Would the Rev. Patrick Healy, Who Passed for White, Want to Be Celebrated as a Black Hero?

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2021-04-18 23:14Z by Steven

Would the Rev. Patrick Healy, Who Passed for White, Want to Be Celebrated as a Black Hero?

Faithfully Magazine

Alexandria Griffin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion
New College of Florida, Sarasota, Florida

Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J., was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree and the first to be president of a predominantly White university when he became president of Georgetown University in 1872. (Photo: Blake Photography/Public domain)

Patrick Healy never directly addressed questions of what his racial identity might have been in the written record he left behind. However, he wrote on a few occasions about “blacks” or “negroes” in a tone that seems to indicate that he saw them as a group he did not belong to.

In 2015 and 2016, Georgetown University became enmeshed in conversations about race taking place at college campuses across the United States. At Georgetown, conversation centered on the institution’s history with slavery, which had been an integral part of its early years, with much of the labor on campus falling to enslaved people.

The focus was the sale of 272 enslaved African Americans in 1838, a sale undertaken by Jesuits Thomas F. Mulledy and William McSherry with the intent to accrue enough money to pay off some of the school’s debts and keep it open. This sale resulted in the breakup of numerous families, and the majority were sold into the Deep South, where they were subjected to harsher conditions of forced agricultural labor. The sale was controversial at the time but eventually largely faded from the memory of White Catholics. (As Shannen Dee Williams, historian at Villanova University and originator of the Twitter hashtag #BlackHistoryIsCatholicHistory, has pointed out, what many people now think of as new information about religious orders owning enslaved people never faded from the memories of Black Catholics.)

Moreover, discussion also included broader issues around Georgetown’s relationship to slavery, including buildings named after slaveholding faculty, and on what actions might be taken to acknowledge and make amends for this history. A number of initiatives grew out of this; a working group made archival resources on slavery at Georgetown available online and researched the fates of those sold in 1838, the school held an apology ceremony attended by community members and descendants of those sold, and buildings named after Mulledy and McSherry were renamed. Additionally, the school opted to grant descendants of those sold in 1838 preferential admission. More recently, students voted to add a student fee to go toward reparations for descendants of those enslaved at Georgetown. The future of the fee and how or whether it will be implemented remains uncertain. The university has recently committed to raising $400,000 annually toward reparations, which some students feel is too little.

Patrick Francis Healy: Legally Enslaved, Passing for White

One figure has been strangely absent from this conversation: Patrick Francis Healy, the university’s 29th president. In November of 1853, Healy, then a young Jesuit in training, sent a letter to an older Jesuit and mentor, George Fenwick. He wrote from his teaching post at College of the Holy Cross: “Father, I will be candid with you. Placed in a college as I am, are boys who were well acquainted with by sight or hearsay, with me + my brothers, remarks are sometimes made (then if not in my hearing) which wound my very heart. You know to what I refer. The anxiety of mind caused by these is very intense.”…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Record: Georgetown and the racial identity of President Patrick Healy

Posted in Articles, Biography, Campus Life, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2016-12-23 02:15Z by Steven

On the Record: Georgetown and the racial identity of President Patrick Healy

The Georgetown Voice

Patrick Healy

Matt Sheptuck (COL ’10) is an American Studies major writing his senior thesis, which explores how Georgetown University has perceived Jesuit Father Patrick Healy’s racial identity over the years. In his research Sheptuck found that Healy, whom many of us know as the first African-American President of Georgetown and one of the first black presidents of any major American university, was understood as white for much of the University’s history, until beginning in the 1960s, when Georgetown began to “market” Healy as black.

Sheptuck says he isn’t “overtly condemnatory” of the University’s history, knowing that how they framed Healy was a product of the times. But he proposes that going forward, Georgetown doesn’t need to relegate Healy’s racial identity to the “one-dimensional” white or black designation, and should present him as the complex man he was. He also thinks Georgetown needs to look closely at its relationship with race in America in the past. Intrigued by his research, Vox caught up with Sheptuck on Tuesday to learn more.

