Celebrating Fr. William J. Sullivan’s Retirement from the History Department

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This year, 13 faculty are retiring from Saint Anselm College, including the History Department’s own Fr. William J. Sullivan, O.S.B. One Thing After Another wanted to take a moment to celebrate the many years Fr. William devoted to the study and teaching of history, as well as his many other accomplishments.

Fr. William graduated from Saint Anselm College in 1966 with a B.A in history. He went on to earn an M.A. in Divinity in 1970 from Drew University and a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Catholic University of America in 1977.

He joined the monks of Saint Anselm Abbey and served the Abbey in many capacities, including Prior and Formation Director. He also served the college in multiple roles. He was Assistant Dean of the College and Dean of Students between 1974 and 1979. This was in addition to being an Assistant Professor of History from 1976 to 1984! From 1984 to 1997, William served as President of the Woodside Priory School, a Catholic Benedictine college preparatory school in Portola Valley, California. In addition to his presidential duties, he chaired the Social Studies department and occasionally got to teach a history course. He continued to serve on the Governing Board of both Saint Anselm College and Woodside Priory School until 2014.

Obviously, no matter what else he was doing, Fr. William maintained a love of history. When he returned from California, he taught part time in the Saint Anselm College History Department for a few years. He also taught briefly at the University of Oradea at the invitation of the government of Romania! Finally in the mid 2000s, he took up full-time teaching in the Saint Anselm College History Department to the great delight of his colleagues and students.

Fr. William reveled in the freedom to teach what he loved. He taught the Civil War course, a topic dear to his heart ever since he did a dissertation on Gustavus Vasa Fox who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the conflict. He also developed a course on Irish America, eventually taking a sabbatical on the coast of Ireland where he pursued the topic further (bicycling between his rented cottage and his university office). His focus on Ireland led to a broader course on immigration called Peopling North America which covered immigration from the first European migrants to 21st-century immigration issues.

Fr. William further explored the Native American communities that preceded European immigration in a Native American history course. His Sports History course was wildly popular, exploring United States history through the changing social history of sports. Finally his History of Terrorism course used terrorism as a lens to explore changes and continuities in United States history, raising questions about the changing meaning and impact of terrorism over time. The range and breadth of his courses show his curiosity about multiple aspects of United States history. His desire to create so many new courses underscores his willingness to constantly learn new material and make it interesting to students.

Fr. William continued to be active in other areas of the campus. He served as the chair of the Theology Department for one year and spearheaded a campus initiative to ensure fair and respectful treatment of all persons regardless of sexual orientation. But we in the department valued him particularly for his essential kindness, willingness to help, and endless good humor. William could see the good in any issue or student, though that did not keep him from careful thought about how to improve a situation, a course, or a student’s performance.

Fr. William’s stroke in June 2014 cost us a year of his professional company. However, his love of history continues. At last check, he was listening to an audiobook of Jon Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power. We are very grateful for his many years of dedicated service in the History Department. His warm collegiality, popular courses, and good humor will be greatly missed.

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