The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States has pledged to raise $100 million to benefit the descendants of enslaved people it once owned and to promote racial reconciliation initiatives across the United States, the New York Times reports.
The commitment — which, according to church officials and historians, represents the largest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to make amends for the buying, selling, and enslavement of Black people — comes as calls for reparations grow following a nationwide reckoning with the legacies of slavery and segregation. For more than a century, the Jesuit order relied on the sale of enslaved people and slave labor to sustain priests and finance the construction and day-to-day operations of Jesuit churches and schools, including the college that became Georgetown University. The funds raised will be added to the endowment of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, which was established in partnership with a group of descendants of slaves who pressed for negotiations with the Jesuits after learning their ancestors had been sold to keep what is now Georgetown afloat in 1838.
Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit conference, told the Times that the order had deposited $15 million into a trust established to support the foundation. Roughly half of the foundation’s annual budget will be distributed as grants in support of racial reconciliation initiatives, while about a quarter will fund educational opportunities for descendants in the form of scholarships and grants; a smaller portion will be used to address the emergency needs of descendants who are old or infirm. The Georgetown Memory Project has identified about five thousand living descendants.
In 2019, Georgetown pledged to raise about $400,000 a year to benefit the descendants of people enslaved by the order. The university, which holds a seat on the board of the newly created foundation and contributed $1 million to get it off the ground, plans to distribute a first round of grants this year.
While the pledge falls short of the $1 billion that descendants had called on the Jesuits to raise, Kesicki and Joseph M. Stewart, acting president of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, said $1 billion remained a long-term goal. “We now have a pathway forward that has not been traveled before,” said Stewart, a retired corporate executive whose ancestors were sold by the order in 1838.
“This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation,” said 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.”