Francophone culture has had a small but vibrant place on Boston College’s campus over the past century.
The genesis or the French club on campus came in 1923, but the club struggled in its early years before beginning to flourish in the ’30s.
In 1934, there were meetings in the Fulton Room for students interested in learning about French literature and customs. There is an advertisement for meetings in the Sept. 26 issue of The Heights that year.
In 1935, a regular weekly meeting of the French Academy was held in the Fulton Room with a special visit from Henri Bergeron, who was the French consul in Boston at that time. Twelve years later, in 1947, a new French consul, Albert Chambon, upped the ante from the previous consul’s visit by offering prizes of books and gold medals for the French Oratorical Contest.
In October of 1936, Rev. Louis J. Gallagher, S.J., president of BC from 1932 to 1937, received the honor of “L’Officier de l’Instruction Publique” from the French government for his work cultivating the study of the French language at the University, including his strong support for the French Academy.
Jim Ryan, a student from Dorchester, Mass., gave a speech on renowned French scientist Marie Curie for the French club-officially called the French Academy-on Monday, Feb. 14, 1947. The next year, in 1948, President of the French Academy Paul Martin gave a speech detailing the character of the French as frank critics, masters of conversation, and lovers of the soil.
A brief description of a French club meeting from Dec. 7, 1951 describes Paul Ryan, moderator of the French Academy, recounting some of his experiences as a soldier in France during World War II. He then led members in singing a French song.
In March 1955, a weekly newspaper called France-Amerique honored BC as one of its “Colleges of the Week.” The newspaper ran a feature including the responses of six Lynch School of Education freshmen to the question “Pourquoi apprenez vous le Francais?” or, “Why are you learning French?” The students emphasized the importance of French as an international language in their responses.
1957 marked the retirement of longtime associate professor of French Andre Gyron de Beauvivier. A veteran of World War I, he received a Croix de Guerre with a bronze star for his service. During his academic career, he had earned the distinctions of a Palmes Academiques award and and Officer d’Instruction Publique award from the French Government.
In October of 1975, Greycliff Hall was converted into a language dorm with French and Spanish immersion programs on either side, with a picture of the front of the dorm from the Oct. 4 issue humorously reading “Spench House.” The language learning programs still exist, but they have since moved out of Greycliff and into Voute Hall.
In 1985, Robert Guilleman wrote an article about the French Library in Boston on Marlborough St., which has since been renamed the French Cultural Center. At that time, the library had 40,000 books, a movie club with film showings, and concerts.
In February 1992, the French government awarded BC fine arts professor John Michalczyk a Les Palmes Academiques award for his contributions to the study of French culture and language.
According to an article from Feb. 10, Michalczyk received the award for his “25 years as professor of French literature and film, prolific research on French literature and cinema, organization of conferences on Andre Malraux and on surrealism, and extensive cooperation with the French Library and cultural Attaches’ office in creating film festivals.”
In April 2003, Sabine Elsass, BC ’03, wrote a defense of the French position on the Iraq War, writing that everybody deserves respect after hearing insults directed at her home country on campus. “In an educated place like Boston College, we should all respect each other, wherever we are from, whatever our beliefs, whatever our background,” she wrote.
Margaret Flagg, a professor in the romance languages and literatures department, wrote a defense of studying French at BC in 2006. She talked about students who had used the language outside of the University, including one who worked with refugees from Senegal and another who wanted to use her newfound language skills to speak with her family in Quebec, and she cited these students as examples of French’s utility outside the classroom. Her conclusion and most compelling reason, however, was simple: studying French is worth it simply because “it is a beautiful language.”