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Charles H. Stonestreet

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Charles H. Stonestreet
Three-quarter length seated portrait photograph of Charles H. Stonestreet
Portrait photograph of Stonestreet
OrdinationJuly 4, 1843
Personal details
Born(1813-11-21)November 21, 1813
Port Tobacco, Maryland, U.S.
DiedJuly 3, 1885(1885-07-03) (aged 71)
Worcester, Massachusetts
DenominationCatholic Church
Alma materGeorgetown College (BA)

Charles Henry Stonestreet (November 21, 1813 – July 3, 1885) was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit, who served in a number of prominent religious and academic positions in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, including provincial superior of the Jesuits' Maryland province and president of Georgetown University. Hailing from Maryland, he attended Georgetown College, where he was one of the founders of the Philodemic Society. From there, he entered the Society of Jesus and became a prefect and professor at Georgetown. During this time, he contributed money for the construction of the Georgetown Astronomical Observatory. He then led St. John's Literary Institution and St. John the Evangelist Church in Frederick, Maryland, before being appointed the President of Georgetown University in 1851, a position he held for two years. As president, he received the delegation of high-ranking prelates for the First Plenary Council of Baltimore, and oversaw expansion of the university's library.

Stonestreet was then appointed the provincial superior of the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus, where he remained until 1858. During his tenure, he worked with Anthony Ciampi in the aftermath of the devastating fire at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and faced growing anti-Catholicism with the rise of the Know Nothing movement. Due to violence from the Know Nothings, he forbade Jesuits from wearing their clerical attire in public or being addressed by their ecclesiastical titles. Following his leadership of the province, he was appointed president of Gonzaga College in Washington, where he oversaw the establishment and construction of St. Aloysius Church, of which he became the first pastor. In 1863, Stonestreet was named as one of the five original corporate officers in the charter of Boston College. He was also called to testify in the trial of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, specifically in regard to Mary Surratt and Dr. Samuel Mudd. Later in his career, he was assigned variously at Georgetown, at parishes throughout Maryland and Washington, including as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, and at Holy Cross, where he lived out his last years.

Early life and education[edit]

Charles Henry Stonestreet[1] was born on November 21, 1813, in Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland.[2] His father was a distinguished lawyer, who intended Charles to enter the legal profession. He attended a classical school run by Philip Briscoe in St. Mary's County, before enrolling in Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 1833.[3][4] There, he was a member of the Philodemic Society,[5] and one of its founders,[6] as he was among the group of students to sign the society's founding constitution in 1830.[7] He delivered a speech at the 1830 commencement ceremony titled "The Claims of Aristotle on Posterity,"[8] as well as one at the graduation ceremony of 1833 titled "On Ancient Literature."[9] On July 28, 1835, Stonestreet officially received his Bachelor of Arts.[10] Following his graduation, he entered the Society of Jesus. While studying philosohpy as a Jesuit scholastic, he taught French, mathematics, and grammar at Georgetown.[4]

Early career[edit]

Georgetown College campus between 1848 and 1854
Georgetown University in the mid-19th century, with the new observatory in the background

Stonestreet then became a professor and prefect at Georgetown.[3] As the prefects were only slightly older than the students among whom they enforced discipline, Stonestreet complained that the students were so disobedient that discipline would sometimes come to mutual blows between the prefect and students, comparing himself to a "prizefighter."[11] During this time, Fr. James Curley was working on establishing the Georgetown Astronomical Observatory. While working on acquiring all the instruments needed to outfit the building, he informed Stonestreet in the winter of 1841 that he would need to purchase a meridian circle.[1][12] Stonestreet offered him the $2,000 (equivalent to $49,000 in 2018)[13] that his mother had bequeathed to him, which Curley used to obtain the instrument and begin using the observatory.[14] On one occasion, Stonestreet was accompanying a group of thirty students who remained at Georgetown for the summer of 1842 on their annual vacation to St. Inigoes, Maryland. On the way there, their stagecoach overturned due to a reckless driver. The passengers suffered only minor injuries, except for Stonestreet, who was badly injured and sent back to Georgetown.[15] On July 4, 1843, Stonestreet was ordained a priest.[3]

