Here in the oldest neighborhood of Washington, D.C., we have the oldest Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Georgetown University is a presence for us beyond our own benefits of wisdom.
To reach its place today, its early leaders had to move past religious persecution in the American colonies, and the school grew along with the new American Republic.
The university’s first student, William Gaston of North Carolina, went on to represent his state in Congress and also assured that the bill to give his college the power to grant degrees was signed by President James Madison.
In 1861, students left the college for the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln visited the campus, which housed Federal troops. The school colors become blue and gray in 1876 to symbolize the reunion of North and South.
It was in the late 1870s that Georgetown University’s iconic Healy Hall was constructed (it took a while to finish and put a stronger footing, ready for the 20th century).
Its 48th president, John DeGioia, the first layman to lead it, will be its longest-serving one by August. Beginning as a student here, he has 39 years of an “enduring connection.”
“The characteristic spirit of Georgetown is that it’s a place that expects you bring out the best of those around you” — and thus in yourself as well, he told us during an interview for the cover story. We know he meant the university. We also think he was talking about our neighborhood.