Lag in Slavery Reparations From US Jesuits Irks Descendants

LIn partnership with those whose descendants were once under the Catholic order, the U.S. Jesuits promised to raise $100 millions for reconciliation. On Tuesday, a leader of those descendants expressed deep dissatisfaction with the order’s lack of progress since then.

Joseph Stewart wrote publicly to the Jesuits head saying that they have not upheld their end of the partnership as the circumstance demand. Stewart and other descendants are the progeny of 272 enslaved men, women and children sold in 1838 by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to Louisiana plantation owners to pay off the school’s 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 partnership falls apart, “the Jesuits leaders of today will effectively betray Descendants today just as the Jesuits of the past betrayed our ancestors,” Stewart wrote. “Jesuits will attempt to put Reconciliation back on the shelf for another 200 years as voices for ‘reparation’ get stronger and stronger and louder and louder.”

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Their partnership and joint creation of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation was announced in March 2021. With a larger goal to reach $1 billion through a variety of donors, the Jesuits promised $100 million in five years. This money will pay for education opportunities for future generations. The foundation would also oversee grant allocation and fundraising.

In his letter to the international religious order’s leader, the Rev. Arturo Sosa, Stewart called on the Jesuits to act urgently and fund the descendants’ trust so racial reconciliation grants, scholarships and care for the elderly could move forward.

Stewart suggested the funding delay has been caused by the Jesuits’ reluctance to move about $57 million in proceeds from 2009 plantation land sales into the trust. He urged Sosa to sell remaining plantation land and put the proceeds into the trust by Christmas. Stewart provided a multi-year, incremental funding plan that began with $100 million in July 2023 and ends with $1 billion by July 2029.

“Fundraising alone has not produced sufficient resources to make the foundation effective and to begin delivering on the promise,” Stewart told The Associated Press. “It has not derailed the initiative, but it’s just going too slow. We need to accelerate it.”

According to an East Province statement, two companies have been contracted by Jesuit USA East Province for their assistance in selling the land remaining Jesuit-owned. The proceeds of the sale will be distributed to the beneficiaries trust.

The province is also in talks about using the proceeds of the Maryland plantation sale to benefit the descendants trust. However, one conference or province cannot unilaterally decide for the order. The $57 million raised was part of a retirement centre and to supplement the fund for Jesuit students.

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The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, the chair of the descendants’ trust and past president of the Jesuit conference, said the process of transferring funds from the land sale to the trust is already in motion, but it is complex and “the pace of the fundraising has been rough.” He added that the process is so new to all involved.

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

He said that the Jesuits still have the potential to donate $100 million to the trust in the three- to five year period following their March 2021 announcement. Kesicki wants grants to attract more money and people to achieve these goals.

In 2017, he delivered an apology to the descendants of the 272 enslaved people who were sold by the university’s Jesuit owners. Stewart wants Pope Francis to offer a similar apology. He wrote to Sosa asking for a similar apology after Francis’ April invitation to the family.

Stewart spoke out about the suffering he suffered as a Catholic who had his ancestors enslaved at the church he believes in.

“It all starts with admitting the wrong,” he said. “But if you apologize and walk away, there is no value to it. It has to be stepping off point to make change that uplifts lives.”

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. This content is the sole responsibility of The Associated Press.

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