Stonestreet was sent on a mission to Alexandria, Virginia,[3] before being appointed president of St. John's Literary Institution in Frederick, Maryland, in 1848,[16] where he remained until 1850.[4] At the same time, he was assigned to St. John the Evangelist Church in Frederick, Maryland, as an assistant curate to Fr. Thomas Lilly. Shortly thereafter, he became the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, and remained in this post for two years. During this time, he had three assistants, one of whom was Anthony F. Ciampi.[17] Simultaneously, he took charge of St. John's Literary Institution that year, succeeding Lilly as president. His tenure at both the church[18] and the school came to a close at the end of 1850, and he was succeeded by Thomas F. Mulledy.[19]

Georgetown University[edit]

Bust drawing of Charles H. Stonestreet
Drawing of Stonestreet

Stonestreet assumed the Presidency of Georgetown University on August 1, 1851.[20] In May 1852, he commemorated the landing of the Catholic pilgrims in the Maryland Colony by traveling to St. Inigoes, Maryland, with Bishops James Oliver Van de Velde of Chicago, Richard Pius Miles of Nashville, John Baptist Miège of the Indian Territory East of the Rocky Mountains, as well as most of the students at Georgetown.[21] During Stonestreet's tenure, the First Plenary Council of Baltimore was held at the college in 1852. This involved the arrival of twelve bishops, a mitred abbot, and two religious superiors.[22] That same year, the Medical Department participated in the commencement ceremony for the first time, awarding its first four medical doctorates.[23] During this time, the Georgetown library saw significant growth in its holdings, including almost 900 books that Stonestreet had shipped from Rome. This period of growth was so substantial that the library in Old North became filled to capacity, and Stonestreet sought to construct a larger facility.[24]

Administration of the university by the generally low-key Stonestreet was praised by the provincial superior in his June 1852 report to the Jesuit Superior General.[4] His placid demeanor was a stark contrast to that of his predecessor, James A. Ryder, and he was well liked by the faculty and students.[4] Under his predecessors, enforcement of discipline in Catholic practices increased, and eventually, Catholic students were required to go to confession twice a month.[25] Faced with a generally unruly student body, Stonestreet noted how the students least willing to obey authority were those raised in the slaveholding culture of the South, where they previously enjoyed great indulgence of their antics.[26] The several Chilean students at the school petitioned Stonestreet to be relieved of the requirement's frequency, which he granted.[25] In August of that year, Stonestreet resigned as president in order to accept his appointment as provincial superior of the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus; Bernard A. Maguire was named as his successor.[23]

Maryland provincial[edit]

The provincial superior of the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius Brocard, died suddenly in the summer of 1852,[27] and Stonestreet was named by the Superior General, Jan Roothaan, as his replacement, taking office on August 15.[28] He was the first Marylander to hold the office who had not been trained in Rome.[29]

Holy Cross disaster[edit]

Fenwick Hall at the College of the Holy Cross in 1844
Fenwick Hall at the College of the Holy Cross was nearly totally destroyed by fire in 1852.

He took office in the immediate aftermath of a disastrous fire at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, on July 14, which destroyed the college's main building, Fenwick Hall, and most of its contents.[30] The school's president, Anthony F. Ciampi, vowed to rebuild, while another influential Jesuit there, Joseph Aschwanden, was staunchly opposed to reopening the school.[31] Stonestreet traveled to Worcester to mediate the controversy, and he reassigned the twenty Jesuits at the school, leaving only Ciampi and Peter Blenkinsop to attend to the ruined school and farm.[28] Stonestreet discussed with Thomas Mulledy whether the Jesuit constitution allowed him to close the school, to which Mulledy responded that it did not. Stonestreet finally wrote to Roothaan, concluding that the school should be rebuilt, even if it meant assumption of much of the school's debt by the Jesuit province.[32] Roothaan eventually delegated the decision on whether to rebuild to Stonestreet.[33]

Management of Maryland[edit]

For many years, discussions had occurred about establishing a dedicated scholasticate to educate new Jesuits, which would be separate from Georgetown, which educated lay students and where many of the Jesuit scholastics were teachers. The new Superior General, Peter Beckx, proposed in 1855 that Georgetown be transformed into such a scholasticate for training all the Jesuits in the United States, and cease educating lay students. Stonestreet objected to this proposal and eventually, the focus turned to establishing a dedicated scholasticate elsewhere.[34]

