Georgetown's Second Founder

Fr. Giovanni Grassi's News on the Present Condition of the Republic of the United States of North America

Giovanni Grassi
Roberto Severino, Translator
Foreword byRobert Emmett Curran

"This gem of a book warrants a wide readership for its insights into the role of Catholicism in the early republic."
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Observations on the new American republic by an early president of Georgetown University

Father Giovanni Antonio Grassi was the ninth president of Georgetown University and pioneered its transition into a modern institution, earning him the moniker Georgetown’s Second Founder. Originally published in Italian in 1818 and translated here into English for the first time, his News on the Present Condition of the Republic of the United States of North America records his rich observations of life in the young republic and the Catholic experience within it.

When Grassi assumed his post as president in 1812, he found the university, known then as Georgetown College, to be in a “miserable state.” He immediately set out to enlarge and improve the institution, increasing the number of non-Catholics in the school, adding to the library’s holdings, and winning authority from Congress to confer degrees. Upon his return to Italy, Grassi published his News, which introduced Italians to the promise and contradictions of the American experiment in self-governance and offered perspectives on the social reality for Catholics in America.

This book is a fascinating work for historians of Catholicism and of the Jesuits in particular.

Table of Contents

Italian map of the United States, ca. 1812–15 frontispiece


Introduction: Father Giovanni Grassi, SJ, “Second Founder” of Georgetown University



1. News on the Present Condition of the Republic of the United States of Northern America

2. On the Various Sects That Exist in the United States

3. On the Present Condition of the Catholic Religion in the United States

A Contemporary Unicum: The North American Review Piece of 1823


Table of All the Most Remarkable Things to Be Found within the Geography of the United States in North America



"The publication of Fr. Grassi's 1818 account of his time in the United States gives us an Italian Jesuit version of Tocqueville, with useful observations on everything from slavery and the climate to housing design and religion. A marvelous achievement."—John McGreevy, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame and author of American Jesuits and the World: How An Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global

"In his remarkably perceptive account of virtually every important aspect of the young United States, Giovanni Grassi anticipates de Tocqueville by two decades. Besides everything else, the book is a great read."—John W. O'Malley, SJ, university professor, Georgetown University

"The role of the Society of Jesus in the history of American Catholicism cannot be overstated. Through the lens of the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Grassi–former rector of Georgetown College and superior of the Maryland Mission–we gain considerable insight into the place of Catholicism in the United States during the early nineteenth century. Combined with Robert Curran’s informative introduction and afterword, Grassi’s observations bring new light to the Jesuit experience of a nascent Catholic Church in a predominantly Protestant country."—Michael Pasquier, Jaak Seynaeve Professor of Christian Studies and associate professor of religious studies and history, Louisiana State University

"This gem of a book warrants a wide readership for its insights into the role of Catholicism in the early republic."—America Magazine

"...Georgetown’s Second Founder is a required addition to the personal bookshelves of historians of the restored Society of Jesus, of modern Catholicism, and of the Early Republic, among other specialties. Thanks to Severino and Curran, Grassi’s century-old text has received the treatment in English it has long deserved."—Journal of Jesuit Studies


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Father Giovanni Antonio Grassi was born in Schilpario, in the region of Lombardy, Italy, in 1775. He studied in the seminary of Bergamo and joined the Jesuits as a novice in 1799. In 1810 he traveled to the United States, where he met John Carroll, Bishop of Baltimore. Grassi served as president of Georgetown University from 1812 to 1817. He returned to Italy in 1817, where he died in Rome in 1849.

Roberto Severino is a professor emeritus of Italian at Georgetown University.

Robert Emmett Curran is a professor emeritus of history at Georgetown University and is the author of the three-volume series A History of Georgetown University (Georgetown University Press, 2010).

112 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
3 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-1-64712-043-6
Aug 2021

112 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
3 b&w illus.
Aug 2021

112 pp.
3 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-1-64712-044-3
Aug 2021

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