University apologises for its role in slavery

Georgetown University (Patrickneil/CC-SA 3.0)

The leader of the Catholic religious order that helped found Georgetown University in Washington DC addressed more than 100 descendants of slaves and sought their forgiveness for its role in slavery, RNS reports.

“Today the Society of Jesus, which helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say: We have greatly sinned, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do,” said Fr Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.

Georgetown has recently acknowledged it benefited from the sale of more than 250 slaves in 1838 to pay off its debts. On Tuesday, it apologised for its role in the slave trade during a formal “contrition” liturgy.

Some of the descendants of those slaves spoke during the ceremony, jointly hosted by the school, the Jesuit order and the Archdiocese of Washington. One of the families’ representatives said penance is required, even as forgiveness is sought.

“Penance is very important,” said Sandra Green Thomas, president of the GU272 Descendants Association. “Penance is required when you have violated God’s law.”

The day of remembrance, which included a liturgy and the rededication of two buildings, came seven months after the university announced plans to mark its connections to the slave trade. Those plans were sparked by a 104-page report from a working group of students and faculty that met for a year before making recommendations.

In 1838, the school was involved in the sale of 272 slaves who worked on Jesuit plantations in southern Maryland. The sale benefited that state’s Jesuits and paid off debts at the nation’s oldest Catholic university.

The “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition, and Hope” was steeped in symbolism of time and space. It was held two days after Easter and two days after Emancipation Day, a holiday that marks the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862.

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Georgetown University apologises for role in slave trade (RNS)