A Tribute to Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J.
A week ago on July 2, 2012, Fr. John E. Brooks, S.J. died at the age of 88. Fr. Brooks served as the President of Holy Cross from 1970 to 1994. Until the day he died, he continued to serve Holy Cross as President Emeritus and Loyola Professor of the Humanities in the Religious Studies Department. He was active as a professor, a fundraiser and a community leader. Recently, the publication of the book, Fraternity, documented his significant leadership role in the civil rights movement.
Fr. Brooks was a legend in Worcester and beyond. Everyone knew him. Everyone respected him. Everyone admired his intellect, his insight and his wit. Even though his health grew frail in the past years, we somehow believed that he would live forever. I guess this was because we so wanted him to always be there as a friend and as a guide. He was generous with his time, his experience and his knowledge. Words cannot describe how much I will miss him.
Fr. Brooks had a close association with Anna Maria College. He served as a Trustee from 1998 – 2010. After completing his fourth term, he agreed to continue to serve the College as a member of a Board Committee. Anna Maria College is fortunate to have many outstanding trustees. But Fr. Brooks was special.
First, his willingness to serve on the Board provided the College with a high degree of credibility. With Fr. Brooks as a Trustee, it was easier to recruit other community leaders to join him on the Board. But his service to the College was not gratuitous.
He came to every meeting fully prepared and ready to share his views. He understood that Anna Maria was like the Holy Cross he inherited when appointed President in 1970. He had led the transformation of Holy Cross into the nationally recognized college that we all know today. He wanted the same for Anna Maria.
It was always fascinating to watch his behavior at meetings. While no one else knew as much about higher education as Fr. Brooks, he would sit quietly, listening to other Trustees express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. After the discussion had gone on for a while, Fr. Brooks would speak …and everyone would listen. In almost every case, his ideas and recommendations were clear, compelling and readily accepted by the group. He was well respected and always trusted to do what was best for AMC.
I first met Fr. Brooks in the last years of his presidency when my son was a student at Holy Cross. Our conversation was brief and centered on the fact that we were both from West Roxbury. What I always remembered about him was his genuine friendliness, his wry sense of humor and his smile. Even though we only spoke for a few minutes, he made me feel important.
When I interviewed for the presidency at Anna Maria, Fr. Brooks and I had a long conversation. He was instrumental in convincing me that AMC was capable of great things and that I could be an effective leader. He promised to help me if I needed him. That meant a great deal to me. And I called on him for his help repeatedly.
Over the past five years, Fr. Brooks has done so much to support me and AMC. He helped me to get to know the Worcester community. He advised me how to move forward with challenging issues. He supported me when leadership was difficult. He was a great mentor and friend.
I have had the honor in my life to know many good people … people of faith … people of value … people of service. But Fr. Brooks was a great man. In the coming years he will continue to be memorialized for all that he was to Holy Cross. His passionate commitment to integration and justice will be lauded. For me, he will most be remembered as the quintessential role model of a Catholic college president. I will continue to learn from his life and his legacy. Fr. Brooks … pray for us!
(As always your comments and questions are welcome.)