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Sun, 02.02.1834

Francis Patrick Healy, Minister born

Francis P. Healy

*Patrick Francis Healy was born on this date in1834. He was a Black minister and college administrator.

Healy was born in Macon, Georgia, to Irish American plantation owner Michael Healy and Mulatto slave Mary Eliza.  His father acknowledged his children through Mary Eliza, and since they were technically slaves, he arranged for them to leave Georgia and move to the North, where they would become free.

His father 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 because his race had become an issue in the United States. He attended the University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate; becoming the first openly acknowledged American Black 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. Healy's influence on Georgetown was far-reaching; he 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 honor Healy Hall.

Healy and his siblings were among many successful Americans of the early 19th century to openly acknowledge Black ancestry. Patrick Francis was the first known to earn a Ph.D., 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.

Francis Patrick Healy left the College in 1882. He traveled 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 on January 10, 1910.  He is buried on the grounds of the University in the Jesuit cemetery.

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