You’ve heard his name before, and you’ve likely walked past him countless times. But don’t be deceived by his immobility — he was well-travelled.
Born in 1735, the steward of the Healy Gates was educated in Northern France. He had been a member of the Society of Jesus for 20 years when, in 1773, Rome suppressed the religious order and he returned to Maryland, his birthplace, to serve as a missionary. There was no public Catholic Church presence in Maryland at the time, and anti-Catholicism pervaded legal codes across the colonies.
After being asked in 1776 by the Continental Congress to travel north with Benjamin Franklin to recruit Quebecois support for the American Revolution, he was excommunicated by the city’s bishop. He returned again to Maryland, where he laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the American Catholic Church as we know it today. With the pope’s blessing, he became the first American Catholic bishop in 1789. He was a staunch supporter of ecumenism and religious tolerance and, by the end of his life, was an outspoken advocate for gradual emancipation.
These ideals and much of John Carroll’s founding vision are still reflected in the daily life of Georgetown students, as is clear in our widespread service ethos, civic engagement and spiritual devotion. However, no matter how pervasive these may be now, they are unsustainable if new students do not carry them on.
When Carroll founded Georgetown University in 1789, he brought to fruition many of the principle efforts of his life. For him, the future of the country, its church and its educational system all depended on each other. As it is today, Georgetown’s mission at its inception was to form selfless, conscientious citizens and to offer spiritual nourishment through sacramental life, pastoral care and the Catholic intellectual tradition.
In accordance with the Jesuits’ unique pedagogical vocation, Georgetown was and remains firmly committed to marrying the ideals of liberal education and the Catholic faith. This dual purpose is reflected in Georgetown’s motto utraque unum — both into one — and in its seal, in which an eagle carries a cross and globe in its talons, signifying the union of faith and reason and of the Church and world.
I am not nearly as important to the future of this university as each of you. With our history and our mission in mind, here is what I wish I had known in my first year about bettering yourself and this school during your time here.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, engage Jesuits. They are here to teach you, care for you and make you better people. Make their jobs easier by seeking out their classes, forming personal relationships with them and, most importantly, partaking in the sacraments they offer. If you are lucky enough, you might get an invite to the Wolfington Hall Jesuit Residence for a meal that puts O’Donovan Hall to shame.
Don’t go to Mass alone. There are thousands of Catholics here, and the best way to get to know them is to get involved. Take time to learn about Campus Ministry’s groups and resources, and explore the myriad of services and sacred spaces. Catholic Ministry, and the campus ministry at large, also offer spiritual retreats, many of which feature the Examen, a cornerstone of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. The Examen is an easy and effective way to incorporate critical reflection into each busy day.
Deepen your faith in the classroom. Most fundamentally, this is what Catholic universities are about. Unfortunately, the Catholic intellectual tradition has no special place in Georgetown’s core curriculum, but you have ample opportunity to seek it out. Though there are many others who do this too, Jesuits uniformly integrate contemplation and deep thinking into their courses.
Lastly, learn about other faiths. Embracing Carroll’s respect for ecumenism, Georgetown is without question the best place you will ever be to understand other faiths, particularly due to the myriad of religious traditions and services prevalent on campus. This also presents a unique opportunity to better understand your own. One of the best uses of our Catholic identity is as a starting point for interfaith dialogue, which Georgetown facilitates superbly.
Carroll turns his back on us, directing his gaze outward. Of course we have come here to study the world around us, but more importantly, we have come so that when we leave we can better serve it. Like Carroll, we are called to be courageous witnesses to our faith and country, and to the ideals that animate Georgetown. Miraculously, it has been giving its students the tools to do this since 1789.
Jack Segelstein is a senior in the College. The Round Table appears online every other Wednesday as a rotating column by members of the Knights of Columbus.