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A Sea Change on the Hill, part 3

By Phyllis Hanlon

Left to right: B. Eugene McCarthy, Paul McMaster, John D. O’Connell ’53, Peter ParsonsB. Eugene McCarthy

In September 2000, B. Eugene McCarthy experienced beginning-of-the-academic-year-jitters for the final time. Not his own, but those of the incoming students. “The first-year students would be nervous and anxious,” he says, “but always ready to learn.” As he retires after more than a quarter century at Holy Cross, McCarthy recalls many memorable events, activities and changes that have taken place at the College.

“Coeducation is obviously a significant change,” he says, echoing his colleagues. Upon his arrival in 1965, McCarthy taught all-male classes. The admission of women several years later was essential to the growth and development of the school, he says. “Women have achieved a solid foothold at Holy Cross.”

Of personal importance to McCarthy is a special project he helped establish at the College. He expresses pride in the African-American Studies program, of which he was co-founder and director for nine years. The program has continued to grow and flourish through the years.

McCarthy lauds the caliber of the students who enroll in the College. He speaks of the tremendous student involvement on campus that ultimately leads to their many successes. With the passage of time, he has maintained contact with many of his former students. “It’s amazing that after 25 years, students are still e-mailing to say ‘thanks’ for having taken one of my courses,” he says.

His co-workers have also made McCarthy’s teaching career at Holy Cross extraordinary. “I’ve known wonderful colleagues and staff,” he says. “There are special feelings that come from working with good people.”

As he enters retirement, McCarthy claims to have “undefined plans.” He says, “I don’t want to be tied down. I’ll do some research and writing but probably won’t do any teaching.” McCarthy intends to devote time to a number of passions, including drawing, home and family as well as some travel adventures. McCarthy has a couple of book projects on the docket, one of which involves some recently discovered slave narratives. Also, he and a friend are in the beginning stages of assembling a “sizable poetry anthology.” But basically McCarthy notes, “retirement is a time for finding my own rhythms.”

Paul McMaster

Citing “dramatic” changes at Holy Cross during his 40-year teaching career, Paul McMaster ’54 retired in May with no specific course of action in mind. “I had planned to do some research,” he says,” but have decided to spend my time with my wife, on the golf course and doing odds and ends.”

In 1961, McMaster accepted a teaching position in the College’s chemistry department. In the ensuing years, he served two separate terms as chair. McMaster witnessed a shift in the school’s faculty from an apostolic to a professional nature during his early days at Holy Cross. “When I began teaching, the majority of the faculty was Jesuit. At graduation, they would sit on one side in their clerical robes and the lay teachers sat on the other,” he says. When the school rechartered, the faculty became more unified, he notes.

Having spent four decades at the College, McMaster holds many special memories in his heart. Most notable is the implementation of the “discovery approach” to teaching in the chemistry department in the late 1980s. “Originally, we taught a topic by going to the lab to experiment after hearing a lecture,” he says. “With the new approach, the students get data, analyze it and then devise a theory.” According to McMaster, this method has had a positive impact. “The students have a better acceptance of science.”

Additionally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided financial support, which brought “a high level of instrumentation” into the lab. McMaster pointed out that the students have access to sophisticated equipment that is usually found in industry, not in academia.

Although he still maintains an office at Holy Cross and acts as academic advisor to the basketball team, McMaster has no intention of pursuing additional educational activities. “In retirement, you should be able to do what you want to do,” he says.

John D. O’Connell ’53

Worcester native John D. O’Connell ’53 considered his return to Holy Cross in 1957 inevitable. Having experienced four wonderful years under the tutelage of the Jesuits, he was happy to assume what was to become a long and happy career at his Alma Mater.

From the time he spent on campus as a student to the present day, O’Connell has seen a number of changes, all for the better, in his opinion. “The quality of the student body increased considerably when the school went coed,” he says. “I certainly never minded teaching all males, but I think the mix is better.”

A celebration that stands out for O’Connell is the 150th anniversary of the College in 1993, which occurred on the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first treatise on accounting. O’Connell says Fra Pacioli, a contemporary and friend of Leonardo DaVinci’s, wrote the treatise on double-entry bookkeeping in 1493. This theory of debits and credits is still in use today, he notes. “Holy Cross linked those two events, both of which certainly were worthy of attention,” he says. “There are not too many things that have endured that long.”

During his tenure, O’Connell has seen a number of new programs implemented. “Holy Cross always had a major in accounting. Now there’s more emphasis on computerized accounting,” he says. Another important new addition to the department is the creation of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. “Accounting students help low-income Worcester residents prepare their taxes,” he says.

O’Connell plans to “ease” into retirement by teaching only two courses in the future, rather than the four that he currently instructs. This summer he plans to spend considerable time at his Cape Cod home, relaxing and catching up on some reading— “books other than accounting.”

Peter Parsons

Peter Parsons thought that driving 114 miles each day to and from work might get tiresome after a while. Twenty-two years after that first trip from his home in Amherst, Parsons is finally ending the drive. The time spent on the road never dimmed his love of Holy Cross, its students and the biology department in particular where he served as chair for three years of his long tenure.

Parsons praised the College for shifting from an administrative governance system to one that includes and welcomes faculty input. He views the modification as positive and supportive of the school’s teaching staff. Citing the vast changes that have taken place through the years, from new construction to renovation and expansion, Parsons is enthusiastic about the College’s new president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Under his leadership, Parsons envisions continued growth and the addition of more professors, which will lower the student/teacher ratio.

Parsons’ involvement on the premed committee has been similar to a “mentoring position of sorts.” As part of a seven-member team, he reviewed students’ essays that explained their reasons for applying to medical school. During the evaluation process, Parsons formed many strong relationships with these students. In addition to evaluating their academic qualifications and personality for a “proper fit,” he often worked on special projects with them. “It was fun to do research with the students, and I will still keep in touch with them,” he says.

During the last 10 years, Parsons has noticed a shift in student thinking regarding postgraduation plans. “The focus now is on graduate school and research, not so much on medical school,” he says. He points out that many of the new faculty members have recently completed graduate school programs themselves. “These new professors might have triggered that thinking in the students,” he says.

Even though he lives 57 miles away, Parsons intends to maintain ties with Holy Cross and the biology department. He will assist in the search and hiring process after his retirement in May. The department has interviewed six candidates, none with proficiency in the dual areas of biochemistry and immunology, Parsons’ areas of expertise.

With no definite retirement plans, Parsons expresses ambivalence toward his impending lifestyle change. “I went back and forth on the decision to retire,” he says. “But as it gets closer, I get more enthusiastic.” His musical talent and location in Amherst may determine some of his future endeavors. “There’s a wonderful teacher in the local high school music department,” he says. “I might play the piano or organ for some of their musicals.” Travel and church activities will occupy Parsons’ time when he is not delivering musical accompaniment to a local audience.


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