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When Father Drinan was in town, the door to his famously cluttered office at Georgetown University Law Center was always open. A parade of colleagues, their kids, law students, their parents, visiting dignitaries, lawyers, and journalists would come through the door, and no matter what he was doing, Drinan would clear off a chair, find a piece of candy for the children, and turn his attention, deeply, to the visitor before him. After minutes or sometimes hours, the visitor would leave, feeling inspired, challenged, cared for, and blessed. His fourth-floor office door stands closed now. Soon after the Rev. Robert Drinan died Jan. 28, someone taped a farewell message on the door, underneath a fading 2005 map of oppressed nations around the world. “You will be missed by many. And the many will continue your work,” the unsigned message read. “Rest in peace, good friend.” At a funeral mass Feb. 1, Drinan was eulogized by the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Georgetown President John DeGioia. Recalling that while in Congress from 1971 to 1981, Drinan tirelessly opposed the Vietnam War, Kennedy said, “We miss him more than ever in the halls of Congress . . . when that history is repeating itself.” But Drinan may be missed most of all at Georgetown Law, where he was faculty for 26 years, from the time he left Congress on orders from Pope John Paul II. At Georgetown, Drinan was a looming, productive presence even in his twilight years. Students and faculty knew that he was 86 and that the end seemed inevitably near. But they were reassured that all was well when Drinan would come into view, bounding impatiently across campus with a stuffed briefcase, always with a new project, a new book, a new cause, occupying his still-sharp mind. He only ran out of steam a few days before death. “Bob was an incomparable asset to this law school, a towering figure,” former Dean Robert Pitofsky said last week. “This law school is suffering.” Many classes throughout the school last week started off with talk about Drinan — or a prayer. For many students, Drinan was a reason for coming to Georgetown, a draw that won’t easily be replaced. His famous name was the one fact potential students — or their parents — knew about the school beforehand. His courses — professional responsibility and human rights, most often — were the ones that aunts or neighbors told them they had to take. At job interviews, third-year law students said last week, when the firm partner sees what law school they attend, the question often is, “How is Father Drinan doing?” The implication being: If you go to Georgetown and you don’t know Drinan, your chances of being hired just slipped a notch. EDUCATION AND SERVICE In the hallways at the law school last week, Drinan’s qualities were often ascribed to his instincts as a politician — in the better sense of the word. But just as often, he was described as the law school’s parish priest, the glue binding together a Jesuit school community that has become increasingly secular and where few Roman collars are seen. “He had a lot of roles. He quietly and privately ministered to so many people,” says current Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff. “He also knew everybody in the world. They all came to visit.” Georgetown professor Sheryll Cashin, Drinan’s office neighbor, knew that firsthand. “His door was always open, mine always partially closed.” Now married and with children, Cashin recalled that earlier in her career, Drinan overheard her complaining that she did not have a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. “He produced a heart-shaped box of chocolates for me, and smiling devilishly, he said, �Just don’t tell the Pope.’ “ But the main focus for Drinan was always his students, and Aleinikoff estimates that he taught more than 6,000 during his tenure. Many of those students and other friends, ranging from first-year students to New Jersey Chief Justice James Zazzali, posted their remembrances on an emotion-filled tribute Web site created by the law school. Several students say Drinan influenced them the most in professional responsibility class. “He had a very specific idea that the law was not just another profession — it was a calling,” says third-year Sean Byrne. Offering a good imitation of Drinan, Byrne adds loudly, “Did you come here to sell municipal bonds?” It was a question Drinan would ask to make the point that lawyers had a duty to help the disadvantaged. Lauren Weeman, a third-year and editor of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, founded by Drinan 20 years ago, says Drinan “made us think about the implications of ethics. You learn that your reputation can never recover when it’s gone.” Renate Gray, a second-year, had signed up for a class with Drinan for the spring, and she was sad that won’t come to pass: “I was told that you didn’t leave here without taking a class from Father Drinan.” One of the most intimate ways in which students would experience Drinan was through the mass he held at the law school chapel every Sunday at 5. Sometimes 20 students would attend, but some Sundays it was only a hardy group of five. No matter how small the group, second-year Connor Mullin says, Drinan would give it his all. “You’d think he was standing in front of Congress,” Mullin says. But a Drinan sermon was not grandiose. “It was always spectacularly geared toward real life. A lot of priests lose touch with reality. He never did.” One of Drinan’s final homilies surprised several students in attendance. In human-rights classes, Drinan had talked at length about Chile’s military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who was able to avoid trial on human-rights abuses and other crimes because of illness. But after Pinochet died in December, Drinan at the next Sunday mass led a prayer for Pinochet’s soul — and not just out of Christian charity. He made a legal point as well as a moral and religious point, Mullin says. “He told us that no matter how bad a person is, you can’t put him on trial when he is ill.” Which is why Mullin rejects the notion that Drinan’s style was that of a politician-priest. “To me, he was like a parish priest, which is so rare at a place like this. He was a Jesuit, and Jesuits are all about education and service. That’s what Father Drinan was about.”
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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