Catholic order pledges $100 million to benefit descendants of enslaved people it sold

The Jesuit Conference of U.S. and Canada, an order of the Catholic Church, announced the goal of raising $100 million to benefit the descendants of enslaved people historically owned and sold by Jesuits.

The money will go toward a newly formed foundation, the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, that was created by the church in partnership with the GU272 Descendants Association, a group of descendants of enslaved people who were sold by Jesuits in 1838.

PHOTO: Descendants Earl Williams Sr. and Cheryllyn Branche are pictured here with Fr. Scott Santarosa.

“Jesuits have always known our history of slaveholding, but it was not until 2016 that we met the descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and that completely changed our understanding of this historic sin,” Fr. Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference told ABC News.

PHOTO: Fr. Tim Kesicki, the president of the Jesuit Conference of the U.S. and Canada, is pictured here.

“I think for a church which preaches forgiveness and reconciliation, this is an incredible opportunity to model what true reconciliation is,” he added.

Kesicki said the vision is ultimately to create a “billion-dollar foundation,” and that the Jesuit network is committed to raising the first $100 million.

Joe Stewart, the acting president of the foundation, told ABC News that its goal “is to change the conditions related to race in this country, and our focus is on true racial healing and transformation.”

Stewart, who is a descendant of Isaac Hawkins, an enslaved man who was sold by Jesuits in 1838, told ABC News that the foundation has three main objectives.

“One is to support the educational aspiration of those descendants of people enslaved by the Jesuits, two is to pursue true racial healing and transformation throughout the United States through programmatic support and the support of organizations and individuals doing transformative work in that area,” Stewart said. “And three is to support the elderly and infirm descendants who are experiencing economic insecurity.”

PHOTO: Members of the Descendant community gathered at the dedication of Isaac Hawkins Hall at Georgetown University, named in honor of one of the ancestors sold in the 1838 sale.

Stewart said the foundation will not do reparations in the form of direct individual payments, but rather by investing in educational scholarships and offering grants to programs focused on the advancement of descendants of those enslaved by Jesuits.

The partnership is not intended to “address reparations in the old sense of the 40-acres-and-a-mule approach,” according to Stewart.

PHOTO: A list of names of people enslaved by the Jesuits is pictured here.

“This is about change, this is about moving a whole nation to a different place,” Stewart said. “This is between the largest known descendant group and one of the largest religious organizations in the world.”

“In this country, we hope this partnership can be the beginning of a major movement on the part of this whole nation to put slavery and its remnants behind us, once and for all, and to build a future based on love and respect for all,” Stewart said.

PHOTO: Peter Hawkins, born in 1824 and pictured here in 1905, was the first child born into slavery at the Jesuits' Saint Stanislaus Novitiate and Farm in Florissant, Missouri.

The new initiative comes after the police killing of George Floyd last May sparked a new racial reckoning in the country. Protests over systemic racism and police brutality against Black Americans erupted throughout the U.S. this past summer.

The legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S. is also still evident in a myriad of inequities faced by Black Americans. The net worth of the average white family is 10 times greater than the average Black family, according to a 2016 report from the Brookings Institute.

These imbalances have led to new calls for slavery reparations from the government and the private sector.

“You can see the remnants of slavery in everything about our existence,” Stewart said. “And the minute we begin to accept that truth instead of denying it, we can begin to cure the disease of racism in this country.”

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