Donate to RNS

Georgetown seeks to make amends for slavery history

WASHINGTON (RNS) Georgetown University officials said steps will include a 'Mass of Reconciliation' with the Jesuits and the Archdiocese of Washington and a memorial to slaves from whom the university benefited.

A statue of John Carroll, first archbishop of Baltimore and founder of Georgetown University, overlooks a group of women seated on a bench on the Georgetown campus in Washington on June 14, 2012.  Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(RNS) Georgetown University has decided to create a new institute to study slavery and will rename two of its buildings as it develops ways to address its past connections to the slave trade.

The Roman Catholic school, which was founded by the Jesuit order in 1789, announced the plans after its president, John J. DeGioia, received a 104-page report from a working group he convened a year ago.

The report outlines how the school was involved in the 1838 sale of 272 slaves who worked on Jesuit plantations in southern Maryland. The sale benefited that state’s Jesuits and paid off debts at a precarious moment for the nation’s oldest Catholic university.

Following the report’s recommendations, which were announced Thursday (Sept. 1), the school will name one building Isaac Hall, in honor of a slave with that name who was mentioned in documents of the 1838 sale.

A second building will be named Anne Marie Becraft Hall, in honor of a free African-American woman who founded a school for black girls in the Georgetown neighborhood and later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest group of Roman Catholic nuns started by women of African descent.

The two buildings were previously named for former university presidents who were priests and supporters of the slave trade.

DeGioia said other plans include holding a “Mass of Reconciliation” with the Jesuits and the Archdiocese of Washington, creating a memorial to slaves from whom the university benefited, and giving descendants of the slaves “the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process.”

“An outright apology is not yet part of the history for the University,” the working group said. “It ought to be.”

DeGoia told The New York Times that an apology could take place through the upcoming special Mass.

“We know we’ve got work to do, and we’re going to take those steps to do so,” he said.