Vox Populi: So tell me a little about your thesis.

Matt Sheptuck: I’m looking at how the University’s changing racial conceptualization of Patrick Healy’s identity fit in relation to how the University thought about race in general. And what I’ve found in my research about Healy, who was president from 1874 – 1882, is two main periods from the 1880s, when Healy resigned as president, up to the present, in which the University talked about his racial identity differently…

Read the interview here.

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Passing in Boston: The Story of the Healy Family

Posted in History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States, Videos on 2016-09-01 01:15Z by Steven

Passing in Boston: The Story of the Healy Family


Boston College history professor, James O’Toole discusses his newest book Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920, which documents the extraordinary life of the Healy brothers of Boston.

In the mid-1800’s, the Healy brothers of Boston, James, Patrick, and Sherwood, looked like the picture of Catholic success. James was bishop of Portland, Maine; Patrick, president of Georgetown University; and Sherwood, chief supervisor of the building of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The Healy’s were not typical members of the Boston Catholic elite, but the children of a multiracial slave couple from Georgia.

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Patrick Healy’s integration into the Jesuits and his success in society writ large required him to jettison his connections to blackness. He rose, not just despite, but in opposition to his heritage.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2016-01-31 02:59Z by Steven

Patrick Healy’s integration into the Jesuits and his success in society writ large required him to jettison his connections to blackness. He rose, not just despite, but in opposition to his heritage. The Jesuits called him the “Spaniard” — a name meant to explain his olive complexion.

Matthew Quallen, “QUALLEN: Healy’s Inner Turmoil, Our Current Conflict,” The Hoya, November 20, 2015. http://www.thehoya.com/quallen-healys-inner-turmoil-our-current-conflict/.

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Father Healy’s Imprint: Past, Present and Future

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-31 02:45Z by Steven

Father Healy’s Imprint: Past, Present and Future

The Hoya
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Moises Mendoza

Every day thousands of students pass by Healy Hall and marvel at its towering steeples and complex intricacies. Few of them realize that the man responsible for this Georgetown trademark was every bit as complex and dynamic as the building bearing his name today.

As the first black president of a predominantly white university, Fr. Patrick Healy, S.J., revolutionized Georgetown and helped build firm foundations for a young university.

Yet Healy’s trek to greatness began not in the hallowed halls of academia, but on the Georgia cotton plantation where he was born on Feb. 27, 1834. The son of an Irish Catholic and a biracial domestic slave, Healy had great obstacles to overcome. Healy’s father Michael immigrated to the United States from Ireland through Canada around 1815. Experiencing great success in a series of land lotteries, he moved to Macon, Ga., where he built his own cotton plantation with the help of 49 slaves. Michael Healy became relatively prosperous and became a prominent businessman in the Macon community…

Read the entire article here.

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QUALLEN: Healy’s Inner Turmoil, Our Current Conflict

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-31 02:31Z by Steven

QUALLEN: Healy’s Inner Turmoil, Our Current Conflict

The Hoya
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Matthew Quallen, “Hoya Historian”
School of Foreign Service

Last week, President DeGioia accepted a recommendation to scrub the names Mulledy and McSherry from university buildings. The names Freedom and Remembrance took their places. Mulledy and McSherry symbolized what was most odious about Georgetown and the Maryland Jesuits’ history — the conclusion of a century of contest and deliberation about slavery, manumission and race with a mad dash towards a propitious sale.

By contrast, Healy Hall and its namesake, Fr. Patrick Healy, stand as foils in our memory. Healy, after all, was the first black president of a predominantly white institution, as the accolade goes. But for Healy, who desperately toed the opposite side of the color line the situation, was more complicated.

