Thousands of Boston College alumni, faculty, and students went to Fenway Park Saturday afternoon for a special Mass that kicked off a series of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the Jesuit school’s founding.
In his comments at the Mass, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley cited the school’s role in Boston’s Irish history, while Boston College theologian the Rev. Michael J. Himes gave a homily that drew connections between the Jesuit tradition and the college’s educational mission.
“Education is the process through which we become more fully human,” Himes said. “All education makes us more like God.”
Himes implored graduates and the 4,000 BC students who attended to use their education to enrich others.
“The reason to be educated is to teach somebody else,” he said. “If you think of your education as training to get a better job and earn more money . . . I think you’re unworthy of your education.”
In relatively brief remarks, O’Malley praised Boston College for its role in the “Catholic emancipation,” a reference to the strong anti-Catholic sentiment faced by early Irish immigrants to Boston, such as BC’s founder, the Rev. John McElroy.
“In the days of Father McElroy, it wasn’t easy to be a Catholic or immigrant in Boston, and it isn’t easy today,” O’Malley said. “We still need the giants of Catholic education to help form new disciples in the church.
“The involvement of BC with the renewal of our Catholic schools has made a huge difference,” he continued. “BC has been a very important part in the history of our local church and we are all delighted to be a part of this magnificent celebration in Fenway Park.”
US Representative Edward J. Markey, a graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law School, was among the 20,000 who attended the Mass.
“It was perfect,” Markey said moments after the ceremony concluded. “All of the Jesuits who built BC are smiling down on this perfect day at Fenway.”
Asked how the college has changed since his graduation, Markey said, “The Jesuits always provided a first-class education, but now the facilities match the quality they’ve always provided.”
Himes’s impassioned case for a Catholic education resonated with Christine Cope, a Pittsfield teacher who graduated from BC in 2001.
“I love the idea of giving of yourself to your students, so I really connected with his sermon,” Cope said. “It was really cool just being in Fenway Park and having Mass and seeing all the Jesuits we learned from.”
The Mass also celebrated the start of Boston College High School’s academic year. About 1,000 BC High students were in attendance, according to Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman.
Breezy and mild late-summer weather provided a perfect backdrop for the ceremony at Fenway Park, which is celebrating its own centennial this year.
The baseball-centric setting didn’t go unnoticed by O’Malley, who joked to Himes that he “hit it out of the park” and that “the Boston Red Sox should get you, they need you.”
Many in attendance said they had longstanding family connections to BC, including Bernie O’Kane, a 1970 graduate whose great-uncle graduated in 1909. O’Kane is now the college’s director of employee development.
“He would be incredibly proud to see the development of the university,” O’Kane said of his uncle.
In another 150 years, O’Kane predicted, “it’s going to be even better. The place’ll be filled.”
More recent graduates also expressed a deep pride in BC, which grew from an initial class of 22 students in 1864 and persevered through enrollment and financial crises in the 20th century to emerge as one of the country’s richest and most selective schools.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Amy Piepiora, a 2008 graduate from Carver. “Just the legacy and the way that BC has touched me and shaped me. . . . I can only imagine what it has done for everyone.”Dan Adams can be reached at DAdams@globe.com and on Twitter at @DanielAdams86. Globe correspondent Martha Shanahan contributed to this report.