Delay in American Jesuit slavery reparations rankles descendants

Last year, the US branch of the Jesuits pledged to raise $100 million for a reconciliation initiative in partnership with descendants of people once enslaved by the Catholic order. On Tuesday, a leader of those descendants expressed deep dissatisfaction with the order’s lack of progress since then.

Joseph Stewart, in a publicly released letter to the head of the order, maintains that the Jesuits have failed to defend their part of the association with the urgency required by the circumstances. Stewart and other descendants are the progeny of 272 enslaved men, women, and children sold in 1838 by the Jesuit landlords of Georgetown University to Louisiana plantation owners to pay school debts.

The Jesuits “are in a state of disillusionment,” Stewart wrote, warning of the possible disintegration of the partnership between the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and the GU272 Descendants Association, which represents those whose ancestors were sold.

If the association falls apart, “today’s Jesuit leaders will effectively betray Descendants in the same way that Jesuits of the past betrayed our ancestors,” Stewart wrote. “The Jesuits will try to put Reconciliation back on the shelf for another 200 years as the voices for ‘repair’ get louder and louder and louder and louder.”

Their partnership and co-creation of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation was announced in March 2021. The Jesuits have committed to raising $100 million over five years with the larger goal of reaching $1 billion from a variety of donors. The money would pay for educational opportunities for current and future descendants, and the foundation would oversee fundraising and grant allocation.

In his letter to the leader of the international religious order, the Rev. Arturo Sosa, Stewart called on the Jesuits to act urgently and fund the Descendants Trust so they can advance racial reconciliation grants, scholarships and care. of the elderly.

Stewart suggested that the delay in funding has been caused by the Jesuits’ reluctance to transfer some $57 million in proceeds from plantation land sales in 2009 to the trust. In his letter to Sosa, he urged the sale of the remaining plantation land and the deposit of those proceeds by Christmas. Stewart also laid out a multi-year incremental financing schedule beginning with a $100 million deposit by July 2023 and ending with a $1 billion addition by July 2029.

“Fundraising alone has not produced enough resources for the foundation to be effective and start delivering on promise,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “It hasn’t derailed the initiative, but it’s just going too slow. We have to speed it up.”

The Jesuit Eastern US Province has contracted with two companies to help sell the remaining land owned by the Jesuits with the proceeds going entirely to the descendants’ trust, the Eastern Province said in a statement on Thursday. Monday.

Also under discussion is how the province can use the proceeds from the Maryland plantation sale in 2009 to benefit the Descendants Trust, but a province or conference cannot unilaterally make the order, according to the statement. Part of that $57 million was used to build a retirement center and supplement a fund that helps African-American students attending Jesuit schools, with the remaining money being deposited in the Jesuit trust for the aged and infirm.

The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the descendants’ trust and former president of the Jesuit conference, said the process of transferring funds from the land sale to the trust is already underway, but it is complex and “the pace of fundraising funding has been tough.” He added that the process is so new to everyone involved.

“How this foundation will operate is still in doubt. There is still a lot of work that we are doing to bring this vision to the broader community,” said Kesicki. “I’m not surprised by a slow start. But we are committed to taking it to the finish line.”

The Jesuits are still on track to transfer $100 million to the trust within three to five years of their March 2021 announcement, he said. Kesicki is looking for grants to bring in more people and money to accomplish those goals.

In 2017, he delivered an apology to the descendants of the 272 slaves who were sold by the Jesuits who owned the university. Stewart would like Pope Francis to make a similar apology. In his letter to Sosa, he asked about his April invitation for Francisco to visit descendants.

It would be a deeply meaningful papal act, said Stewart, who spoke of the pain he personally endured as a devout Catholic whose ancestors were enslaved by the church he holds dear.

“It all starts with admitting the mistake,” he said. “But if you apologize and walk away, it’s worthless. It has to be a starting point for making life-enhancing change.”


Associated Press religious coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.


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