Georgetown University’s examination of its ties to slavery, through a report issued Thursday, also puts a focus on the role of the Maryland Jesuits in owning and selling slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. The school, founded by the Jesuits in 1789, depended in its early years on revenue from Jesuit plantations that operated with slave labor.
On Thursday, the Maryland Province of Jesuits issued this statement following the release of the Georgetown report:
The Maryland Province of Jesuits acknowledges with deep gratitude the extensive research and collaborative reflection on the history of Jesuit slaveholding that is represented in the newly released report of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation.
The sad chapter of slavery in the history of the Jesuit order continues to challenge us as Jesuits even after many decades of study, reflection, and efforts to contribute to racial reconciliation. As we observed in our earlier statement on Georgetown University’s work, we are disheartened by this history of moral blindness in the men and institutions we would otherwise hope to admire and look to for inspiration. The Society of Jesus wants to acknowledge and understand more deeply the sins and failures of our past. Knowing our own contributions to racial injustice in our country inspires us to work all the more for racial and ethnic reconciliation.
The Maryland Province of Jesuits commends the initiatives and recommendations contained in the Working Group’s report. We find it especially moving that two buildings once named after the Jesuit architects of the notorious sale of 1838 would instead bear the names of Isaac, the first person listed on the bill of sale of the 272 men, women, and children, and of Anne Marie Becraft, a contemporaneous African-American religious sister and trailblazing educator. We look forward also to supporting the proposed institute for the study of slavery, which will shed more complete light on this painful part of our history and will foster a dialogue with the aim of reconciliation in the present. Along these lines, the Province commits to keeping its archives available at Georgetown University for scholarly use and for genealogical research by the descendants of those enslaved.
As Jesuits, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of reconciliation regarding this history, a goal articulated so thoughtfully in the report. It is our hope that the process initiated by the Working Group and fostered by this report will help heal the long-lasting scars of this deplorable eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history and advance the pursuit of racial equality and social justice in the present.