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John Carroll (1735-1815): Founder of Georgetown College

This guide highlights primary and secondary sources available in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections for research on Archbishop John Carroll



John Carroll grew up in Maryland, one of seven children of Daniel and Eleanor Darnall Carroll. Daniel was born in Ireland, settled in Upper Marlborough, and became a merchant.  Eleanor came from a wealthy family and was educated in Europe.

In pre-Revolutionary America, there were laws, not always enforced, which prohibited Roman Catholics from holding public office, publicly celebrating Mass, or operating schools. As a result of the latter prohibition, John was sent to Europe aged thirteen to be educated in  Catholic schools there. He then entered the Jesuit Order and would likely have remained in Europe working as a teacher and administrator but for the suppression of the Jesuit Order by the Pope in 1773. Returning to Maryland in 1774, he saw the American Revolution sweep away legal restrictions against Catholics. In 1789, the year he became the first Catholic Bishop in the United States, he bought the first acre of land for Georgetown College, the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the new republic.

The timeline below, while not intended to be exhaustive, presents some key dates in Archbishop Carroll’s life in chronological order.  




Born on January 8 in Upper Marlborough, Prince George’s County, Maryland


1747 or 1748


Attends Bohemia Academy in Cecil County, Maryland. Laws prohibiting Catholics from operating school (not consistently enforced) make this school an illegal enterprise




Travels to Europe with his cousin Charles Carroll (who later signs the Declaration of Independence) and enrolls at St. Omers College in Flanders




Daniel Carroll, his father, dies




Enters the Jesuit Novitiate in Watten, Flanders, on September 8




Begins studies in philosophy and theology at Liege




Is ordained as a priest and is appointed as instructor at the Jesuit College in Bruges




Pronounces final vows as a Jesuit




Travels through Europe as tutor and companion to Charles-Philippe, son of Charles, Lord Stourton, an English Catholic nobleman




Pope Clement XIV suppresses the Jesuit Order




Serves as Chaplain to Henry Arundell, 8th Baron Arundell of Wardour, in Wiltshire, England




Sails from England to return to Maryland after an absence of 26 years




At the request of the Continental Congress, travels to Canada with Benjamin Franklin and others to seek Canadian support against the British

Builds St. John’s Chapel on his mother’s estate in Forest Glen, Maryland as a base for his ministry




Is appointed Prefect-Apostolic of the United States by the Pope on June 9 (on the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin). Under his jurisdiction are twenty-four priests who minister to a Catholic population of around 25,000

Publishes An Address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of America, the first work by an American Catholic author to be published in the United States

Meets at White Marsh with former Jesuits where his plan of organization for the Catholic Church in the United States is adopted




First publicly discusses his idea for a Catholic institution of higher learning




Circulates a fundraising letter and Proposals For Establishing an Academy, at George-Town, Potowmack-River, Maryland in the spring




Selects a site for his Academy in Georgetown, then a town of about 1,500 and the leading tobacco port in the area. Construction begins on the site in April




Buys the first acre of land for Georgetown College on January 23

Is elected by fellow priests as the first Catholic Bishop in the United states on May 18, an election approved by Pope Pius VI on November 6




Is consecrated as Bishop on August 15 at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, England




Presides over the first national synod of Catholic clergy in Baltimore on November 7




Issues his first pastoral letter on March 28




Confers Holy orders on Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest to be ordained in the United States, on May 23

Oversees Catholic attendance to the sick and dying during a yellow fever outbreak




Founds the Library Company of Baltimore in December




Is one of the founders of the Humane Impartial Society for the relief of indigent women and of the Baltimore General Dispensary




Names Robert Molyneux (Georgetown College President, 1793-1796 and 1806-1808) as superior of the partially restored Jesuit Order in Maryland




Lays the cornerstone of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on July 7. This is the first  Catholic cathedral built in the United States




Is named the first Catholic Archbishop in the United States on April 8




Dies in Baltimore on December 3




John Carroll statue situated just inside Georgetown University's main gates is dedicated on May 4




Georgetown University celebrates the Bicentennial of Archbishop Carroll’s birth on January 8. After a pontifical mass celebrated in Dahlgren Chapel by Most Rev. Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, the Apostolic Delegate, a wreath is laid at the John Carroll statue




Mural of Archbishop Carroll is completed by New York muralist Margaret Lewis on the staircase leading to the Georgetown President’s Office at the north end of Healy Hall




Darnall Hall, named for Archbishop Carroll’s mother, opens on the north side of the Georgetown campus to house women students




Bicentennial celebration of Archbishop Carroll’s election as Bishop is celebrated at Sacred Heart Chapel, Bowie, Maryland on May 18


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