s Seminary by attending or sponsoring events for visitors. In particular, the McNiffs supported the Boston College Humanities Series, overseen by Father Francis Sweeney.

After Mary’s death, Philip married Yen-Tsai Feng in 1979. Yen-Tsai, also known as Y.T., was the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College. Like Philip, she participated in the Boston College community, serving as a Trustee Associate member. In 1991, she took a trip back to her native China; included in the collection are photographs of Father Matteo Ricci’s grave in Bejing from this trip, with notes from Father William J. Leonard.


Negri. Gloria. "Marriage and Profession Bind these Two Librarians." Boston Globe, May 6, 1981.

Driscoll, Edgar J. Jr. "Obituaries: Philip J. McNiff, was Director of Boston Public Library; at 82." Boston Globe, November 10, 1994.

“Obituaries: Mary McNiff, Brighton librarian.” Boston Globe, February 4, 1976.


3.5 Linear Feet (5 containers )


The Philip J. and Mary Stack McNiff papers contain materials created and collected by Philip J. McNiff and his wife Mary Stack McNiff. Correspondence and related enclosures make up the bulk of the collection; there are also many printed materials. Correspondents are generally members of the Catholic, library, or literary communities, particularly those affiliated with Boston College, Harvard University, and other Boston-area organizations. Materials date from circa 1880-1991.


This collection is arranged alphabetically in six series: I. Artifacts; II. Audiovisual materials; III. Correspondence; IV. Photographs; V. Printed materials; and VI. Subject files. Within each series, items are arranged in alphabetical order.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time.

Related Materials

Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. Humanities Series Director's records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Philip J. McNiff Irish Music Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Stanbrook Abbey Press Collection, MS.2003.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Thomas Merton Collection, MS.1989.021, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


  • 1 linear foot of photographs mounted to board for display or teaching purposes, art reproductions, and photocopied articles from research files. .5 linear feet of books and pamphlets.
  • Three audiotapes and a 33 record of classical music recordings.
Philip J. and Mary Stack McNiff Papers
circa 1880-1991; bulk 1946-1988
Stephanie Bennett
September 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States