Catholic Order Pledges $100 Million to Atone for Slave Labor and Sales

The move by Jesuit priests is the largest such effort by the Roman Catholic Church and comes amid growing calls for reparations across the United States.

By: RACHEL L SWARNS

In one of the largest efforts by an institution to atone for slavery, a prominent order of Catholic priests has vowed to raise $100 million to benefit the descendants of the enslaved people it once owned and to promote racial reconciliation initiatives across the United States.

The move by the leaders of the Jesuit conference of priests represents the largest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to make amends for the buying, selling and enslavement of Black people, church officials and historians said.

The pledge comes at a time when calls for reparations are ringing through Congress, college campuses, church basements and town halls, as leaders grapple with the painful legacies of segregation and the nation’s system of involuntary servitude.

“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.

The money raised by the Jesuits will flow into a new foundation established in partnership with a group of descendants, who pressed for negotiations with the Jesuits after learning from a series of articles in The New York Times that their ancestors had been sold in 1838. The order relied on slave labor and slave sales for more than a century to sustain the clergy and to help finance the construction and the day-to-day operations of churches and schools, including the nation’s first Catholic institution of higher learning, the college now known as Georgetown University.

Father Kesicki said his order had already deposited $15 million into a trust established to support the foundation, whose governing board will include representatives from other institutions with roots in slavery. The Jesuits have also hired a national fund-raising firm with a goal of raising the rest within the next three to five years, he said.

The pledge falls short of the $1 billion that descendant leaders had called on the Jesuits to raise. Father Kesicki and Joseph M. Stewart, the acting president of the newly created foundation, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation said that remained a long-term goal as the organization moves to support institutions and initiatives focused on racial healing.

“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.

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