Posted on August 17, 2022

U.S. Jesuits Promised to Raise $100 Million for Slavery Reparations Project. Descendants Say It’s Not Happening Fast Enough

Deepa Bharath, Associated Press, August 16, 2022

Last year, the U.S. branch of the Jesuits pledged to raise $100 million for a reconciliation initiative in partnership with descendants of people once enslaved by the Catholic order. On Tuesday, a leader of those descendants expressed deep dissatisfaction with the order’s lack of progress since then.

Joseph Stewart, in a publicly released letter to the head of the order, contends the Jesuits have failed to uphold their side of the partnership with the urgency the circumstances 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.”

Their partnership and joint creation of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation was announced in March 2021. The Jesuits pledged to raise $100 million within five years with a broader goal of reaching $1 billion from an array of donors. The money would pay for educational opportunities for current and future descendants, and the foundation would oversee fundraising and grant allocation.

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. In his letter to Sosa, he urged the sale of remaining plantation lands and depositing those proceeds by Christmas. Stewart also laid out an incremental, multiyear funding timeline that starts with a $100 million deposit by July 2023 and finishes with a $1 billion addition by July 2029.