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Bishop Healy


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Patrick Francis Healy




A Mulatto who transformed a small college into a Major Institution

President of Georgetown University




Patrick Francis Healy

(February 2, 1834 - January 10, 1910) was born in Macon, Georgia to Irish-American plantation owner Michael Healy and mulatto slave Mary Eliza. Michael Healy acknowledged his children by Mary Eliza, and since their children were technically slaves he arranged for them to leave Georgia and move to the North, where they would become free.

Healy sent his older sons to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York, when he heard of a new Jesuit College, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sent his three oldest sons and Patrick to study there in 1844.

Following Patrick's graduation in 1850, he entered a Jesuit order and continued his studies. He was sent to Europe to study in 1858, as his "race" had become an issue in the United States. He attended 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 he returned to the United States and taught philosophy at Georgetown University. Eight years later, in 1874, he became its twenty-ninth president.

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.

He modernized the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expanded and upgraded the schools of law and medicine. The most visible result of Healy's presidency was the construction of a large building begun in 1877 and first used in 1881, a building named in his honour as Healy Hall.


Healy left the College in 1882 and travelled extensively through the United States and Europe often in the company of his brother James, later returning in 1908 to the campus infirmary where he died. He is buried on the grounds of the University in the Jesuit cemetery.

Patrick Francis Healy and his siblings were among many successful Americans of the early 19th century to openly acknowledge partial African or "Black" ancestry. Patrick Francis was the first known American of acknowledged African ancestry to earn a PhD, the first to become a Jesuit priest, and the first to become president of a major university in the United States.

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 Alexander Sherwood Healy also became a priest, director of the seminary in Troy, New York, and rector of the Cathedral in Boston. Three of his sisters became nuns, one a Mother Superior.[1]

Despite their partial African ancestry, all of the Healys were accepted into U.S. society as "White" Irish Americans. According to James M. O'Toole, the biographer of Coast Guard Captain Michael Healy:

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.






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