Stonestreet responded to increasing anti-Catholicism in Maryland, specifically the allegation that the Jesuits swore an oath to the pope to overthrow the United States, by writing a letter to local newspapers in February 1855 in which he described his patriotic pride and attachment to his childhood home on the Western Shore of Maryland. As the Know Nothing movement grew in anticipation of the 1856 presidential election, so did Stonestreet and the other Maryland Jesuits' worries; Stonestreet wrote to Rome in the spring of 1856 that they were in the midst of a crisis.[35] Due to the violence of the 1840s and 1850s perpetrated by the Know Nothings, he forbade Jesuits from wearing their clerical attire in public or be addressed by their ecclesiastical titles, instead using secular styles such as "doctor."[36]

Gonzaga College and St. Aloysius Church[edit]

Early 20th-century negative of St. Aloysius Church and Gonzaga College
St. Aloysius Church (left) and Gonzaga College (right)

Upon the selection of Burchard Villiger as the provincial superior of the Maryland province, Stonestreet succeeded him as president of the Washington Seminary on April 25, 1858.[37] Stonestreet petitioned Congress to grant the school its own congressional charter.[38] Very shortly thereafter, on May 4, 1858, President James Buchanan signed into law the bill independently chartering the Washington Seminary, and recognizing the institution by its new name of Gonzaga College. With this charter came the school's independence from Georgetown University, under whose authority it previously conferred degrees;[39] accordingly, ownership of school's property was transferred from Georgetown to Gonzaga.[40] The school especially credited Representative Richard Henry Clarke with seeing the bill through Congress. The following day, Stonestreet officially declared that Washington Seminary had ceased to exist, and had been replaced by Gonzaga College, though it remained common parlance to refer to the school as the Old Seminary for some time.[41] The school did not exercise its power to confer degrees until 1868, when the first four students completed their studies.[38]

As president, Stonestreet led the opening prayer of the House of Representatives on January 24, 1859, and of the Senate on February 9, 1859.[42] During his term, the school's literary society, which had been founded in 1855, was renamed the Phocion Society,[43] and Stonestreet was considered its founder.[44] While president of Gonzaga College, Stonestreet oversaw the establishment and construction of St. Aloysius Church, which would be staffed by Jesuit priests whose service was no longer needed at the diocesan St. Patrick's Church. The church, designed by fellow Jesuit Benedict Sestini, was dedicated in November 1859; at its dedication, Archbishop John Hughes and James Ryder delivered sermons.[45]

In 1860, he submitted his resignation as president of the school to the Jesuit Superior General,[46] officially relinquishing the presidency as well as his pastorate of St. Aloysius Church on July 23.[45] William Francis Clarke was appointed as his successor.[47]

Civil War era and aftermath[edit]

Photograph of Charles H. Stonestreet seated
Photograph of Stonestreet from the studio of Brady-Handy

Following his term at Gonzaga College, Stonestreet was appointed prefect of schools and a professor of rhetoric at Georgetown. During the Civil War, the Jesuit superiors ordered the Jesuits at Georgetown to remain publicly neutral with respect to the two belligerents. However, the majority of Jesuits and students at the school were aligned with the Confederacy; members of Stonestreet's family fought in the war for the South.[48] He also became the Jesuit procurator to the superiors in Rome.[3] In addition to during time as president, Stonestreet served on the board of directors of Georgetown from 1861 to 1862 and from 1863 to 1864.[49]

On March 31, 1863, the Massachusetts General Court officially incorporated Boston College, with Governor John Albion Andrew signing the act into law the following day. Stonestreet was named in the charter as one of five Jesuits who were the officers of the corporation.[50] In 1864 and 1865, Stonestreet ministered to the mission church congregation of St. Mary's in Hagerstown, Maryland, along with two other Jesuits.[51]

Trial of the Lincoln conspirators[edit]

In 1865, Stonestreet was called to testify in the trial of the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He testified that he had known Mary Suratt, who was a parishioner of St. Aloysius Church, for more than 20 years and that while he had only infrequently seen her during the most recent 14 of those years, he had never known her to espouse treason. This testimony occurred against the backdrop of growing suspicion of Catholics, as several suspects in the trial proved to be Catholics; some who were suspicious of Catholics went so far as to accuse the Catholic Church as being involved in the assassination.[52]

Likewise, he was called to testify in regard to Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who attended to John Wilkes Booth's fractured leg.[53] He asserted that in 1850, Mudd was a student at St. John's Literary Institution, during Stonestreet's presidency of the school, and that he did not know whether Mudd remained at the school during the Christmas vacation of December 1850.[54]

Later years[edit]

