Christian colleges and other faith-based institutions are grappling with a question of history. How do you make good on continuing to operate on successes that your forerunners built on the backs of enslaved people?
In 2016, New York Times reporter Rachel L. Swarns reported on Georgetown University’s role in the perpetuation of slavery. In 1878, the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, ran Georgetown and sold property- 272 enslaved persons . The sale payed debts and saved Georgetown University. People with connections to Georgetown began researching to discover what happened to the 272 people. An alum established a nonprofit to track down descendants.
Five years later, the Jesuits have now partnered with the GU272 Descendants Association (the name derived from the Georgetown University 272 enslaved persons) by establishing their own Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation. The goal is to “create an example of racial healing in America”. In this groundbreaking partnership the descendants of the enslaved who pursued negotiations are partnering with the descendants of the enslavers to bring help and healing, representing the largest such effort by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Jesuits have deposited $15 million into a trust to fund the foundation and had hired firm to oversee fundraising over the next three to five years. The priests have committed to raise $100 million for the benefit of the descendants. The descendants had asked for $1 billion in reparations.
The New York Times reports:
“This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. “Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back.”
“We now have a pathway forward that has not been traveled before,” said Mr. Stewart, a retired corporate executive whose ancestors were sold in 1838 to help save Georgetown from financial ruin.