He always said that he was a priest first and a dean second. J. Bryan Hehir made that clear when he accepted the helm of Harvard Divinity School in 1998, declining to take the title (he is officially chair of the school’s executive body) or to live in Jewett House, the school’s stately deanery on Francis Avenue (he lives at a Catholic parish in Harvard Square). He even kept his part-time job at Catholic Relief Services, commuting each week to Baltimore.
Nevertheless, many at Harvard hoped that he would be smitten by the lure of being a Cambridge don and stay on. Those hopes grew as Hehir, the first Roman Catholic priest to steer the historically Protestant school, helped to lift morale damaged by the departure of the previous dean, worked energetically on new programs, fund raising and needed faculty appointments, and guided the school through an $11 million renovation of its library.