Statue of John Carroll at Georgetown University

John Carroll was born in 1735, and grew up to become the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States, serving as the ordinary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  He founded the first diocesan parish in the country, St. John the Evangelist Parish of Rock Creek (now Forest Glen), located in Montgomery County, Maryland.  And he also oversaw the construction of the first cathedral in the United States, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is located in Baltimore and is where he was buried in 1815.

Among these and his many other accomplishments, John Carroll is also known as the founder of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States.  Carroll was a supporter and advocate for education, which for him included a focus on the education of the faithful, providing proper training for priests, and the inclusion of women in higher education.  Based on this, a number of other educational institutions have also been named after him, including: Archbishop Carroll High School here in D.C.; The John Carroll School, a private college-preparatory Catholic high school in nearby Bel Air, Maryland, and; John Carroll University in Ohio.

To honor Carroll, a bronze statue honoring him sits prominently inside Georgetown University’s front gates, in the traffic circle in front of Healy Hall (MAP).  Fund raising for the statue to honor Carroll began in 1909, with the grand unveiling ceremony planned for May 4, 1912.  A number of prominent political and public figures were scheduled to make speeches at the unveiling ceremony, including the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who had graduated from Georgetown in 1860.  Others scheduled to participate included the Attorney General (who was representing President Howard Taft), the Speaker of the House, and the Cardinal of the Washington Diocese.  Unfortunately, after the final plans for the ceremony had been made and the invitations had been sent out, the foundry notified the university that the statue would not be ready in time.  Deciding not to postpone the ceremony, Georgetown officials ordered a plaster cast of the statue, which was then painted (in similar fashion to the statue for D.C.’s Maine Lobsterman Memorial).  The plaster copy of the statue was then duly unveiled in front of thousands.  Years later, Brother James Harrington, who was in charge of workmen on the Georgetown campus at the time, revealed the deception.  Harrington recalled, “Weeks later, in the dead of night, today’s bronze statue was substituted for the spurious one and no one was the wiser.”

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