Catholic Priests Pledge To Raise $100 Million In Restitution For Descendants Of Enslaved Black People
Leaders of the U.S. Jesuit conference of priests have announced they will try to raise $100 million to benefit the descendants of enslaved Black people once owned by the Roman Catholic order. The initiative is an attempt to foster racial reconciliation and atone for participation in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, The New York Times reports.
The priests co-founded a foundation called the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, which represents the descendants of both those who were enslaved and those who had enslaved them and supported by JP Morgan Chase, according to a statement released Monday.
The foundation is a partnership with a group called GU272, representing the 272 enslaved people sold by Jesuit priests of Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1838. The Jesuits trafficked in slave labor for a century to finance their operations and eventually build what became Georgetown University. In recent years, descendants of those slaves, who had been sold to a Louisiana plantation, have addressed that issue with the school in a campaign to ensure that the hidden history was revealed, and in turn the institution has made efforts to acknowledge its role in slavery.
“From our inception, the GU272 Descendants Association has chosen to identify and rebuild our ancestors’ families that were separated and often destroyed by the brutal institution of slavery and to create a sustainable mechanism for investing forward in uplifting Descendants for many generations to come,” Cheryllyn Branche, President of the GU272 Descendants Association said in the statement. The foundation, she says, will “restore honor and dignity to our ancestors by institutionalizing these goals for our children, our children’s children, and Descendants for centuries to come.”
The Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States said $15 million has already been placed in a trust set up for supporting the foundation. A national fundraising firm, he said, has been brought in to raise the rest of the money within the next three to five years, the Times reported.
“This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation,” said Fr. Kesicki. “Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back.”
Leaders of the descendants of the enslaved people had called on the Jesuits to commit to raising $1 billion, but Fr. Kesicki and Joseph M. Stewart, who is president of the new foundation said that was still a goal that could be looked at for the future.
“We now have a pathway forward that has not been traveled before,” Stewart told the Times. “They did not come running to us, but because we went to them with open arms and open hearts, they responded. They embraced our vision.”