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The Life and Afterlives of Patrick Francis Healy, S.J.

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This dissertation centers on the life of Patrick Francis Healy, the son of an enslaved woman and an Irish slaveholder. Born in 1834, Healy became a Jesuit priest in 1864

This dissertation centers on the life of Patrick Francis Healy, the son of an enslaved woman and an Irish slaveholder. Born in 1834, Healy became a Jesuit priest in 1864 and the president of Georgetown University in 1874, seven decades before Georgetown admitted its first African American student. In the twentieth century, historical investigations of race and American Catholicism cast Healy and his family in a new light. Today, the Healys are upheld in some circles as African American Catholic icons. Patrick Healy is now remembered as the first African American Jesuit and Catholic university president, as well as the first African American to receive a doctorate. This dissertation pursues both the life of Patrick Healy as well as what I call his “afterlives,” or the ways in which he has been remembered since the 1950s, when Albert S. Foley, S.J. discovered that the Healys’ mother was enslaved and refashioned them from white Irish Americans to white-passing African Americans. How and why did Patrick Francis Healy understand and comport himself as a white, upper-class Catholic? How and why have others sought to construct him as African American in the years since his ancestry was made widely known? How has Georgetown incorporated Healy’s legacy, in the context of its and other universities’ coming-to-terms with their dealings with slavery more broadly? I pursue these questions through archival sources (primarily Healy’s diaries and letters) at Georgetown University and College of the Holy Cross, as well as secondary literature on passing, subjectivity, and hagiography.

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  • 2020

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"By the Labors of Our Hands": An Analysis of Labor, Gender, and the Sisters of Charity in Kentucky and Ohio, 1812-1852

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This dissertation focuses on the development of two communities of women religious beginning in the early nineteenth century: the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, founded in 1812, and the Sisters

This dissertation focuses on the development of two communities of women religious beginning in the early nineteenth century: the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, founded in 1812, and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, who arrived in Ohio in 1829 and became a diocesan community in 1852. Although administratively separate, these two apostolic communities shared a charism of service to the poor in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul. The history of these two communities demonstrates the overlapping worlds women religious inhabited: their personal faith, their community life, their place in the Catholic Church, and their place in the regions where they lived. These women were often met with admiration as they formed necessary social institutions such as schools, hospitals, and orphanages that provided services to all religious denominations.

Sisters’ active engagement with their local communities defied anti-Catholic stereotypes at the time and created significant public roles for women. The skills needed to create and maintain successful social institutions demonstrate that these women were well-educated, largely self-sufficient, competent fundraisers, and well-liked by the Catholics and Protestants alike that they served. This dissertation argues for the importance of acknowledging and analyzing this tension: as celibate, educated women who used their skills for lifelong public service, the Sisters of Charity were clearly exceptional figures among nineteenth century women, though they did not challenge the gendered hierarchies of their church or American society.

To further understand this tension, this dissertation utilizes several cases studies of conflicts between sisters and their superiors in each community to examine the extent of their influence in deciding their community’s current priorities and planning for the future. These case studies demonstrate that obedience did not have a fixed definition but is better understood instead as dynamic and situational between multiple locations and circumstances. These findings concerning gender, labor, institution and community building, and the growth of American Catholicism highlight the integral role that women and religion played in the antebellum era.

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  • 2019