Although the Rev. Patrick Francis Healy appeared to look white and lived his life as such, history has proven that he was indeed of African descent. Born into slavery, Healy became the first African-American to earn a PhD On this day in 1865.
Healy was born February 27, 1834 to an Irish farmer and a slave mother of mixed parentage in Macon, Georgia. According to the law in the South, Healy and his siblings were known as slaves although his parents enjoyed a common-law marriage that was kept hidden from others. To see that his children would have equal opportunity, the elder Healy sent his children to the North where they could live free.
Healy and his siblings were raised in the Catholic tradition and the future educator was reared by Quakers. In 1850, Healy joined the Jesuit order, becoming the first African-American to do so. The Quakers then sent Healy to study abroad in Europe and eventually earning his doctorate in Philosophy from the Catholic University of Lueven in Belgium. He then returned to the states to teach at Georgetown University. In 1874, he became the school’s 29th president and, secretly, its first African-American president.
Under his leadership, Georgetown grew to become one of the leading institutions of its time but it was largely unknown that he was born a slave. His siblings also passed for white and enjoyed the privileges that came along with it. While the Healys held fast to their white Irish heritage, history has shown that their roots were Black after all.
Rev. Healy died in 1910.
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