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Robert F. Drinan, SJ congressional papers

Collection CA-1986-001: Robert F. Drinan, SJ congressional papers


  • Creation: 1967-1981

Scope and Contents

These papers document the congressional career of Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Democratic representative from Massachusetts' 3rd and later 4th Districts from 1971-1981. Topics relate to Drinan's involvement with the anti-Vietnam War effort, Arab-Israeli relations, an overhaul of the federal criminal code, and the Judiciary Committee's impeachment investigation of President Nixon. Drinan's papers also highlight his strong relationship to his district through correspondence with constituents and district staff files regarding Massachusetts grants and projects. Additional materials include bills, correspondence, committee and legislative files, photographs, writings, speeches, campaign materials, artifacts and ephemera, and audio and video recordings.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research, with the exception of the case files in Series V. The audio and video recordings are not available for playback due to format impermanence and can not be reformatted by Burns Library at this time. Please let Burns Library Public Services know of your specific interest; when it becomes possible we will schedule reformatting.

The majority of the collection is stored offsite; advanced notice is required for retrieval.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note

Robert Frederick Drinan was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 15, 1920, to James John and Ann Mary (Flanagan) Drinan. He graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1938 and entered Boston College the same year. He earned his B.A. from Boston College in 1942, later that year entering the Society of Jesus, though he was not ordained until 1953. In the intervening years, Drinan pursued a legal education and earned a M.A. from Boston College in 1947 as well as two law degrees from Georgetown University Law Center, a LL.B in 1949 and a LL.M in 1950. He completed his Jesuit education in 1954 when he received a doctorate of sacred theology from the Gregorian University in Rome.

In 1955 Drinan began his professional academic career with a return to Boston College. He joined the faculty of the Boston College Law School, where he also served as the Associate Dean. He became the Dean a year later, a position he held until 1969. During his tenure at the law school, Drinan increased the size of the faculty and brought in top-quality scholars, transforming the law school into a top-rated institution. He was outspoken on social justice issues confronting Boston in the 1960s and called for the desegregation of Boston public schools. From 1969–1970 Drinan served as the Vice-President and Provost of Boston College.

In 1970 Drinan, a Democrat, ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and became the first Catholic priest to be elected to Congress. He served in the 92nd through 96th Congresses from 1971-1981. In the 92nd Congress he represented the Massachusetts 3rd District, which was renamed the Massachusetts 4th District for the 93rd-96th Congresses. Drinan served on the House Internal Security Committee, the House Government Operations Committee, the House Select Committee on Aging, and the House Judiciary Committee, for which he served as the Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in his final term.

Drinan was focused on social justice and human rights issues throughout his legislative career. After running on an anti-Vietnam War platform in his first congressional campaign he used his position to push for an end to the war and the withdrawal of American troops. His involvement with the House Judiciary Committee and its Criminal Justice Subcommittee played an integral part in the impeachment investigation of President Nixon. When Drinan called for Nixon's impeachment in 1973 he was the first Representative to do so, though he was motivated by the secret bombing of Cambodia, rather than the Watergate affair. Drinan's work as chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee also led to an overhaul of the federal criminal code in 1979 and 1980.

In 1980, Pope John Paul II announced that priests were henceforth barred from holding political office and so Drinan did not seek re-election.

After his retirement from Congress in 1981, Drinan returned to academia, joining the Georgetown University Law Center as a professor, specializing in international human rights, constitutional law, civil liberties, and arms control. He remained involved in politics, serving as president of the Americans for Democratic Action, as well as on the boards of the International League of Human Rights, the Lawyer's Committee for International Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Throughout his political and academic careers Drinan was a prolific writer. He wrote numerous books, including Religion, the Courts and Public Policy (1963); Democracy, Dissent and Disorder (1969); Vietnam and Armageddon (1970); and Honor The Promise: America's Commitment to Israel (1977). He also wrote many magazine and journal articles, book reviews, and letters to the editor. He served as the corresponding editor to America for National Catholic Weekly from 1958-70, and also as the editor in chief of Family Law Quarterly from 1967-70.

Drinan spent the latter part of his life traveling extensively, going to Southeast Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. He died on January 28, 2007 at the age of 86.


Cunningham, John O. "US Representative Robert F. Drinan, SJ."BC Law: Boston College Law School Magazine, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Winter 2017): 23.

Feeney, Mark. "Rev. Drinan, first priest elected as voting member of Congress, dies." The Boston Globe, January 28, 2007.

Frost, Greg. "Former Law School Dean Fr. Drinan Dies at 86." The Boston College Chronicle, February 1, 2007.

Katz, Sanford N. "In Memoriam - Robert F. Drinan, S.J., 1920-2007." Family Life Quarterly 40, no. 4 (Winter 2007): ix-xii.


219.5 Linear Feet (201 containers)

Language of Materials



These papers document the legislative career of Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Democratic Representative in the U.S. House from the Massachusetts 3rd District (later the 4th) from 1971-1981. The collection includes correspondence, committee files, legislative files, campaign materials, district files, speeches, photographs, and audio and video recordings.


The collection is arranged into fifteen series: I. Artifacts and ephemera, II. Bills, III. Campaigns, IV. Committee files, V. District files, VI. Executive Branch correspondence, VII. General correspondence, VIII. Jewish and Israeli relations, IX. Legislative correspondence, X. Legislative files, XI. Photographs, XII. Public relations, XIII. Speeches and writings, XIV. Subject files, and XV. Watergate and Nixon impeachment investigation.


Gift of Robert F. Drinan, SJ in multiple accessions, 1986-1993. Additional materials received from Francis Sweeney, SJ in 1992, Helen Drinan in 1996, J. A. Appleyard in 2015, and Ken Bresler in 2017.

Related Materials

Robert F. Drinan, SJ, pre- and post-congressional papers, CA.2008.001, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.

Processing Information

These papers have been minimally processed. The inventory lists folder ranges within each box, except for select series that have been processed in more detail.

Robert F. Drinan, SJ Congressional Papers
Sarah K. Nytroe, 2008, and Ayoola White
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