Patrick Francis Healy

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Patrick Francis Healy
Patrick Francis Healy portrait.jpg
29th President of Georgetown University
Term 1873 – 1882
Predecessor Rev. John Early, S.J.
Successor Rev. James A. Doonan, S.J.
Born (1830-02-27)February 27, 1830
Macon, Georgia
Died January 10, 1910(1910-01-10) (aged 79)
Religion Roman Catholic

Patrick Francis Healy (February 27, 1830 – January 10, 1910) was the 29th President of Georgetown University known for expanding the school following the American Civil War. He was accepted as and identified as Irish-American.[1] Healy Hall, a National Historic Landmark, was constructed during Healy's tenure and is named after him.

In the 1960s the history of Healy's mixed-race ancestry became more widely known, and he was recognized as the first American of African ancestry to earn a PhD; the first to become a Jesuit priest; and the first to be president of a predominantly white college.

Biography[edit]

Patrick, as he was known, was born into slavery in Macon, Georgia, to the Irish-American plantation owner Michael Healy and his bi-racial slave Mary Eliza. Because of the law of slavery that children took the status of the mother, by the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, Patrick and his siblings were legally considered slaves, although they were three-quarters or more European in ancestry.

Patrick was the third son of Mary Eliza and Michael Morris Healy, who had joined in a common-law marriage in 1829. After Patrick's father Michael bought his mother Mary Eliza, he fell in love with her and made her his common-law wife. The law prohibited their marriage, but they lived together all their lives. Discriminatory laws in Georgia prohibited the education of slaves and required legislative approval for their manumission, so Michael Healy arranged for all his children to leave Georgia and move to the North to obtain their educations and have opportunities in their lives. They were raised as Irish Catholics. Patrick's brothers and sisters were nearly all educated in Catholic schools and colleges, and they also achieved notable firsts for Americans of mixed-race ancestry during the second half of the 19th century, making the Healy family of Georgia a notable one.

Healy sent his older sons first to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. Despite the Quakers' emphasis on equality, Patrick met some discrimination during his grade school years, chiefly because his father owned slaves, which the Quakers considered unforgivable. As an Irish Catholic, he also met some resistance in the school.[2] When Michael Healy heard of a new Jesuit college, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sent his four oldest sons, including Patrick, to study there in 1844. (It had high school-level classes as well.) They were joined at Holy Cross by their younger brother Michael in 1849.

Following Patrick's graduation in 1850, he entered the Jesuit order and continued his studies. The order sent him to Europe to study in 1858, as his mixed-race ancestry had become an issue in the United States, where tensions were rising over slavery. He attended the University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate, becoming the first American of openly acknowledged part-African descent to do so. During this period he was also ordained to the priesthood on September 3, 1864.

In 1866 Healy returned to the United States and taught philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Eight years later in 1873, he was selected as its twenty-ninth president.

Georgetown University president[edit]

Patrick Healy's influence on Georgetown was so far-reaching that he is often referred to as the school's "second founder," following Archbishop John Carroll. Healy helped transform the small nineteenth-century college into a major university for the twentieth century, likely influenced by his European education.

He modernized the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expanded and upgraded the schools of law and medicine. He became one of the most renowned Jesuit priests of his time in that role. The most visible result of Healy's presidency was the construction of the university's flagship building designed by Paul J. Pelz, begun in 1877 and first used in 1881. The building was named in his honor as Healy Hall.

Healy left the College in 1882 and traveled extensively through the United States and Europe, often in the company of his brother James. In 1908 he returned to the campus infirmary, where he died. He was buried on the grounds of the university in the Jesuit cemetery.

Honors[edit]

  • 1969, the Alumni Association established the Patrick Healy Award to recognize people, although not alumni, who have "distinguished themselves by a lifetime of outstanding achievement and service to Georgetown, the community and his or her profession."[3]

Children of the Healy family[edit]

Three-quarters European in ancestry (as their mother was mixed race and their father Irish), and identifying as Irish-American Catholics,[4] Patrick Francis Healy and his siblings were among many successful mixed-race Americans of the early 19th century who also acknowledged their African or "black" ancestry. But, according to James O'Toole, who wrote about all the Healy family, it was not until the 1960s that the Healys' mixed-race ancestry was widely known. Patrick F. Healy was then recognized as the first American of African ancestry to earn a PhD, to become a Jesuit priest, and to become president of a predominantly white college.[5]

Michael A. Healy, brother of Patrick Healy

His brother James Augustine Healy became Bishop of Portland, Maine. His brother Michael A. Healy joined the United States Revenue Cutter Service, becoming a celebrated sea captain, the sole representative of the U.S. government in the vast reaches of Alaska. His brother Sherwood Healy also became a priest and earned a doctorate at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He became director of the seminary in Troy, New York, and rector of the Cathedral in Boston.

Two of the Healy sisters became nuns. Eliza, Sister Mary Magdalen, advanced to become a mother superior of the Villa Barlow Academy and convent in St. Albans, Vermont, run by her order in Montreal, Canada. Martha married an Irish immigrant and had a son with him.[6]

Aided by their father's wealth and their own educations, the Healy sons were accepted into U.S. Catholic society as Irish Americans. The daughters achieved education and status first in the Catholic Church in Canada, where people may have been less concerned about their mixed ancestry, especially given the many Catholic Métis in the Montreal area.

The Coast Guard Captain Michael Healy married an Irish Catholic woman and had a family with her. James M. O'Toole, his biographer, wrote about him:

He repeatedly referred to white settlers [in Alaska] as "our people," and was even able to pass this racial identity on to a subsequent generation. His teenage son Fred, who accompanied his father on a voyage in 1883, scratched his name into a rock on a remote island above the Arctic Circle, proudly telling his diary that he was the first "white boy" to do so.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ A.D. Powell, XVIII. "When Are Irish-Americans Not Good Enough to Be Irish-American? Racial Kidnapping and the Healy Family", in Passing for What You Really Are: Essays in Support of Multiracial Whiteness, Palm Coast, Florida: Backintyme, 2005, accessed 8 February 2011
  2. ^ "Patrick Francis Healy", Library, Georgetown University[dead link]
  3. ^ "Patrick Healy Award Recipients", Georgetown Alumni Association, accessed 15 July 2011
  4. ^ A.D. Powell, XVIII. "When Are Irish-Americans Not Good Enough to Be Irish-American? Racial Kidnapping and the Healy Family", in Passing for What You Really Are: Essays in Support of Multiracial Whiteness, Palm Coast, Florida: Backintyme, 2005, accessed 8 February 2011
  5. ^ "Patrick Francis Healy, Healy Hall, Georgetown University, African-American Heritage Trail", Cultural Tourism DC, accessed 25 June 2014
  6. ^ A summary of the ethnic self-identity of the Healys, taken from various sources, is available in A.D. Powell, Passing for Who You Really Are (Palm Coast FL, 2005) ISBN 0-939479-22-2.
Preceded by
Rev. John Early, S.J.
#28
President of Georgetown University
1873-1882
#29
Succeeded by
Rev. James A. Doonan, S.J.
#30