In the late 1860s, he once again returned as a parish priest to St. John the Evangelist Church in Frederick, where he had been stationed many years earlier.[55] When the president of Gonzaga College and rector of St. Aloysius Church, Bernardin F. Wiget, fell ill in 1868, Stonestreet was temporarily appointed once again to the two offices. It was not until August 1869 that a permanent replacement was found in James Clark.[56]

With the president of Georgetown, Bernard Maguire, experiencing worsening health in 1869, Stonestreet was considered for being again assigned there as president. However, the new provincial superior, Joseph Keller, decided against appointing Stonestreet, due to his age; instead, John Early was appointed.[57] Stonestreet became the pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown in 1870, where he remained for four years.[58] Finally, Stonestreet was made spiritual father at the College of the Holy Cross. Before long, his health quickly deteriorated, and he died there on July 3, 1885.[2][3]



  1. ^ a b Dunigan 1852, p. 9
  2. ^ a b Buckley 2013, p. 100
  3. ^ a b c d e f Shea 1891, p. 177
  4. ^ a b c d e Curran 1993, p. 157
  5. ^ Shea 1891, p. 103
  6. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, p. 91
  7. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, p. 262
  8. ^ Shea 1891, p. 96
  9. ^ Shea 1891, p. 109
  10. ^ Shea 1891, p. 112
  11. ^ Curran 1993, pp. 181–182
  12. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, p. 78
  13. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Shea 1891, p. 138
  15. ^ Shea 1891, p. 134
  16. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, p. 92
  17. ^ Williams & McKinsey 1997, p. 447
  18. ^ The Catholic Church in the United States of America 1914, p. 93
  19. ^ Stanton 1900, p. 74
  20. ^ Shea 1891, p. 172
  21. ^ Shea 1891, p. 174
  22. ^ Shea 1891, p. 175
  23. ^ a b Shea 1891, p. 176
  24. ^ Curran 1993, pp. 196–197
  25. ^ a b Curran 1993, p. 172
  26. ^ Curran 1993, p. 179
  27. ^ Curran 1993, p. 158
  28. ^ a b Kuzniewski 1999, p. 85
  29. ^ Curran 2012, p. 139
  30. ^ Kuzniewski 1999, p. 80
  31. ^ Kuzniewski 1999, p. 81
  32. ^ Kuzniewski 1999, p. 86
  33. ^ Kuzniewski 1999, p. 87
  34. ^ Curran 1993, p. 258
  35. ^ Curran 1993, p. 137
  36. ^ Croce 2017, p. 14
  37. ^ Hill 1922, p. 58
  38. ^ a b Devitt 1935, p. 46
  39. ^ Hill 1922, pp. 61–62
  40. ^ Hill 1922, p. 65
  41. ^ Hill 1922, p. 62
  42. ^ Hill 1922, p. 67
  43. ^ Hill 1922, p. 55
  44. ^ Hill 1922, p. 72
  45. ^ a b Devitt 1935, p. 47
  46. ^ Hill 1922, p. 71
  47. ^ Hill 1922, p. 73
  48. ^ Curran 1993, p. 226
  49. ^ Curran 1993, p. 403
  50. ^ O'Connor 2011, p. 17
  51. ^ The Catholic Church in the United States of America 1914, p. 96
  52. ^ Chamlee, Jr. 1990, p. 341
  53. ^ Long, Kat (April 14, 2015). "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln: How Samuel Mudd Went From Lincoln Conspirator to Medical Savior". Smithsonian. Archived from the original on October 9, 2017. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  54. ^ Pitman 1865, p. 213
  55. ^ Stanton 1900, p. 75
  56. ^ Devitt 1935, p. 50
  57. ^ Curran 1993, p. 280
  58. ^ Devitt 1935, p. 41


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Thomas Lilly, S.J.
3rd President of St. John's Literary Institution
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J.
Preceded by
James A. Ryder, S.J.
21st President of Georgetown University
Succeeded by
Bernard A. Maguire, S.J.
Preceded by
Burchard Villiger, S.J.
8th President of Gonzaga College
Succeeded by
William Francis Clarke, S.J.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Thomas Lilly, S.J.
Pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J.
Preceded by
Ignatius Brocard, S.J.
Provincial Superior of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by
Burchard Villiger, S.J.
New office 1st Pastor of St. Aloysius Church
Succeeded by
William Francis Clarke, S.J.
Preceded by
Louis Hippolyte Gache, S.J.
22nd Pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church
Succeeded by
John B. DeWolf, S.J.