Over the past several months, the College of the Holy Cross, like many other colleges and universities in the United States, has been reflecting on its historical connection with the institution of slavery. The history and legacy of Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J., founder, and the Healy family of Georgia, whose four biracial sons were among the first graduates of Holy Cross, played a distinguishing role in the College’s early years. Their individual and interrelated connection to slavery is complex, and both Fr. Mulledy and Bishop James Healy, the College’s first valedictorian, have residence halls named after them. In mid-November, I charged a committee of faculty, staff, and students to review our history, so that we as an educational community might engage the consequences of that history in our own time. The report of the Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee, which contains the Committee’s charge, the process the Committee undertook, the relevant historical narratives, and the Committee’s recommendations can be found on the committee website. The recommendations focus on two themes: educating the community about our history and the naming of our residence halls.
First, I fully support the Committee’s conclusion that we have a significant responsibility to educate our students, faculty, staff and alumni much more effectively about our historical connection to slavery; that we must determine how we will memorialize this history on our campus; and that we must discern how the implications of our history will affect our institutional way of proceeding in the future. I am grateful that some members of the Committee have volunteered to begin the next phase of this work in the fall by forming a new committee to develop a plan for memorializing this facet of our institutional history. I will assist them in defining their charge and recruiting additional members.
Second, in my initial meeting with the members of the Committee, I asked them to consider “how and why we have named current buildings” and “what insights and concerns are reflected in the naming of our buildings.” Of particular concern at that time was Mulledy Hall, but in our conversations Healy Hall also surfaced for consideration. As a consequence of the Committee members’ deliberations, on-campus listening sessions, and engagement with others through the College’s website, they report that while the responses were fewer than they hoped, there was no desire to change the name of Healy Hall; and there was no clear mandate to change the name of Mulledy Hall.
As the report describes, however, the rationales articulated for keeping the name of Mulledy Hall varied significantly. Some of those opposed to a change believe that removing the Mulledy name might erase our historical connection to issues of slavery from institutional consciousness, and that retaining the name will help to keep these concerns alive on our campus. Others recognize that Fr. Mulledy’s involvement with the selling of 272 Jesuit-owned slaves to pay off Georgetown University’s debt and benefit the Jesuit province occurred some years before he founded Holy Cross; and that chastened by his exile in Europe, which was mandated by his Jesuit superiors, his later service in founding the College is still worth acknowledging. Others indicate that on principle they are not supportive of changing the names of historical buildings at all. Others, however, disagree. Some find Fr. Mulledy’s selling of the slaves reason enough to remove his name from a residence hall. A few suggested that we should rename Mulledy Hall after Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. ’49, in recognition of his efforts to integrate our campus in the late 1960s.
As I stated in my original letter to the College community about this issue, I am personally quite open to a variety of solutions regarding the naming of our buildings, and I entered into this discussion waiting to hear the collective wisdom of the community. Consequently, I do agree with the recommendation of the Committee that we retain Bishop James Healy’s name on our residence hall. The Healy brothers’ success at the College and their extraordinary professional lives which followed, as well as their own struggles with their racial identity in the context of the prejudicial social norms of the time, need to be remembered, understood and discussed by future generations of students, faculty and staff.
While the Committee found no consensus on the issue of retaining or changing the name of Mulledy Hall, I believe how we move forward needs to signal a new consciousness regarding our past connection to slavery, as well as a heightened obligation to continue to reflect on our institutional history and to continue our unfinished work in engaging racial differences on our campus. I can appreciate the value of keeping Fr. Mulledy’s name on the residence hall as a way of ensuring that our history is told in full, and I can see the value in making a change so that it is clear that we are making a break with past injustice.
Consequently, I am recommending to the Board of Trustees, that we combine the best of both instincts. Mulledy Hall now will become Brooks-Mulledy Hall. The year after founding the College, Fr. Mulledy accepted and nurtured the Healy brothers as students, fully aware of their legal status as slaves in their native state of Georgia. Consequently, Fr. Mulledy’s history at Holy Cross is worth remembering, without ignoring his sale of slaves five years earlier when he was provincial. His story, in both its shame and in its growth, plays a part in our institutional narrative. At the same time, we include the Brooks name as a way of signaling another transformative moment in the history of the College. Fr. Brooks, president from 1970 to 1994, actively recruited a number of remarkable African-American men in a deliberate effort to integrate our campus in 1968 while he was a faculty member of the theology department. Shortly thereafter, in the early days of his presidency, Fr. Brooks opened the college to women. Linking the names of these Jesuit presidents and the evolving openness to racial inclusiveness they promoted, creates a bridge between our more recent history and our past, and sets the stage for engaging ongoing issues of inclusivity now and in the future. How we memorialize and tell these stories, and how they provide the context for deeper racial understanding and engagement on our campus will be a test of our character and resolve.
Finally, I also asked the Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee to be aware of other issues of naming and memorialization on our campus which might need to be reviewed. The Committee’s report also signals that members of our community, on-and off-campus, would like us to consider the appropriateness of the “Crusader” mascot in light of our commitment to interreligious understanding. The administration will consider how best to engage in dialogue on this topic when the new academic year begins.
Again, I am grateful for the generous and thoughtful work of the Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee and to all members of the Holy Cross community who offered feedback. As the Committee states in its report: “Our history is, in some ways, a living thing, an ongoing process of reception and interpretation. It is important that we tell that story over and over in a community that is always welcoming new members, and that we tell it accurately. The act of remembering sometimes demands that the College community face painful and unjust moments in its history. We look back on the story of Holy Cross with new insights into our mission and identity and recognize injustices with greater clarity.”
We have much more to do as an institution, and I look forward to our next steps.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.
President, College of the Holy Cross
Comments are closed.