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First person, last word: Loyola College ‘became a refuge’

How one of Concordia’s founding institutions forever changed two Boston boys
November 16, 2023
By Joseph F. Cronin, BA 54

Diptych of a man picture in 1954 in a black and white image on the left and in in a colour photo on the right today. Joseph F. Cronin pictured in his 1954 Loyola College graduation photo, and today, at age 91

Growing up on the streets of Boston in the 1930s and 1940s was no cakewalk. We had few modern conveniences and faced poverty and high unemployment.

I was the youngest of seven, and my father worked tirelessly in a factory six days a week, feeding coal into a furnace. My mother, the youngest of 16 siblings from Ireland, sponsored about 20 nieces and nephews for immigration to the United States. At times it felt like we lived in a boarding house!

John Simpson and I, good friends and classmates at Roxbury Memorial High School, excelled in athletics and academics. But due to financial constraints, college seemed out of reach.

One day, our guidance counsellor pulled us aside to tell us about two scholarships that were available at Loyola College in Montreal, Canada. Excitement quickly turned to apprehension. Neither of us had ever left Boston.

Soon enough, a boy who had graduated ahead of us at Roxbury and went on to Loyola helped us out. The college became a refuge. John and I played football at Loyola for four years. I was a lineman and John a defensive end.

Donning helmets but lacking nose guards, mouthpieces and much padding, we faced tough opponents like the University of Bridgeport, Hofstra University, Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, Norwich University, Maine Maritime Academy and McGill University.

Our first year brought a single tie and no wins, but we started winning the next year. By my junior and senior years, I was the captain and we clinched a couple of victories. Though often outmatched, we had a fantastic coach in Bill Orban, a true gentleman and inspiration.

After graduation, I continued my studies at McGill’s Faculty of Dentistry while playing football for four more years. This is where I met my beloved wife, Kathleen Ward, from Brampton, Ontario, who became a registered nurse. We were married in 1957 at Loyola Chapel.

After 61 years of marriage and raising five children (who gave us 11 grandchildren), Kathleen passed away in 2019, the day after Mother’s Day. Our son, Michael, now carries on the dental practice I ran in Leominster, Massachusetts, for more than 45 years.

My buddy John Simpson went on to study law and serve in the U.S. military, and became the first U.S. Interpol president and the 16th director of the Secret Service.

Shortly before he passed away in 2017, John called me. He recalled his first week at Loyola and how desperately he wanted to go back to Boston. I guess he was homesick.

“Thanks for talking me out of it, Joe,” he said. We talked some more about the opportunities Loyola gave us. The college really changed our lives. I’ll always cherish these final remembrances with John.

To the faculty, administrators and coaches at Loyola who helped me — and John — along the way, thank you. And to the warmhearted Montrealers who welcomed two Boston boys with open arms all those years ago, you’ll always have a special place in my heart.

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