150th Anniversary of College Charter

March 24, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Holy Cross institutional charter by the Bay State’s Civil War governor, John A. Andrew. The College’s first application for a charter was refused by the Massachusetts General Court in 1849 on a variety of grounds,including anti-Catholicism, and the fact that it was an unusual request for a private college charter at a time when the other three colleges were publicly funded. State legislators were fearful that public funds might eventually be drawn in to the support of a school intended to be exclusively for Catholics. Prejudice against the Irish also certainly came into play.

Until 1865, Holy Cross graduates received Georgetown degrees, since the two schools had virtually identical academic programs and Georgetown held a federal rather than a state charter.

By 1865, the scene had changed. Massachusetts Catholics had shed more than their share of blood in the Civil War. Governor Andrew was a great supporter of Holy Cross and, during his term, initiated the practice of the governor delivering an address at the annual commencement–a practice that endured for about a century. Boston College broke the ice, having received its charter two years earlier. And Holy Cross preserved its unusual (among Jesuit colleges) policy of Catholic exclusivity by leaving the point unmentioned in the charter petition. It neither required nor forbade religious exclusivity, leaving the road open for the bishops’ restrictions on admissions to be maintained because they were not explicitly forbidden.

At that time, a Jesuit wrote: “Holy Cross is no longer a secondary branch of Georgetown. It is now a chartered college. The charter was granted with … scarcely any opposition: although much was anticipated. The successful issue was in great measure due to the exertions of Gov. Andrew (who by the by seems not only to be a liberal man towards all classes in general; but towards Catholics in particular.) It is reported that he had a private interview with all the members in order to place the passage of the bill beyond a doubt.”

The governor was guest of honor at a celebratory banquet held on April 21. Also present were the bishops of Boston and Hartford and the Jesuit provincial. James A. Healy (1849), now chancellor of the Diocese of Boston, delivered an address. Afterwards the Dramatic Club performed Edward Bulwer’s play Cardinal Richlieu.


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