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Robert Drinan

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Title: Robert Drinan  
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Subject: List of Boston College people, Harold Donohue, Philip J. Philbin, Members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, Joseph Walsh (Massachusetts)
Collection: 1920 Births, 2007 Deaths, American Christian Pacifists, American Jesuits, American Legal Scholars, American Legal Writers, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholics, Boston College Alumni, Cardiovascular Disease Deaths in Washington, D.C., Deaths from Congestive Heart Failure, Deaths from Pneumonia, Democratic Party Members of the United States House of Representatives, Georgetown University Law Center Alumni, Law School Deans, Lawyers from Boston, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Democrats, Members of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts, People from Boston, Massachusetts, Politicians from Boston, Massachusetts, Pontifical Gregorian University Alumni
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Robert Drinan

The Honorable Father
Robert Drinan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 3rd district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by Philip J. Philbin
Succeeded by Harold Donohue
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1981
Preceded by Harold Donohue
Succeeded by Barney Frank
Personal details
Born Robert Frederick Drinan
(1920-11-15)November 15, 1920
Boston, Massachusetts
Died January 28, 2007(2007-01-28) (aged 86)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Boston College (B.A., M.A.)
Georgetown University Law Center (LL.B, LL.M)
Gregorian University (Th.D.)
Profession Priest, legislator, professor
Religion Roman Catholic

Robert Frederick Drinan, Georgetown University Law Center for the last twenty-six years of his life.


  • Education and legal career 1
  • Political career 2
  • Teaching, writing, and later life 3
  • Associations and awards 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Education and legal career

Drinan grew up in theology from Gregorian University in Rome in 1954.

Drinan studied in Florence for two years before returning to Boston, where he was admitted to the bar in 1956. He served as dean of the Boston College Law School from 1956 until 1970, during which time he also taught as a professor of family law and church-state relations. During this period he was also a visiting professor at other schools including the University of Texas School of Law. He served on several Massachusetts state commissions convened to study legal issues such as judicial salaries and lawyer conflicts of interest.

Political career

In 1970, Drinan sought a seat in Congress on an anti-Vietnam War platform, narrowly defeating longtime Representative Philip J. Philbin, who was serving on the House Armed Services Committee, in the Democratic primary. Drinan went on to win election to the House of Representatives, and was re-elected four times, serving from 1971 until 1981. He was the first of two Roman Catholic priests (the other being Robert John Cornell of Wisconsin) to serve as a voting member of Congress.[2][3] Drinan sat on various House committees, and served as the chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice of the House Judiciary Committee. He was also a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Drinan was the first member of Congress, in July 1973, to introduce a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, though not for the Watergate Scandal that ultimately ended Nixon's presidency. Drinan believed that Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia was illegal, and as such, constituted a "high crime and misdemeanor." However, the Judiciary Committee voted 21 to 12 against including that charge among the articles of impeachment that were eventually approved and reported out to the full House of Representatives. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Drinan played an integral role in the Congressional investigation of Nixon administration misdeeds and crimes.

Throughout Drinan's political career, his overt support of abortion rights drew significant opposition from Church leaders. They had repeatedly requested that he not hold political office.[2][4] Drinan attempted to reconcile his position with official Church doctrine by stating that while he was personally opposed to abortion, considering it "virtual infanticide,"[5] its legality was a separate issue from its morality. This argument failed to satisfy his critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, Drinan played a key role in the pro-choice platform becoming a common stance of politicians from the Kennedy family.[6]

In 1980, Pope John Paul II unequivocally demanded that all priests withdraw from electoral politics. Fellow Democrat Father Robert John Cornell, who was seeking a rematch in Wisconsin, and Drinan complied and did not seek reelection.[2]

'It is just unthinkable,' he said of the idea of renouncing the priesthood to stay in office. 'I am proud and honored to be a priest and a Jesuit. As a person of faith I must believe that there is work for me to do which somehow will be more important than the work I am required to leave.'[7]

Following his death, members of Congress honored Drinan's memory with a moment of silence on the House floor on January 29, 2007.

Teaching, writing, and later life

Drinan taught at the law reviews and journals, and authored several books, including The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights, published by Yale University Press in 2001.

Drinan continued to be a vocal supporter of abortion rights, much to the ire of the Catholic Church, and notably spoke out in support of President Bill Clinton's veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996.[8] In his weekly column for the Catholic New York,[9] Cardinal John O'Connor sharply denounced Drinan. "You could have raised your voice for life; you raised it for death," the cardinal wrote, "Hardly the role of a lawyer. Surely not the role of a priest."

Drinan died of [10]

Upon Drinan's death, Georgetown University Law Center Dean, T. Alexander Aleinikoff, made the following statement: "Few have accomplished as much as Father Drinan and fewer still have done so much to make the world a better place. His passing is a terrible loss for the community, the country and the world."[10]

John H. Garvey, Dean of the Boston College Law School, said, "It is difficult to say in a few words what Father Drinan means to this institution. It is safe to say that his efforts as Dean forever changed how the Law School does business, taking us from a regional school to a nationally recognized leader in legal education. He did this without diminishing the essential core of what makes BC Law special, maintaining our commitment to educating the whole person—mind, body and spirit—while nourishing a community of learners intent on supporting one another in reaching their common goal. When we say that Boston College Law School educates “lawyers who lead good lives,” we need look no further than Father Drinan to understand what those words mean. We are forever in his debt."[11]

Following his death, many Georgetown Law School students and faculty shared their reminiscences of Father Drinan, and wrote of his influence on their lives, on Georgetown University's website.[10] Georgetown Law Magazine published a special tribute supplement in Spring 2007.[12]

Associations and awards

Drinan served as a member of the Dennis Hastert and then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on behalf of the House of Representatives. He received 21 honorary doctorates during his life.

Drinan served on the Board of Directors of People for the American Way, the International League for Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Fund, Americans for Democratic Action, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. For many years he was chairman on PeacePAC, a division of Council for a Livable World, and a Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

The College Democrats of Boston College annually present an award in honor of Drinan to prominent Catholic Democratic figures. Past awardees include John Kerry, Donna Brazile, and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.



  1. ^ "Father Robert Drinan" (January 29, 2007). Congressional Record, Vol. 153, Part 2 (Jan. 18 to Feb. 1, 2007), p. 2516-2517. Contains remarks delivered by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), and the text of the Boston Globe obituary for Drinan, by Mark Feeney, dated the same day ("Congressman-Priest Drinan Dies").
  2. ^ a b c Nancy Frazier O'Brien; Catholic News Service; February 2, 2007; Page 4; The Compass (official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay)
  3. ^ Father Gabriel Richard had served from 1823 to 1825 as a non-voting delegate from the Michigan Territory. Father Robert J. Cornell, a Norbertine priest, became the second Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress as a Representative from Wisconsin, 1975–1979.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "[1]", The Hoya, October 27, 2006.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Catholic New York (June 20, 1996)"
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Gala and Alumni Awards 2014.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Philip J. Philbin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 3rd congressional district

January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1973
Succeeded by
Harold Donohue
Preceded by
Harold Donohue
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th congressional district

January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1981
Succeeded by
Barney Frank
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