Patrick Francis Healy (1834-1910) was born into slavery in Georgia. His mother Eliza was also enslaved and his father Michael Healy, a white Irish slave owner, legally owned his mother and their children. According to the Healy family biographer, Eliza and Michael lived "faithfully as a married couple" until her death in 1850. In Georgia it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry.
Laws that decreed that a child's race was inherited from the mother and laws that made people "black" and "white" heavily affected the Healy family. To lessen their impact, Patrick's parents sent him to school in New York where Patrick sought refuge in Catholicism and the adoption of a white identity. He graduated from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and worked toward his goal of becoming a Jesuit priest. He traveled abroad and became fluent in Latin, French, Italian, and German.
Healy entered the Jesuit order in 1850. In 1866, as part of his Jesuit duties, he was sent to Georgetown College to teach philosophy. He became acting president in 1873. Within a year, he became president of Georgetown, the largest Catholic institution in the country and Washington, DC's first college, founded in 1789. Healy transformed Georgetown into a modern university and retired in 1881. According to historian James O'Toole, it was not until the 1960s that Patrick Healy's racial history was revealed. Since then he has been declared the first African American Jesuit and the first African American president of a predominantly white university.
Healy is buried in the Jesuit cemetery on the Georgetown University campus. Healy Hall, designed in the High Victorian style by Smithmeyer and Pelz, was listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1964 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Georgetown University website describes Healy as "the son of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant, and his wife, Mary Eliza, a former slave." This description contradicts the research cited above.