Leonard Boyle

Leonard Eugene Boyle, OP, OC (13 November 1923 – 25 October 1999), was an Irish and Canadian scholar in medieval studies and palaeography and was the first Irish and North American Prefect of the Vatican Library in Rome from 1984 to 1997.

Leonard Eugene Boyle
Born(1923-11-13)November 13, 1923
DiedOctober 25, 1999(1999-10-25) (aged 75)
Occupationscholar in medieval studies and palaeography

He was born in Ballintra, County Donegal, in Ulster, Ireland. Boyle spent some years in Tralee, County Kerry, following the death in 1940 of his older brother John. The latter was a member of the police (Garda Síochána) and drowned while on holiday in Ballybunion, County Kerry, in July 1940 and acted as Boyle's father following the death of his mother in 1933. Leonard was educated in Irish and entered the Dominican Order in 1943. He was ordained a priest in 1949 having received his doctorate in Oxford. He frequently visited Tralee, where a number of his family still reside, and he was involved in many projects in the town. His immense knowledge and expertise in historical and archaeological issues was freely given in order to enhance the town. Of particular concern was his hope that the site of the original Dominican Priory at the centre of the town be conserved for future archaeological excavation. After moving to Toronto, he taught at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, and at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto from 1961 to 1984. He also served as Professor of Latin Palaeography and History of Medieval Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome from 1956 to 1961.[1]

In 1984 he was appointed Prefect of the Vatican Library by Pope John Paul II. This appointment took Boyle by surprise but would appear to have been a recognition of his immense scholarship, expertise in antiquity and renowned interest in learning as a whole. In an effort to modernise the Vatican Library, Father Boyle set about the digitisation of the library's many thousands of manuscripts that dated from hundreds of years BC, which would lead to their greater availability to scholars around the world. Boyle also extended the opening hours of the library and employed women for the first time as part of the library's staff. In 1987, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.[2] In 1997, he was ousted as Prefect after his dealings with some American fund-raising associates resulted in lawsuits involving the Vatican.[3]

Known for his wit and independence of mind and spirit, Boyle was once asked of his interest in being a Cardinal given the fact that all of his predecessors went on to be Cardinals. His reply was in the negative saying 'nothing but the papacy' would do him.

Father Boyle was buried in his beloved Basilica di San Clemente, in 2000, a year after his death, following official desire to give him the honour of interment in the vaults of San Clemente — one of Rome's holiest and most historical shrines.


  1. ^ "Rev.Fr. Father Leonard Eugene Boyle (b. 13/Nov/1923, d. 25/Oct/1999)". Genealogy.com. Retrieved 27 Dec 2016.
  2. ^ Order of Canada citation
  3. ^ Mendelsohn, Daniel (2 Jan 2011). "God's Librarians: The Vatican Library Enters the 21st Century". The New Yorker. p. 27.

Further readingEdit

  • Duggan, Anne J., Joan Greatrex, and Brenda Bolton, eds. Omnia disce: medieval studies in memory of Leonard Boyle, O.P. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate, c2005. ISBN 0-7546-5115-0
  • Raftis, J. Ambrose. "Leonard Boyle, O.P. (1923-1999)," Mediaeval Studies 62 (2000): vii-xxvi.
  • Roma, Magistra Mundi: Itineraria Culturae Medievalis. Mélanges offerts à Père L.E. Boyle à l'occasion de son 75e anniversaire, edited by Jacqueline HAMESSE (Fédération Internationale des Instituts d'Etudes Médiévales, 10/1-3). Louvain-la-Neuve: Fédération Internationale des Instituts d'Etudes Médiévales, 1998.
  • Stille, Alexander. Letter from Vatican City, Library Privileges, The New Yorker, September 28, 1998, p. 43