Patrick Francis Healy

Photo of Patrick Healy
Patrick Healy

Library of Congress

Quick Facts

The Reverend Patrick Francis Healy was born a slave, the son of a Catholic-Irish planter and a mulatto slave, in Macon, Georgia in 1834. Nevertheless, in an act of paternal devotion that was extraordinary for its time and place, and in defiance of law and custom, Healy was sent north by his father to receive an education. He later traveled to Europe to complete his studies and received a doctorate in philosophy in 1865 from the Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris.

In 1866, Healy returned to America to teach philosophy at the Jesuit College in Georgetown, District of Columbia, and eight years later, was selected as its president. The Reverend's influence on the development of Georgetown College was profound. He modernized the curriculum, improved the quality of its law and medical schools and oversaw the expansion of the school's physical plant to such an extent that by the time of his retirement in 1882, Georgetown College had evolved into Georgetown University.

Healy was fair-skinned enough to pass for European-American, but if one accepts the racial classification system of his day, Father Healy may be considered the first African-American to earn a doctorate, the first African-American to become a Jesuit priest, and the first to serve as president of a predominantly white college.