Fr. Patrick Healy was born in 1834 to Mary Eliza — a biracial former slave who had been purchased out of captivity by her soon-to-be husband, Michael. Michael Healy owned 49 slaves on a plantation in Macon, Ga. It was from his mother Mary Eliza that Patrick Healy inherited his vital if contrived one drop rule, which legally classified an individual as black if they possessed even “one drop” of black blood for the purposes of racially discriminating statutes. In his home state, the law considered Patrick Healy to be a slave (such status was usually maternal). So his selection as president of Georgetown in 1873 was nothing short of remarkable. It encapsulates a story of a rise to prominence unexpected for a black American in the mid-19th century. It also mistakenly post-dates Georgetown’s racial progress to 1873, although that transformation came much later…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing free

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2012-06-15 01:08Z by Steven

Passing free

Boston College Magazine
Summer 2003

Black in the South, Irish in the North, The Healys Slipped the Bonds of Race in Civil War America

James M. O’Toole, Associate Professor of History
Boston College

When Michael Morris Healy and Eliza Clark entered into a common-law union in 1829, they violated perhaps the most powerful taboo of 19th-century America: marriage between persons of different races. Healy was a white planter in Jones County, Georgia; Clark was an African-American slave. American society was horrified by a union such as theirs, and by the attendant prospect of offspring, because of clear, even scientific definition: Race depended, literally, on blood. What came to be called the “one-drop rule” specified that a single drop of ancestral African blood was sufficient to define a Negro. Blood might be diluted over time, but its essence could not be altered.

Under this rule, the children of Michael and Eliza Healy, no matter how fair their skin or European their features, could expect to lead hobbled lives, consigned to the most menial work and subjected to discrimination and violence. But that is not what happened…

Read the entire article here.

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New Book Explores Georgetown Inside and Out

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2011-10-03 21:26Z by Steven

New Book Explores Georgetown Inside and Out

Georgetown Alumni Online
Georgetown University

Historian R. Emmett Curran discusses his recently published book, a three-volume history of Georgetown that uncovers little known facts about the university.

True or false?

1. In Georgetown’s first decade of existence, nearly 20 percent of its students came from outside the United States.

2. Georgetown was not actually founded in 1789.

A History of Georgetown University: The Complete Three-Volume Set, 1789-1989, released this month, sheds new light on these and other little known facts about Georgetown, as well as offers a broad perspective on the university’s identity and place in American culture.

Here, author R. Emmett Curran, a historian and member of the Georgetown community for more than three decades, talks about the book’s evolution and surprising discoveries he made during its research. Copies of the three-volume set are available in the Georgetown University bookstore.

(The answer to both of the above questions is “true.”)…

…Q: What is your favorite story from Georgetown’s past that people might not have heard?

Curran: The manner by which Patrick Healy became president of Georgetown is a good story. In 1870 the Jesuits were struggling to come up with a suitable candidate for the presidency of Georgetown. After Rome rejected the first slate of candidates that the Jesuits in the United States sent them, Jesuit officials in the Maryland Province (then encompassing most of the eastern United States) sent a new slate that listed Patrick Healy as the preferred candidate.

“Clearly Healy is the best qualified,” the regional superior stated, “despite the difficulty that perhaps can be brought up about him.” That ambiguous reference concerned either Healy’s illegitimate background (as the son of parents [Irish planter and mixed-race slave] who, by Georgia law, could not marry) or his biracial identity.

Rome ended up choosing no one on the list and reappointed John Early, who had earlier held the office. When Early’s latest term came to an end in 1873, the regional superior proposed an interesting deal. He suggested to the superior general in Rome that John Bapst, then president of Boston College, be made president of Georgetown and Patrick Healy replace Bapst in Boston. That suggests that the “difficulty” had actually been Healy’s biracial background and so-called slave status. The regional superior was calculating that mixed race would not have the potential for problems in New England (where Patrick Healy’s two brothers had important positions among the clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston) that it might well pose in Washington.

Before Rome could respond, John Early died suddenly in May 1873. The regional superior immediately appointed Healy as acting rector, and the following day the directors of the university chose him as president. Rome, obviously unhappy about developments, took more than a year to confirm his appointment as rector.

Read the entire article here.

Note from Steven F. Riley: For more information on the Healy brothers, read James M. O’Toole’s book, Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820–1920.

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