A Victim of Jesuit Education

A Victim of Jesuit Education

As a frustrated comedian, I have been writing some of my own lines over the years. I enjoy springing my one-liners on unsuspecting strangers on elevators or at cocktail parties. One of my originals was the admission that I have been a victim of 11 years of Jesuit education. Personally, nothing could be farther than the truth. I enjoyed the learning experiences I had at three Jesuit educational intuitions, Xavier High School, the alma mater of Antonin Scalia, the College of the Holy Cross, who numbers Clarence Thomas among its alumni and St. Louis University. Had I decided to study History at Notre Dame for a graduate degree, I could have added Amy Coney Barrett to my resume, though that would have ruined the Jesuit theme of this essay.

I owe the Jesuits my intellectual integrity, the depth of my Catholic theological and philosophical foundation and especially the importance of the use of our language. Words are supposed to mean what their definitions prescribe, not create a miasma of nominalist verbal confusion. The Jesuits also taught me, not so much what to think, but how to reason and apply logic. I do not have that certainty or confidence in what is being taught and learned at the Cross today. Like so many of their collegiate peers, I suspect that students seem more interested in social ferment than seeking the underlying truth and wisdom of our Civilization. Many professors seek more to indoctrinate their students with their own Weltanschauung, instead of opening new vistas for their student to adapt, judge or reject.

I sensed that things where changing at the Cross when Justice Thomas matriculated in the seventies. He was sowing his radical roots then and even sported an Afro coiffure. Blacks student started attending Holy Cross in larger numbers, thanks largely to the efforts of Father John Brooks, who was president of the college for many years.  

Eventually, Holy Cross had enough black students to allow them their own Black Student Union building. That very thought seems contrary to the long years of fight for desegregation of all American colleges. While Holy Cross was never a segregated campus, we only had three American black students when I was there and only one graduated.

All over the country teachers, religious and students and many others spent many years fighting for integrated campuses. Just when the battle seemed won, black students, not the white ones, wanted to segregate themselves from their fellow white students. Something in this equation does not compute.

I have seen the situation deteriorate during the last few years as Holy Cross students and some alumni are trying to alter or replace some of the college’s symbols and traditions. The Papal Crusades of the 11th-16th century have been unfairly subjected to ideological revisionism. Like the Inquisition, the Crusades and other Dark Legends of Catholic History, have been rewritten to include far more fiction than fact. Post-modern historians have reshaped their truth from one of a defensive stance against the Islamic invasions of Europe in the 8th and 16th centuries to an imperial invasion of the peaceful Islamic world. Only the Christian heroism of Charles Martel staved off the assault of Paris in 732, as did Don Juan fleet at Lepanto in 1571 save Italy. Both battles saved Western Civilization from a cultural transformation. Several Papacies failed, through legitimate Crusades, to wrest the Holy Land of both Judaism and Christianity from its Muslim conquers. These heroic events, despite’s the violent flaws of some of its participants, were a worthy period in Christian history.

I have always been proud of being a Holy Cross Crusader. A few years ago, there was a rumble from the school’s faculty and students that the Crusader did not properly represent the school’s progressive values. Our alumni voted to maintain the Cross’ Catholic historical identity, which dates back, not just to 11th century, but the 4th century when the emperor Constantine the Great publicly recognized the faith as worthy of protection. Though a pagan, he had a legendary epiphany at the Milvian Bridge, where he won a great victory in 312. 

The Christian historian Eusebius, who admitted he heard the story long after it had happened, wrote that others had heard from the emperor himself that the night before the battle, Constantine saw a vision in his dreams of a cross-shaped trophy formed from light above the sun at midday.  About the time of the midday sun, when the day was just turning, he said he saw with his own eyes up in the sky and resting over the sun, ‘a cross-shaped trophy formed from light,’ and a text attached to it which said, in Latin though they usually were offered in Greek, are often rendered in a Latin version, ‘in hoc signo vinces,’ which translates In this sign, you will conquer.

That Latin phrase is embedded in my class ring and I get a chill every time I read it. I often wonder how many of the college’s student believe that today. Despite our winning vote, I see hints that Purple Knights are surreptitiously replacing Crusader as the school’s mascot on its sportswear and athletic apparel. Even that term came under attack because it did not include women.

