The Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation project is an initiative of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. Our office is in St. Louis, where we work in close partnership with Saint Louis University. We are also partnered with the St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society in our research efforts.
The Society of Jesus has relied on the labor of enslaved people globally, almost from their founding until 1865. Enslaved people labored at Jesuit missions and schools in Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama, as well as in Illinois, Kansas and Pennsylvania before they became free states. Their involuntary labor helped establish, expand, and sustain Jesuit missionary efforts and educational institutions in colonial North America and, over time, across the United States. We, the Jesuits, deeply regret our participation in this evil institution. No one today can reconcile these actions with the current teaching of the Church or with our commitments as Jesuits, but they are an undeniable part of our history. We are called now to an intentional response: one that foregrounds the lived experiences of the enslaved, acknowledges the legacies of Jesuit slaveholding, and is made in collaboration with descendants and those in our communities who continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery.
The Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project is committed to a transformative process of truth-telling, reconciliation, and healing that, in conversation with the descendants of those held in bondage, acknowledges historical harms, seeks to repair relationships, and works within our communities to address the legacies of slavery that persist in the form of racial inequities today.
We are motivated by a desire to uncover the truth of people’s stories, to honor their memories and heal relationships. We hope that together, descendant communities, Jesuits, and Jesuit institutions can act in partnership to address the prejudice and structural racism that endure from slavery throughout the United States.
In order to facilitate relationship-building and working in partnership with descendant communities in pursuit of transformative change, the SHMR Project aims to:
- Listen to and learn from descendants in shaping a path forward to address the Jesuits’ participation in the sin of slaveholding and its legacies of racism that endure today.
- Research the full history of the lived experiences of people held in slavery by the Jesuits, and connect with their descendants to share what we know and to learn from their knowledge.
- Communicate this history and our efforts more broadly in collaboration with descendants and the general public.
SHMR began by conducting extensive research with an intentional focus on the lives of enslaved people. This ongoing process of creating a more complete picture of the past has enabled us to trace family lineages and connect with descendants, so that they can be at the table from the beginning of conversations about how Jesuits and their institutions should act to repair the damage done by slavery.
Working in close partnership with descendant communities will enable us to address the persistent vestiges of Jesuit slaveholding that manifest in our schools, universities, and parishes. We are committed to a cross-institutional approach that invites contributions from multiple stakeholders, including descendants and descendant communities, Jesuits, and Jesuit schools, ministries, and parishes.