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Georgetown's Catholic and Jesuit Identity

The Beginnings: A Unique Vision

Georgetown University began with the vision of John Carroll, an American-born, European-educated Jesuit priest who returned to the United States in 1773 with the goal of securing the future of American Catholicism through education -- in particular, through the establishment of a preeminent Catholic place of higher learning.

As America's first Catholic bishop and a strong supporter of the American Revolution, Carroll firmly believed that a Catholic institution could make a major contribution to the political, cultural, and educational life of the fledgling nation. In 1789, he acquired the deed to a plot of land overlooking the Potomac River outside the village of George-Town for the "Academy at George-Town." The school was, in the emerging tradition of American religious tolerance, to be open to "every class of citizens" and students of "every religious profession."

Carroll saw Georgetown as an academically rigorous Catholic academy with a diverse student body. The vision of John Carroll continues to be realized today in a distinctive educational institution -- a national University rooted in the Catholic faith and Jesuit tradition, committed to spiritual inquiry, engaged in the public sphere, and invigorated by religious and cultural pluralism.

Contributing to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

Catholicism's rich and diverse intellectual tradition has long been an integral part of Georgetown's academic life. Georgetown continues to enrich the intellectual life of the Church through the many contributions of its programs, faculty, and students. Individuals and initiatives strengthen and affirm Georgetown's Catholic and Jesuit character in a variety of ways.

  • The Core Curriculum. All Georgetown students are required to take two courses in Philosophy and Theology. The first course a student takes in philosophy must be in either general philosophy or ethics. The introductory Problem of God course or Introduction to Biblical Literature plus one elective are required for Theology. Upper-level course offerings in philosophy include: "Catholic Social Thought," "Dante & the Christian Imagination," "Moral Theory of Thomas Aquinas," and "Ethics of Aristotle/Aquinas." Theology course offerings include: "Introduction to Catholic Theology," "Making Saints: The Catholic Tradition," "The Jesuits: Spirituality and History," "Newman: The Catholic Way," and "The Church in the Modern World."

  • The Catholic Studies Program. Developed into an academic minor, Georgetown's innovative Catholic Studies Program allows students to take individual courses or to focus their studies on the history, spirituality, and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Institute of Ethics. Established at Georgetown University in 1971, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics is a teaching and research center offering ethical perspectives on major policy issues. It is the largest university-based group of faculty members in the world devoted to research and teaching in biomedical ethics and other areas of applied ethics.

  • Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Georgetown houses the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a social science religious institute that has, since 1964, conducted social scientific research pertaining to the Catholic Church or other topics related to the social or ecumenical mission of the Church.

  • Center for Clinical Bioethics. The Center for Clinical Bioethics was founded in 1991 by Edmund Pellegrino, M.D., who remains an active member of the center's faculty. The center provides educational programs and consultation services for patients and health care professionals, reflecting Georgetown's deep commitment to its Catholic foundations. Currently under the direction of Sister Carol Taylor, CSFN, RN, MSN, PhD, the center serves the entire Medical Center with its expertise in clinical medical ethics. Center faculty provide a 24-hour ethics consultation service, serve on ethics committees, lecture, and mentor. They also conduct research, organize colloquia, teach courses, and instruct on teaching rounds.

  • Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Created in 1993 by Georgetown University and Fondation pour l'Entente entre Chreitiens et Musulmans (Geneva) to achieve a better understanding between Islam and Christianity and between the Muslim world and the West, the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding focuses on history and international relations.

  • Leading Scholars of Catholicism. Georgetown's faculty includes Catholic theologians and philosophers who contribute directly to the intellectual life of the Church, as well as many Catholic English professors, legal scholars, canon law experts, scientists, physicians, historians, linguists, and social scientists who contribute to the Catholic intellectual tradition through their pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Recent Achievements, Awards and Events

Georgetown University inaugurated the Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. Chair in Catholic Social Thought in 2004. Dr. Peter Phan, a theologian and expert in global Catholicism, serves as the first Ellacuria Chair, situated in the Department of Theology in Georgetown College.

In recent years, a number of Georgetown faculty members received prestigious awards for teaching, scholarship, and service in light of the Catholic tradition, including:

  • In June 2003, CARA received the Catholic Press Association’s first place award for excellence in general-interest newsletters for its quarterly publication, The CARA Report.

  • Georgetown University Associate Professor of Psychology and Biology Janet Mann received a 2004 Alpha Sigma Nu National Jesuit Book Award Honorable Mention for her book Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Dolphins and Whales (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

  • Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) received the 2004 Lumen Gentium Award from the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development (CPPCD). The award is presented yearly in recognition of distinguished pastoral leadership and influence on people and Church programs, while raising awareness of the principles of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium.

