“Georgetown College taken from the Observatory”

Titian Ramsay Peale (1799–1885),
photography, 1857
Historical archives of INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Rome, Monte Porzio Catone (Rome)

John Carroll, who in 1789 was appointed by Pope Pius VI as first Catholic bishop in the new and independent United States, in that very same year provided the ground for this university. The lessons began in 1792, so this is the oldest Catholic institution, and also jesuitic, of high education in the country. It overlooks the town of Georgetown, which in turn stands in front of Washington, in the district of Columbia. In 1851, the Faculty of Medicine was established, followed by the law school in 1870. These two schools still characterize the current high reputation of this university (Figure 1).
Secchi arrived at the university from Stonyhurst College, England, in November 1848, more or less in the period in which the courses were expanding, and the teaching of natural sciences was being strengthened. He was appointed professor of physics and astronomy and taught for a year. In addition to the lessons, Secchi carried out research on the behaviour of the bodies under the influence of electric current. Of course, he wrote about his findings, which were published in the prestigious magazine Smithsonian Contributions Vol. III Art. 2, Washington, 1852) (Figure 2).
Secchi was able to fit into the local scientific context thanks to Father James Curley, who had built the Georgetown Observatory in 1844 and was the director. The photograph depicted here was probably sent by him to Secchi, after his return, as a reminder of his stay. A close friendship with the famous hydrographer, meteorologist and astronomer Matthew F. Maury, also increased the skills of Secchi in these three disciplines, and boosted the attention of the Italian scientists on the discoveries of Maury. Therefore, when in September 1849 Secchi began his journey back to Italy, via England, he already experienced that the direction of the observatory of the Roman College would be the right place for him.

Christopher Corbally, S.J., Specola Vaticana