In March of 2021, leaders in the Jesuit Conference of priests committed to raising $100 million in reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black people once owned by the Roman Catholic order. However, they are now being called out for delays.
According to the Associated Press, Joseph Stewart, the leader of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, publicly released a letter to the head of the order. It read in part, “The Jesuits leaders of today will effectively betray Descendants today just as the Jesuits of the past betrayed our ancestors. 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.”
Descendants Truth & Reconciliation is a partnership with a group called GU272, representing the 272 enslaved people sold by Jesuit priests of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1838. The Jesuits trafficked in slave labor for a century to finance their operations, eventually building what became Georgetown University. In recent years, descendants of those enslaved, who had been sold to a Louisiana plantation, spoke out to ensure that the history was not suppressed. In turn, the institution has made efforts to acknowledge its role in slavery.
Stewart also told the AP, “Fundraising alone has not produced sufficient resources to make the foundation effective and to begin delivering on the promise. It has not derailed the initiative, but it’s just going too slow. We need to accelerate it.”
Stewart is asking for the funding to begin as soon as possible so GU272 can distribute racial reconciliation grants, scholarships and care for the elderly. Stewart has created a multiyear funding plan, starting with a $100 million deposit by July 2023 and $1 billion by July 2029.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, the chair of the descendants’ trust and past president of the Jesuit conference, told the AP that “the pace of the fundraising has been rough” and “I’m not surprised by a slow start. But we are committed to seeing it through to the finish line.”