Georgetown Celebrates Carroll’s History in France

November 2, 2017 — The story of Georgetown starts with Archbishop John Carroll, the Maryland native who saw a need for a Jesuit educational institution in his homeland.

Where does the founder’s story begin? In some ways, Georgetown can trace its roots to Saint-Omer, the small town in northern France where Carroll got his first taste of Jesuit education.

Earlier this month, faculty and students from the Department of French traveled to Saint-Omer to celebrate the grand re-opening of the Chapel of the Jesuits, where a young John Carroll studied and worshipped long before founding Georgetown College.

In the 1740s, Carroll left Maryland for Saint-Omer, a town near the Belgian border in the Flanders region. He studied at the Jesuit College of Saint-Omer, where English and French Jesuits taught young Catholic students — including Carroll’s brother Daniel and cousin Charles, both prominent early American politicians.

The Jesuits were banned from France in 1762, and the school at Saint-Omer — including its architectural centerpiece, the Chapel of the Jesuits — fell into disrepair for hundreds of years.

Thanks to a collaboration among the Urban Community of Saint-Omer, the Regional Cultural Affairs Department, the French Heritage Society, the Gould Foundation, and the state of Maryland, the chapel underwent a restoration over the past four years.

As the restoration progressed, Georgetown College’s Department of French sought to reestablish a relationship with the town where its founder was educated. Talks soon began to establish a program for students to travel to Saint-Omer in the summer.

“It is extraordinary the role that John Carroll continues to play to connect different generations across the two sides of the Atlantic,” said French professor Farima Mostowfi.

Professor Deborah Lesko Baker, Chair of the French Department, brought a Georgetown delegation to the chapel’s grand re-opening on October 14.

Lesko Baker provided remarks on the renewed connection between the Hilltop and the town. She cited the John Carroll Summer Internship Program — which sends Georgetown students to Saint-Omer to work and immerse themselves in the local culture — as a lasting mark of their success.

“We look forward to this program’s being a hallmark of student opportunity at Georgetown University, to embody the Jesuit ideal of ‘women and men in service to others’ for many years to come,” Lesko Baker said.

Joining Lesko Baker were Mostowfi — who helped reestablish the relationship between Georgetown and Saint-Omer — and French major Emma Doerfler (C’18), who was one of 13 students who followed in the Georgetown founder’s footsteps last summer.

“Returning to Saint-Omer, I realized that I felt as much at home there as I do on Georgetown’s campus,” Doerfler said. “The people welcomed the Georgetown students this summer with generosity and kindness, and the chance to return for the re-opening of the Chapel was a powerful reminder of the strength of the renewed friendship between Georgetown and Saint-Omer.”

Saint-Omer Mayor Francois Decoster welcomed the Georgetown delegation with a tribute to the two institutions’ shared history.

“This opening is part of the historical relationship between Saint-Omer and the United States,” Decoster said. “We will celebrate, on this occasion, the 275th anniversary of the Carroll family’s arrival, and therefore honor those who contributed so much to forge the American nation.”

— Patrick Curran