John Carroll has been sitting in Healy Circle since 1912, greeting hundreds of thousands of people over the last century. He sits on his granite perch, placidly and pensively. The inscription on the front of the statue reads: “John Carroll – Founder.” Most of us probably know this much about him: He founded Georgetown University in 1789.

But there is more to John Carroll than meets the eye. In the countless times that you have crossed Healy Circle, have you noticed what is etched on the back of the statue? Three words sum up his significance to Georgetown as a Jesuit and Catholic university, as we celebrate the inauguration of another American president: “Priest – Patriot – Prelate.”

Priest. That title rightly takes pride of place, for Carroll was, first and foremost, a Jesuit priest. He grew up in the colony of Maryland but experienced religious intolerance there, so his family sent him to study at Jesuit schools in Europe. Like many men who studied under the Jesuits – including myself, here on the Hilltop – Carroll was inspired by his teachers to join the Society of Jesus, the religious order founded by St. Ignatius in 1540. He returned to his home as a Jesuit priest at a time when the newly independent colonies were building a nation.

Patriot. Carroll came from a well-connected family – his cousin Charles signed the Declaration of Independence. Carroll knew George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall. He esteemed the freedoms upon which the republic was based, particularly freedom of religion. Having personally experienced discrimination because of his Catholic faith, Carroll insisted that Georgetown would be open to students of different faiths and that it would have an international reach (its first catalog was published in three languages other than English).

Founding Georgetown in the same year as the republic’s birth, Carroll imagined that his academy would serve both Church and nation. His Jesuits would not only help students grow in learning and faith, but they would instill in them the virtues necessary to be good citizens who would devotedly serve their country. This is exactly what St. Ignatius had in mind when founding the first Jesuit schools: Educate for excellence, so that graduates would have a greater impact on civic life.

Prelate. Carroll was named the first bishop of the United States. He was responsible for organizing the growing numbers of priests and religious brothers and sisters in the new nation. Carroll saw no conflict between his role as prelate and citizen. He vigorously defended the fledgling nation as the best means to protect human freedom; at the same time, the faith that he loved showed him how best to order that freedom: for the greater glory of God and the “help of souls” (to put it in familiar Jesuit terms).

Georgetown’s founding coincided with the inauguration of the first president of the United States. On Tuesday, we will witness, not far from Healy Gates, the inauguration of our 44th President. Much has changed over the last two centuries, but Georgetown’s mission remains the same: We are dedicated to the integration of learning, faith and service. We strive to form character and instill virtue as the surest means to a happy, fulfilling life – which is a life lived for others. More important than the titles and accolades that our alumni proudly earn is the content of their character. The lasting measure for Georgetown as a Jesuit and Catholic university is not simply what our students do, but who they become as persons.

Amid the excitement that this long weekend will bring to campus, take some time to reflect on the meaning of your education to the community, country and world beyond us. Join President DeGioia and the chaplains of campus ministry for a “Prayer for the Nation” at 4 p.m. today in Gaston Hall. This is a fitting way to begin the weekend, as we celebrate a nation and a university, the foundations and destinies of which have been intertwined.

And walk by the statue of John Carroll one more time. Notice the thoughtful look on his face. His head does not face straight down O Street, but is slightly turned to the District, to the seat of government established not long after the first student walked on this campus. Carroll seems to be telling us something: Be grateful for what you have here, but don’t be too content to stay on the Hilltop. Luxuriate in great ideas, but then put them to use and forge your character in the world that lies beyond the gates.

Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1988 and is executive director of campus ministry. He can be reached at As This Jesuit Sees It. appears every other Friday, with Fr. Maher, Fr. O’Brien and Fr. Schall alternating as writers.

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