Catholic Order fights to raise $100 million to atone for slave labor


An important order of Catholic priests pledged last year to raise $100 million atone for his participation in the American slave trade. At the time, Church leaders and historians said it would be the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest effort to fix the buying, selling and enslaving of black people in the United States.

But 16 months later, the money is just pouring in.

The Jesuit priest leading the fundraising efforts said he had hoped his order would have already secured several multi-million dollar donations, in addition to an initial $15 million investment made by the order . Instead, only about $180,000 in small donations went to the trust that the Jesuits created in partnership with a group of descendants whose ancestors were enslaved by Catholic priests.

Alarmed by slow fundraising, the leader of the Descendant group that has partnered with the Jesuits wrote to Rome earlier this month urging the order’s world leader to ensure American priests keep their promise.

American Jesuits, which depended on slave labor and slave sales for more than a century, had been discussing plans last year to sell all of their remaining former plantation land in Maryland, the priests said. They discussed transferring the proceeds, along with some of the proceeds from an earlier $57 million plantation sale, to the trust. Money from the trust will go to a foundation that will fund programs to benefit descendants, including scholarships and money for emergency needs, and promote racial reconciliation projects.

But the remaining land has yet to be sold, and proceeds from earlier land sales have yet to be transferred to the trust, say Jesuit officials and their descendants.

“It becomes apparent to all who look beyond words that Jesuits do not deliver in deeds,” wrote Joseph M. Stewart, President and President of the Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation, in his letter to Reverend Arturo Sosa, the Jesuit superior. general. “The bottom line is that without your commitment, this partnership seems doomed.”

In his letter, Mr Stewart warned that ‘hardliners’ within the order maintained the position that they ‘have never enslaved anyone and therefore ‘owe’ nothing to anyone.

In an interview, Mr Stewart said he believed Jesuit leaders remained committed to the partnership, describing ongoing meetings and conversations. The point, he said, was that the descending community needed priests to do more than talk.

In his letter, he called on Father Sosa to ensure that the American Jesuits complete land sales and the transfer of profits by the end of this year, and secure the pledge of $100 million by the end of this year. ‘next year. He also asked the order to deposit a total of $1 billion into the trust by 2029.

The descendants have already called on the Jesuits to raise $1 billion for their foundation. The Jesuits said they support this as a long-term goal, but did not commit to a timeline.

Father Sosa declined to comment on the letter through a spokesperson.

“We challenge them to be faster,” said Mr. Stewart, a retired business executive whose ancestors were sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to save Georgetown University from financial ruin. according to the Jesuit archives. “How long does it take to do this if you commit to it?”

In a statement released Monday, the Reverend Brian G. Paulson, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, along with senior Jesuit leaders across the country, said they remain “deeply committed to our historic partnership with the descendants community and working together for racial reconciliation and healing in this country.

Father Paulson and provincial leaders said they “share the concern of Mr. Joseph Stewart and other descendant leaders about the pace of our fundraising efforts,” adding that they “continue to work with our network partners for resources”.

Jesuits negotiating with the descendant group over the former plantation lands said they had hired two outside firms to facilitate the sale of the remaining land, and were “in discussions” about selling $57 million of land. dollars and how some of that land proceeds could benefit the trust of descendants.

The Jesuits announced their $100 million pledge in March 2021 as part of their effort to make amends for their history of profiteering from slavery. The order relied on plantations and slave labor to support clergy and help fund the construction and day-to-day operations of churches and schools, including Georgetown, the nation’s first Catholic institution of higher learning.

At the time of the announcement, they said they had already deposited $15 million in the descendants’ trust. They had also hired a fundraising company with the goal of raising the remainder of the $100 million over a three to five year period. The partnership emerged after a group of descendants pushed for negotiations after learning from articles in the New York Times that the Jesuits had sold their ancestors to save Georgetown.

Reverend Timothy P. Kesicki, the former president of the Jesuit conference, who helped broker that initial agreement between the Jesuits and the descendants group, said in an interview that he understands their frustrations.

“I had hoped to be further,” said Fr. Kesicki, who said he had hoped the Jesuits would have secured about a third of the $100 million pledge for the trust, including the initial investment around $15 million.

Father Kesicki, who is now president of the trust, and others familiar with Jesuit efforts pointed to a number of challenges, including the order’s organizational structure, which requires multiple endorsements from multiple people on important decisions, and the complexity involved. in land transactions.

Also, Father Kesicki said, building a great fundraising campaign takes time.

“But we have to show more growth,” he said, “and that’s a challenge and a pressure that I carry every day.”

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