Georgetown hosted a lecture series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the papal encyclical Pacem in Terris during the 2004-05 academic year. The Pacem in Terris series examines issues and prospects in the global imperative for peace with a series of presentations by distinguished scholars, religious leaders, and human rights activists from around the world. Prominent speakers included Ambassador Tony Hall,  Jonathan Kozol, Professor Andrea Riccardi, and Dr. Paul Farmer.

Georgetown hosted its sixth-annual Jesuit Heritage Week in February 2006, which featured presentations from Georgetown alumni and faculty, discussions and lectures, experiences of Jesuit spirituality, and religious services.

In April 2006, Georgetown University, the Comunità di Sant'Egidio, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic University of America cosponsored an international interreligious conference on peace, "International Prayer for Peace 2006, A Meeting of Peoples and Religions in the Spirit of Assisi," annually organized by the Community since 1987, the year after the Prayer for Peace called in Assisi by Pope John Paul II. The Comunità di Sant'Egidio has established a network of friendships between representatives of different faiths and cultures from more than seventy countries, promoting an annual pilgrimage that has taken place throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Prayer for Peace gathering was held, for the first time in the and in its twentieth year, at Georgetown University.

Georgetown's Jesuit Community

The Society of Jesus has been an integral part of the University throughout its history. While the University and the Jesuit Community are distinct and separately governed entities, they are united in the long tradition and common spirit of learning and faith that characterize Georgetown.

The Jesuits who live and work at the University are a visible sign of Georgetown's ongoing commitment to its Catholic, Jesuit heritage. President John J. DeGioia created a Jesuit seminar for members of Georgetown's board of directors and other senior University officers to specifically discuss the Catholic and Jesuit tradition and the ways that tradition relates to and enhances Georgetown's educational mission, diversity and future initiatives.

In 2005-2006, 58 members of the Society of Jesus lived on campus -- in the residence halls and in the Jesuit Community. Twenty-eight Jesuits held teaching positions in the University. An additional 13 Jesuits served the Georgetown community in traditional pastoral capacities, work as administrators and scholars, and as friends, advisers, and mentors to students. Another eight are retired, and the remaining members of the Jesuit Community on campus are engaged in graduate studies or other assignments in Washington.


The Woodstock Theological Center. Georgetown's Jesuit Community houses the Woodstock Theological Center, a nonprofit independent research institute sponsored by the New York and Maryland Provinces of the Society of Jesus that addresses topics of social, economic, and political importance from a theological and ethical perspective.

The Woodstock Theological Library, housed as a special collection in the Lauinger Library, is one of the leading Catholic theological libraries in the Western Hemisphere. The library has approximately 170,000 volumes and receives annually 700 periodical titles.

Campus Ministry

Georgetown University's Office of Campus Ministry promotes the Jesuit educational mission of caring for mind, body and spirit. Through religious services, retreats, special programs and pastoral care, Campus Ministry fosters the spiritual life of the University, affording faculty, staff and students of all faiths the opportunity to worship within their respective traditions.

Assisted by Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim chaplains, Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Timothy S. Godfrey, S.J., oversees Campus Ministry programs. From its inception in 1789, Georgetown has welcomed students of -- in the words of founder Archbishop John Carroll -- "every religious profession."

In the late 18th century, approximately one-fifth of the university's student body were Protestant. In Fall 2004, 52.6 percent of undergraduates self-reported that they were Roman Catholic, 5.3 percent Jewish, 2.1 percent Muslim, and 24.1 percent another Christian denomination.

Campus Ministry is nationally recognized for its retreat programs and a multitude of religious worship services. In 2004-2005, the office sponsored more than 200 programs and special worship services.

The Mass, the Sacraments, and Other Religious Services

The Mass of the Holy Spirit. The Georgetown community celebrates the beginning of each new school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit on the Healy Lawn and at the Law Center. Annual Celebrations. Mass is celebrated at Commencement each year. Masses for Jesuit feasts and Holy Days of Obligation are publicized by the Office of Campus Ministry. Special Masses are held at the Medical School each year on the Feast of St. Luke and other important days. The Main Campus, the Law Center, and the School of Medicine each hold a new student orientation Mass at the beginning of each year.

Places of Worship on Campus. Georgetown's campus is graced by seven chapels: the Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart, Copley Crypt Chapel of the North American Martyrs, St. William Chapel, St. Thomas More Law Center Chapel, the Medical Center Chapel, St. Ignatius Medical School Chapel, and the Dahlgren Crypt Chapel.

