(This is the first part of a four-part, 125th anniversary series. To read the second article – about the University’s move to Cleveland’s East Side – of part one, click here.
Archbishop John Carroll blends Catholicism with American culture
Many people know John Carroll – the man – was the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States. And many people know he founded Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the U.S. But for most, their knowledge of Archbishop John Carroll (1735-1815) ends there.
This past winter, as part of the 125th Anniversary of JCU, and more specifically, Ignatian Heritage Week (Jan. 30 – Feb. 5), the University hosted Bishop George Murry, S.J., head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, to speak about John Carroll. The following is an excerpt from Bishop Murry’s speech, which sheds light on John Carroll’s impact on education in the U.S.
– John Walsh, university editor
“The man who became the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States was born in Upper Marlboro, Md., Jan. 8, 1735. … John Carroll spent an early childhood at home, and at age 12, began studying at the Jesuit elementary school in Cecil County, Md. Many of the personality traits that characterize him throughout his life were evident at this early age, as demonstrated by one teacher’s description of Carroll as assiduous in study, pious, and amiable. After one year in Cecil County, he traveled to French Flanders, to St. Omer’s College, where he spent six years studying the classics, literature, history, science, and languages.
“In 1753, at age 18, Carroll entered the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. After completing a program of study in philosophy and theology at Liege, he was ordained a priest 14 years later in 1769. There followed four years of teaching a St. Omer and Liege, as well as extensive travel throughout Europe, where he served as preceptor for the son of an English Lord and chaplain to another.
“ … On Aug. 16, 1773, Pope Clement XIV issued a document titled Dominus Redemptor Noster, which suppressed the Society of Jesus throughout the world. … After authoring a defense of the Society of Jesus, Carroll returned to Maryland and continued his ministry as a diocesan priest, under the authority of the Vicar Apostolic of London. … Carroll worked as a missionary, ministering to one small Catholic community after another, celebrating Mass and offering the sacraments …
“At the end of the Revolutionary War, on June 27, 1783, Carroll and five other priests, all former Jesuits, met in Whitemarsh, Md., to determine how they might best continue their missionary work in the U.S. … The priests of Maryland adopted a resolution and sent it to Rome. … Then they nominated Carroll as the aforementioned superior of the mission. This was approved by the Pope in June 1784. Five years later, Pope Pius VI decided the time was right for a bishop in the U.S. He then erected the Diocese of Baltimore and, on the recommendation of the clergy of Maryland, named Carroll its first bishop. …
“One of Carroll’s first tasks as bishop and archbishop was to enable the Catholic Church to become a respected participant in the life of the pluralistic U.S. So Carroll had to make an assessment of where Catholics stood in the American cultural imagination of the early 19th century. … How could Catholics become a legitimate and recognized force in the ideas, politics, and culture of the new republic? … A key component of his approach was to advocate the value of education for Catholics and non- Catholics. As a consequence of his experience with the Jesuits, Carroll saw education at its best as world affirming (a key component in Ignatian spirituality is finding God in all of creation), comprehensive (open to the study of all things human), and prescriptive of freedom from ignorance, prejudice, and distorted values (authentic education seeks the truth). For Carroll, education led to a tolerance of various ideas from which the truth of the Catholic faith could emerge.
“What, then, can we learn from John Carroll that is applicable to a Jesuit University today? Obviously, there are many lessons. But if we focus on Carroll’s comment about combining the best of Catholic and American culture, two ways of proceeding present themselves for consideration. The first is the importance of Ignatian spirituality in Jesuit schools, and the second is the need for an on- going conversation with the world.
“First, Ignatian spirituality is the foundation on which every Jesuit university is built and should be the engine that makes a Jesuit university run. The purpose of Jesuit higher education is to form men and women for others, leaders in service to humanity. That commitment should permeate everything that happens here at John Carroll including teaching, learning, counseling, administration, service projects, development, and alumni relations. Ignatian spirituality should be at the heart of every Jesuit university in word and deed. … a Jesuit university must pursue those goals with courage and perseverance, always aware that Ignatius teaches us to seek God in all things.
“Second, just as John Carroll desired his college be in conversation with America, in this global age, Jesuit universities must be in conversation with the world. A commitment to be in conversation with the world is one of the best characteristics of American culture. As a Jesuit university, John Carroll should approach that conversation not from the shifting sands of relativism but from the vantage point of faith seeking understanding. The hard questions must be asked; authentic answers must be sought, for this is a university. But as a Jesuit university, John Carroll should start and travel and come to rest in the one God who is both the heart of love and the essence of truth beyond all we can imagine.
“Archbishop John Carroll began that authentically Jesuit quest in the U.S. That is why we honor him. For 125 years, John Carroll University has continued his mission. That is why this is a strong university. I pray you always will remain true to John Carroll’s original vision and strive to combine the best of Catholic and American culture for the good of humanity and the glory of God.” JCU
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