In my most recent issue of the Holy Cross Magazine, I read what may be categorized as a truncated version of Holy Cross President, Father Philip Boroughs’ Farewell Address, after almost nine years of being the school’s president. In it he referenced the urban violence, Black Lives Matter and what I call statue tipping. At least two Saints of our Church have had their statues vandalized. One of them bears the name of a fellow Jesuit university. St. Louis, though a king and not a religious, is the patron saint of the city where I have lived since 1969. Fortunately his ornate statue, overlooking our scenic Forest Park, was defended and protected by local Catholics who revered the city’s namesake. His secular crime was that he was a Crusader. Louis the IX died in Tunis of illness during his return from the 7th Crusade in 1270.  

Father Boroughs also announced the results of a lingering school issue in its college building nomenclature. In 2015 he created the Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee, whose sole purpose was to re-examine the appropriateness of their names on two of the college’s dormitories. The former was built the year after I graduated in 1965, while Healy is where I roomed my senior year. Both were named after Jesuit priests. The Healy case seems to have been a farce.

Patrick Francis Healy was born in Georgia to a plantation owner. His father sent him north to be educated, first in New York and later at Holy Cross. Healy was a scholastic, teaching at Holy Cross in 1853 when he received his financial legacy. The evidence against him was based solely on Healy’s inheritance from his father’s estate, which amounted to $2300. The estate sold its 49 slaves, so part of this was money from the slave trade. Since he had taken a vow of poverty, he could not accept his portion of the inheritance. His superiors gave him permission to donate the money to Holy Cross, which was rebuilding from a devastating fire the previous year. The irony of his situation was that he was born of a mulatto slave woman. Since his father was a white Irish immigrant and in the eyes of the law, owned his wife and children as slaves. Healy was then legally a slave by birth. In 1864, he received his doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain and returned to Georgetown University to become the chair of philosophy. Healy was promoted to prefect, and in 1874, was made the president of Georgetown University. While his fellow Jesuits were aware of his mixed race, he readily self-identified as white. According to historians, it was not until the 1960s that Patrick’s racial history was revealed declaring him the first African American Jesuit and First African American president of a predominantly white university.

His older brother James presumably inherited a similar amount from the same source. No mention seems to have been made of his case at Holy Cross, where he matriculated, or at Georgetown where he was also president. The same may be also assumed of a third brother, Sherwood Healy. He had a similar experience to that of his brothers. He travelled up north where he attended Holy Cross. Born in 1836, Sherwood became one of the best educated priests of his day. After being ordained in 1858 in Paris, he went on to earn a doctorate in Canon Law in Rome. 

Father Thomas F. Mulledy was the more serious case. The facts of his situation are these: in 1838, Father Mulledy was serving as the provincial of the Maryland Province, which included Georgetown College, the nation’s first Catholic school of higher learning. At Georgetown, Mulledy undertook a significant building campaign, which resulted in Gervase Hall and Mulledy Hall, renamed Isaac Hawkins Hall in 2015. Mulledy’s building program left Georgetown College—and, by extension, the Maryland Jesuits—with considerable debt.

To rectify the province’s finances, Mulledy as provincial, sold nearly all the slaves owned by the Jesuit Maryland Province to two planters in Louisiana, namely Jesse Batey and Henry Johnson on June 19, 1838. This plan had been authorized by the Jesuit Superior General in Rome, Jan Roothaan, on the condition that the slave families not be separated and that they be sold to owners that would allow them to continue in their Catholic faith. Despite Roothaan’s order, it soon became evident that families were, indeed, separated.

The sale resulted in outcry from his fellow Jesuits and censure by Church authorities in Rome. He was encouraged to resign, which he did the day he received Roothaan’s letter of censure for his conduct in the slave sale affair. Following Mulledy’s meeting with Roothaan in Rome, he was exiled to Nice in the Kingdom of Piedmont- Sardinia to teach English to young boys. During his five-year assignment, Mulledy wrote to Roothaan of his feelings of loneliness and sense of being abandoned. Alcohol became a consistent problem in combating his loneliness.

Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick of Boston established the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1843. Following Roothaan’s permission for Mulledy to leave Europe, Fenwick requested that Mulledy be appointed the first president of the college. Mulledy accepted this position and first arrived at Worcester on March 13, 1843.

He oversaw the construction of the school’s first building, whose cornerstone was laid on June 21, 1843. Originally known as the College building, it was later named Fenwick Hall and was entirely destroyed by fire in 1852. Mulledy first lived in a farmhouse at the foot of the hill on which the college was built, along with a Jesuit candidate and a Jesuit brother. The college building was completed on January 13, 1844.

Relations between Mulledy and Fenwick were strained by the fact that Mulledy wished to have independence in deciding to accept candidates for the Jesuit novitiate. Mulledy eventually prevailed on this matter. Moreover, within three months of the college’s opening, Mulledy received directions from Fenwick to significantly curtail the college’s expenses, admonishing him to exercise greater frugality. He was unable to offset operating costs with tuition fees and other income in light of steadily increasing enrollment and accompanying overcrowding. Given Mulledy’s worsening relationship with Fenwick, his presidency came to an end in 1845 and he returned to Georgetown.

In the fall of 1854, Mulledy came back to Holy Cross, where he was made the prefect of studies and spirituality. He remained in this position until 1857. When asked to teach Latin and Ancient Greek, he declined on the grounds that his competence in the subjects had diminished with age. Instead, Mulledy much preferred to deliver sermons, of which he compiled a file. With the rise of the Know Nothing movement across the United States, and their subsequent 1854 victory in winning control of the Massachusetts General Court, a Joint Special Committee on the Inspection of Nunneries and Convents was formed to investigate Catholic institutions. A fantastic rumor began circulating in July of that year that Holy Cross was being used as a weapons depot for an eventual Catholic revolution. Consequently, the committee arrived in March to investigate the college and was escorted around the premises by Mulledy. Upon finding no truth to the rumor, they left.

The peripatetic Mulledy once again returned to Washington in 1857, where he served as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown until 1858. He then went again to Philadelphia for two years, the latter of which he spent as superior at Saint Joseph’s College. Mulledy died of dropsy on July 20, 1860, at Georgetown College. He was buried in the Jesuit Community Cemetery on Georgetown’s campus. Father Mulledy was not as fortunate as Healy. His name, as well as his legacy will be cancelled and his name removed from the building that bears it, 54 years after it was christened. Sic transit gloria mundi!

The Mulledy/Healy Committee raises many more questions than it answered.  First of all, the Healy name still is attached to my old dorm because there was not a shred of evidence that Father Healy had done anything wrong. By Georgia law, he was de facto his father’s chattel. Yet it took the committee several meetings to arrive at their decision. As for Father Mulledy the larger questions are how and why did the Jesuit Community in Maryland happen to own any slaves? Did Father Mulledy participate in their acquisition? Or was it someone’s inheritance? If that were the case the legacy should have been denied. It seems that the Jesuit Superior General in Rome, Jan Roothaan should bear a large part of the blame for this sale since he approved it, despite his unrealistic conditions for the sale. Father Mulledy certainly will never be a candidate for sainthood. The evidence is unclear if Mulledy disregarded the Superior’s idealistic terms or whether the buyers agreed to it and conveniently did what they pleased with their property. But why has not the committee shown some modicum of forgiveness for the man they once honored? 

Surely a five-year exile away from fellow Jesuits, family and friends was a pretty steep punishment for a priest whose main sin smacked of pure Jesuitical practicality. His community had a serious need and since they already owned the slaves, he was actually divesting them from the Order. What other choices did this native Virginian have? To release them was to abandon them to the perils of being black freemen and women in an area that saw them as dangerous threats. This was the horns of the dilemma suffered by Presidents Washington and Jefferson. This was 1838, not 1938. It seems the Legacy Committee was guilty of the historical fallacy of Presentism, judging the conduct and context of the past by those of the present. I find their judgment, not only is not only callous but uncharitable toward one of their own. Could it be that both Fathers Mulledy and Healy were victims of Jesuit education, more than a century and a half after they lived?

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Written by
William Borst