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In a landmark undertaking in the pursuit of racial healing and justice, Descendants of ancestors enslaved and sold by the Jesuits, together with the Jesuits of the United States, have announced a partnership to create the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation.

Descendants and Jesuits
Descendants and Jesuits

The Foundation is a first-of-its-kind partnership among the Descendants of the enslaved and the descendants of the enslavers. JPMorgan Chase is a supporter of this historic partnership.

“For more than 400 years, our country has denied the persistent human destruction caused by slavery and the conscious and unconscious racism that divides our communities and nation,” said Joseph Stewart, acting president of the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation and one of more than 1,000 Descendants of Isaac Hawkins, an enslaved man who, along with many other enslaved men, women, and children, was sold to save Georgetown University from financial ruin. “After 182 years, Descendants and Jesuits have come together in the spirit of truth, racial healing, and reconciliation, uniquely positioning the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation to set an example and lead America through dismantling the remnants of slavery and mitigating the presence of racism. Our partnership will pursue and support the creation of a new and abiding reality of love and justice for all members of our one humanity.”

The Foundation is rooted in the events of 1838, when 272 enslaved men, women and children were sold by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to plantation owners in Louisiana. “Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back,” said Fr. Tim Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States and former provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits. “Racism will endure in America if we continue to turn our heads away from the truth of the past and how it affects us all today. The lasting effects of slavery call each of us to do the work of truth and reconciliation. Without this joining of hearts and hands in true unity, the cycle of hatred and inequality in America will never end.”

Citizens Bank of New Orleans, later acquired by JPMorgan Chase, used the 272 enslaved humans as collateral. The Foundation has set up a trust for which JPMorgan Chase will serve as a cotrustee and provide planning and advice as well as other services. “The institution of slavery and systemic racism are tragic parts of America’s history, and we have a responsibility to drive sustainable change for the people and communities who have been impacted by this bitter legacy,” said Brian Lamb, the global head of diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan Chase.

This announcement comes after several years of a powerful dialogue process. In April of 2017, Fr. Kesicki publicly apologized for Jesuit slaveholding at a Liturgy of Memory, Contrition and Hope at Georgetown University. In May of 2017, about a year after learning of their connection to this tragic and sinful past, Descendant leaders petitioned Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, to respond.

Father Sosa responded to the Descendants’ letter, writing, “Jesuit slaveholding in the United States, and in particular the sale of 272 enslaved persons from the Jesuits in southern Maryland to purchasers in Louisiana, was both a sin and a betrayal because the Society robbed your ancestors of their human dignity.” Father Sosa called the US provincials to dialogue with the Descendants. In the summer of 2018, soon after receiving the Superior General’s letter, Mr. Stewart called Fr. Kesicki, and the two met in person at Mr. Stewart’s home in Michigan.

A life-long partnership and a shared commitment to transformation and conversion emerged from this process.

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