Jesuits in US pledge $100M for racial reconciliation

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FILE - This April 24, 2019 photo shows photographs of descendants of enslaved people who were sold by Georgetown University and the Maryland Jesuits to southern Louisiana in 1838. In March 2021, the U.S.-based branch of the Jesuits has unveiled ambitious plans for a truth and reconciliation initiative in partnership with descendants of slaves once owned by the religious order. The Jesuits pledge to raise $100 million within five years; the broader goal is to raise $1 billion from an array of donors in pursuit of racial justice and racial healing. (Claire Vail/American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society via AP)

The U.S.-based branch of the Jesuits has unveiled ambitious plans for a “truth and reconciliation” initiative in partnership with descendants of people once enslaved by the Roman Catholic order. The Jesuits pledge to raise $100 million within five years with a broader goal of reaching $1 billion from an array of donors in pursuit of racial justice and racial healing.

Even the smaller amount represents the largest financial pledge thus far from a U.S. religious institution, as a variety of them nationwide seek to make amends for their past involvement in slavery and racial oppression.

Partnering with the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States in the initiative is the GU272 Descendants Association, which represents the descendants of 272 enslaved men, women and children sold by the Jesuit owners of Georgetown University to plantation owners in Louisiana in 1838.

Together, the two parties have formed the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation to oversee fundraising and allocate grants. Already, the Jesuits have placed $15 million in a trust that will finance the effort.

The foundation’s acting president is Joe Stewart, one of more than 1,000 descendants of Isaac Hawkins, an enslaved man who was among those sold in 1838.

Stewart said many Americans understand the wrongs of slavery and segregation yet are divided over approaches to reconciliation and reparations.

“We hope what we’ve created here is an offer to join us in a peaceful and loving approach to removing your shame,” Stewart said Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who want to be a part of change — we hope we’re providing the answer to, ‘What do I do?’”

The foundation’s plan calls for the Jesuits to raise $100 million through their own fundraising network, and the $1 billion figure would be attained with support from corporations, foundations and the general public, Stewart said.