Catholic Order Struggles To Raise $100 Million To Atone For Slave Labor

A prominent order of Catholic priests vowed last year to raise $100 million to atone for its participation in the US slave trade. At the time, church leaders and historians said it would be the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest effort to make amends for the buying, selling, and enslavement of black people in the United States.

But 16 months later, the money trickles in.

The Jesuit who led the fundraising said he had hoped his order would have brought in several multimillion-dollar donations by now, in addition to an initial $15 million investment made by the order. Instead, only about $180,000 in small donations has flown into the trust created by the Jesuits in conjunction with a group of descendants whose ancestors had been enslaved by the Catholic priests.

Alarmed by the slow pace of fundraising, the leader of the descendant group working with the Jesuits wrote to Rome earlier this month urging the order’s global leader to ensure that American priests keep their promise.

The American Jesuits, who have been dependent on slave labor and slave sales for more than a century, had discussed plans last year to sell all their remaining former plantation lands in Maryland, the priests said. They discussed transferring the proceeds, along with a portion of the proceeds from an earlier $57 million plantation sale, to the trust. The money from the trust will flow into a foundation that will fund programs that will benefit the descendants, including scholarships and emergency funds, and promote racial reconciliation projects.

But the remaining land has yet to be sold and the proceeds from previous land sales have yet to be turned over to the trust, Jesuit officials and descendants say.

“It becomes clear to anyone who looks beyond words that Jesuits do not act in deeds,” Joseph M. Stewart, president and chairman of the Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation, wrote in his letter to Rev. Arturo Sosa, the Jesuit superior general. “The bottom line is that without your commitment, this partnership seems doomed to fail.”

In his letter, Mr Stewart warned that “hardliners” within the order maintained the position that they “never enslaved anyone and thus ‘owed’ anyone anything.”

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

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

The descendants have previously appealed to the Jesuits to raise $1 billion for their foundation. The Jesuits have said they support that as a long-term goal, but have not committed themselves 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, Jesuit records show. “How long does it take to do this if you’re committed to it?”

In a statement released Monday, Rev. Brian G. Paulson, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, along with the country’s senior Jesuit leaders, said they remained “deeply committed to our historic partnership with the descendant community.” and to work together for racial reconciliation and healing in this country.”

Father Paulson and county leaders said they “share the concerns 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 to secure resources.”

The Jesuits who negotiated with the group of descendants about the former plantation lands said they hired two outside companies to facilitate the sale of the remaining land, and that they were “discussing” the $57 million land sale and how a portion of the land would be sold. of that proceeds can benefit the confidence of the descendants.

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

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

Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, the former president of the Jesuit conference who helped bring about that first agreement between the Jesuits and the group of descendants, said in an interview that he understood their frustrations.

“I had hoped to be further along,” said Father Kesicki, who said he had hoped the Jesuits would now have received about a third of the $100 million pledge for the trust, including the $15 million initial investment from the Trust. order.

Father Kesicki, who now serves as the trust’s chairman, and others familiar with the Jesuit efforts, pointed to a number of challenges, including the order’s organizational structure, which requires multiple approvals from multiple people in major decisions, and the complexity associated with it in land transactions.

In addition, Father Kesicki said, it takes time to set up a major fundraising campaign.

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

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