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Robert F. Drinan, SJ pre- and post-congressional papers

Collection CA-2008-001: Robert F. Drinan, SJ pre- and post-congressional papers


  • Creation: 1955-2007
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1981 - 1995

Scope and Contents

This collection documents Robert F. Drinan's career as an academic, lawyer, Jesuit, and social justice advocate. Materials cover his years before Congress, as a faculty member and Dean of Boston College Law School, and his post-congressional years as a faculty member at Georgetown University Law Center. The papers contain a significant amount of Drinan's correspondence and writings, as well as material on human rights and legal organizations in which he participated. It also includes photographs, honorary degrees and awards, recordings of speeches and addresses given by Drinan, and scrapbooks.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research. 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; advance 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. From 1971-1981 he served in the 92nd-96th Congresses. 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.


90.75 Linear Feet (83 containers)

Language of Materials



Papers document Robert F. Drinan's career as an academic, lawyer, Jesuit, and social justice advocate. Materials cover his years before Congress as a faculty member and Dean of Boston College Law School, and his post-congressional years as a faculty member at Georgetown University Law Center.


The collection is divided into nine series: I. Audio and video recordings; II. Awards and Gifts; III. Correspondence; IV. Organizations; V. Photographs; VI. Pre-congressional material; VII. Public relations; VIII. Topics; and IX. Writings.


Gift of Robert F. Drinan, 1990-2004; transfer from Boston College Law School in 1991; gift of Helen Drinan in 1995; gift of Francis Sweeney, SJ, 1996-2003; gift of Grace Mary Mann in 2000; gift of J. A. Appleyard in 2015.

Related Materials

Robert F. Drinan, SJ congressional papers, CA.1986.001, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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 Pre- and Post-Congressional Papers
1955-2007 (bulk 1981-1995)
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