FORGETTING FOUNDERS DAY: HOW THE DISAPPEARANCE OF A CAMPUS TRADITION REVEALS THE AMERICANIZATION OF GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY'S CATHOLIC IDENTITY
When John Carroll founded Georgetown University as the first American Catholic college in 1789, he had conducted a radical experiment. Why? Because the term “American Catholic” was considered an oxymoron. Catholics were not thought to exhibit the democratic values that were quintessential to American culture. Consequently, Catholic universities functioned as insular religious communities to protect themselves from the threats of secular Americanism. But as cultural shifts in both Church and country made Catholicism and Americanism more compatible, Catholic universities began to emerge through a process of Americanization. This thesis explores the intimacies of the Americanization process of Catholic higher education in the United States by examining a case study of the nation’s first and oldest Catholic university. This work will argue that the rise and fall of Georgetown University’s annual celebration of Founders Day offers an effective lens to interpret the changing expression of the university’s Catholic identity throughout the mid-twentieth century. “Forgetting Founders Day” posits that the evolution and gradual disappearance of Founders Day as a campus tradition reveals how Georgetown University Americanized its Catholic identity. But could Catholic universities in the United States become modern universities without losing their distinctive Catholic character? This is the question that still plagues Catholic schools to this day. “Forgetting Founders Day” contextualizes these inquiries by investigating the historical roots of Catholic colleges’ ongoing identity crises.
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