Jan. 7, 2019 - Fr. Lawrence E. Corcoran, SJ, was called to eternal life on Jan. 6, 2019. Fr. Corcoran died at Campion Health Center, Weston, Mass. He was born on July 27, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., entered the Society of Jesus at Shadowbrook, Lenox, Mass., on July 30, 1950, and was ordained on June 15, 1963, at Weston College in Weston, Mass. He pronounced his final vows at Loyola Chapel, Boston College High School, Boston, Mass., on Nov. 6, 1970.
Lawrence Edward Corcoran was born on July 27, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., a prosperous town almost completely surrounded by the city of Boston. The fourth of five children of William and Catherine (Lally) Corcoran, Fr. Corcoran attended Brookline public schools and then undertook the lengthy commute to B. C. High. He was a good student but, thin and below middle height for his age, he became what he called “a little Big Man on Campus” only when he joined the track team and was elected captain for his senior year. His class was the last to graduate from the old building in Boston’s South End.
Fr. Corcoran had already entertained thoughts of becoming a priest when Thomas Merton’s account of his vocational journey to the Trappists, The Seven Storey Mountain, became an unlikely best seller in 1948. Fr. Corcoran was attracted to what he called the romanticism of Trappist life—the remoteness from the world, monastic silence, the white cowl, chanting the Office. He spent a weekend at the monastery in Valley Falls, R.I., but his mother and father consulted a priest in their Brookline parish, who wisely told them that 17 was too young to make a decision and that Fr. Corcoran should go to the diocesan seminary in Boston or join the Jesuits and defer a decision about entering the Trappists until he was older. So, Fr. Corcoran applied to the Jesuits and he and several of his classmates entered the Shadowbrook novitiate in the summer of 1950.
After first vows Fr. Corcoran followed the usual course of studies at the time, two years of juniorate at Shadowbrook, then three years of philosophy studies at Weston. He liked living with a crowd of young Jesuits; he later said they gave him a sense of support in difficult moments.
He was assigned to Fairfield Prep for regency (1957-1960), teaching English to sophomores, living with students, and working as assistant athletics director. It was his introduction to teaching and to the Jesuit high-school world where he would later spend much of his Jesuit life, “some of the best years I had.” With regret he returned to Weston for theology studies, which he thought of as something to endure as it led to ordination. “I was lost in the long black line,” he felt. Rescue came when Fr. James Leo Burke, SJ, the province prefect of studies, asked if he would like to do a master’s degree in English at Breadloaf, Middlebury College’s summer program. Fr. Corcoran loved the literary community nestled in the Green Mountains, the faculty, the single-minded focus on literature, the notable writers who visited (Robert Frost came regularly).
He was ordained at Weston in 1963 and the following year did tertianship in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1965 he was assigned t teach English at B. C. High and encountered students very much influenced by the rebellious spirit of the times. The faculty was predominantly Jesuit then; some of the older men could not understand their students, others—Fr. Corcoran among them—were successful and popular teachers, perhaps, he thought, because he was closer to his students in age. His influence on some was notable; the crime fiction writer Dennis Lehane dedicated one of his books to Fr. Corcoran. He loved working in the school. Even the track team, which he coached, was a success, winning the state and New England championships one year.
In the late sixties he and three scholastics moved to Columbia Point, a violence-prone city housing project near the school, planning to tutor boys and girls from the project and look out for other possibilities for expanding an urban ministry. Tutoring in math and English was in demand but the project as a whole, like similar endeavors undertaken by other New England Jesuits in the sixties and seventies, didn’t prove very fruitful. The Jesuits, unlike the project residents, had too many safety nets to fall back on—health insurance, a community just across the fields—to bridge the two cultures successfully. No other Jesuits joined them, the scholastics moved on in their studies and, eventually Fr. Corcoran moved back to the main Jesuit community residence. He spent a sabbatical year teaching half-time at Belvedere College, the Jesuit high school in Dublin.
In 1998 his Jesuit life took a different direction. A hearing problem turned out to be cancerous. This development, plus the feeling that he was growing out of touch with student culture, led him to give up teaching and work full-time at one of his old interests, retreats and spiritual direction. He worked first at St. Joseph Center for working men, in an industrial area of the city (1998-2003), and then in the retreat house at Campion Center in Weston (2003-2007). In 2007 he moved to Campion’s health center, where he remained for the rest of his life.
At some point in his Jesuit life Fr. Corcoran acquired the nickname “Crab”. No one seems to know the origin of this. It certainly wasn’t his disposition; he was one of the most liked members of the community. His fair skin turned bright red when he played golf (which he loved and was good at) and this may have had something to do with it, as perhaps did his short, thin body and a slightly off-balance gait. He was a walking source of sports information, who could quote Yeats and Emily Dickinson and Philip Larkin aptly for any occasion. For years he also wrote poetry himself but his work lives only in a file folder since he never showed it to anyone. He had a witty sense of humor, but “he never said an unkind word about anyone,“ a Jesuit community member said.
He developed pneumonia and died peacefully, almost before anyone in the community knew he was seriously ill, on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2019.