Crucifixes and Religious Symbolism. The University has placed a wide variety of crosses and crucifixes, with descriptions of their particular significance, in all Main Campus classroom buildings, with the exception of the Bunn Intercultural Center, where there are rotating symbols of the various faith traditions represented on campus. Daily Mass. The Mass is celebrated two times a day Monday through Friday in Georgetown's historic Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart. Six Sunday Masses are regularly filled with students, faculty, staff, and visitors to campus. Mass is celebrated daily and on Sundays at the Medical Center's Hospital Chapel and the Law Center's St. Thomas More Chapel. In addition, daily Mass is celebrated three times a week in the Medical School's St. Ignatius Chapel. Daily Mass is televised throughout the Georgetown Hospital. Liturgies area offered in English, Korean, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Worship Services. Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim worship takes place on campus in services organized by the Office of Campus Ministry and student groups. Bible studies, daily retreats, and Sunday worship services in the Protestant tradition take place on campus. The Jewish Student Association and the Jewish Ministry staff hold a Shabbat dinner each Friday. A Muslim prayer room in Copley Hall is used for Islamic prayer and worship daily and there is a large Muslim community worship service each Friday. On Tuesdays, there is an Orthodox prayer service on Tuesday evenings in Copley Crypt.

Interfaith and Ecumenical Liturgies. Interfaith opportunities are an integral part of campus life at Georgetown. In addition to specific faith services, the Office of Campus Ministry provides opportunities for interfaith prayer and dialogue throughout the school year. Events include interfaith dialogues, Hallelujah Shabbat, Interfaith Seder, an interfaith art exhibit, and the Interfaith Baccalaureate Service.

Catholic Prayer Services and Sacraments. In addition to the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation is offered weekly in Dahlgren Chapel and in patients' rooms in the University hospital. Marriages and confirmations are celebrated in Dahlgren Chapel, and anointing of the sick is available to the hospital patients.

Retreat Programs. Georgetown's nationally recognized retreat programs offer a broad range of options to all students, with specific retreats available to students of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. Programs range from overnight experiences featuring group discussions and reflections to Five-Day Ignatian retreats. In 2004-2005, nearly 600 students participated in Campus Ministry-sponsored retreat programs.

Student Volunteerism. Georgetown has more than 20 student-run volunteer organizations involving hundreds of volunteers who touch the lives of thousands of individuals throughout the Washington, D.C. area. Nearly 1,400 students are currently involved in District service projects, that involve tutoring and mentoring youth and providing food and housing to those in need.

The Catholic Schools Project. Two English courses taught by Professor John Hirsh provide Georgetown students the opportunity to receive training in literacy tutoring and assist youth in District Catholic schools in developing reading, writing, and language arts.

Fora, Lectures, and Symposia. Georgetown has long been a place where issues of importance to the Church and society can be discussed in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect. A sign of a healthy university community is the existence of an intellectual vitality in which a great range of ideas are expressed and considered. Our Speech and Expression Policy reflects our Catholic and Jesuit heritage in its inherent inclusive nature. This policy affords all of our students, faculty, and staff, both in and out of the Catholic community, the right to free thought and expression.

As a Catholic institution of higher learning, committed to the freedom of speech, Georgetown also proactively ensures that the opportunity for reflection and discussion on Catholic thought and teachings is made available through academic courses and programs, residence life, religious services, retreats, and campus ministry efforts.

In recent years, the following noteworthy figures have enhanced discussions of faith and religion on Georgetown's campus:

  • Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington
  • Fr. Gerald O'Collins, S.J., Gregorian University
  • Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg
  • Archbishop Martin Fitzgerald, M.Afr., member of Society of the Missionaries of Africa
  • Professor Andrea Riccardi, founder, Sant'Egidio Community
  • Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.
  • His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet
  • Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago (deceased)
  • Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
  • Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop of Malines, Brussels, Belgium
  • E.J. Dionne Jr., Columnist, The Washington Post, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, President, Catholic Charities U.S.A.
  • Dr. Dorothy Height, National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)
  • Samuel Kofi Woods, Human Rights Leader
  • Jean Vanier, Founder, L'Arche
  • Rev. Jack Mahoney, S.J.
  • Sister Helen Prejean, Death Penalty Activist, author of Dead Man Walking
  • Rev. Michael Place, president, Catholic Health Association of America
  • Francis Eugene Cardinal George, O.M.I., archbishop of Chicago
  • Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with states, Vatican City
  • Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiu, Santiago, Cuba
  • Patriarch Alexei II, Russian Orthodox Church
  • Rev. John O'Malley, S.J., author of "The First Jesuits"
  • Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
  • Serge Klarsfeld, French Holocaust historian
  • Bishop Franjo Komarica, Banja-Luca, Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Msgr. George G. Higgins, Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace
  • Imam W. Deen Mohammed, Muslim American Spokesperson
  • Fred Kammer, S.J., president, Catholic Charities USA
  • Antonin Scalia (C'57), U.S. Supreme Court Justice
June 16, 2005