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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Discussing the past, dealing with the present

Upcoming panel to explore the history of Jesuit slaveholding


A panel titled, “Living with the Past: Perspectives on Jesuit Slaveholding” will be held on campus, on Oct. 18 as an exploration of the connections that the Society of Jesus had to the institution of slavery. According to historical records, the Jesuits of the Maryland Province (of which Saint Joseph’s University is a part), held slaves until at least 1838. In June of that year, Thomas Mulledy, S.J., of the the Maryland Province sold 272 slaves to Jesse Beatty and Henry Johnson of Louisiana.

There are several facets to this history, and they will likely all be explored during the panel. The four panelists, who include Sister Cora Billings, Religious Sisters of Mercy, Tia Pratt, Ph.D., visiting professor of sociology, Randall Miller, Ph.D., professor of history, and Dan Joyce, S.J., ’88, executive director of Mission Programs, will explore the history of the Jesuits and their connection to slavery and how the institutions that are involved in this history are currently dealing with its reality; they will also offer perspectives on how people who have direct connections to the situation are handling the connections.

One of the major tenets of the Society of Jesus is the idea that people are “men and women with and for others.” The act of slaveholding is obviously against this belief, but also is opposed to the Catholic Church’s belief that all people should be treated with dignity.

“It’s not just the Jesuits, it’s the Catholic Church, which has a long history and a connection with slavery and even with the enslavement of people within the United States,” Miller said. “The Catholic Church did not come out against slavery at least until the mid-19th century. Their approach in the United States was, they saw this as a local institution. They urged the Church and Catholic masters to bring up their slaves as good Catholics. They urged Catholic masters to respect the sacraments; they didn’t enforce it, but they urged that. In terms of slavery itself, they did not take a position in terms of it being good or evil, it was just one of the conditions of man that existed.”

The Jesuits are a religious order that claims social justice as one of their most important tenets, but they were still a part of the slaveholding culture in America. However, despite the abolition of slavery in 1863 with the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, the racial issues in the Church still existed for years.

According to Pratt, the racial injustices that formerly occurred in the Catholic Church have not yet fully been eradicated. Although slavery has obviously been abolished for years, that does not mean that people of color do not still face discrimination in the Church.

“These days in cities, especially in the Northeast, [there are] a lot of church closings and restructuring of parishes that happens in the cities. Because it happens in our cities, it disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities,” Pratt said. “In cities like Philadelphia, there are issues as neighborhoods began to change and more black families began to move in, that impacted parish life. There are parishes here in Philadelphia that had segregated communion lines through the 1960s; that kind of history and stigma, people lived that. People who go to church, who go to Mass every Sunday, are still living with that pain. These are issues of racial justice that haven’t been tackled yet, not in the way they really need to be.”

In addition to these issues, the upcoming panel will discuss the history of Jesuit slaveholding, and will address the potential implications Saint Joseph’s faces as a result of its connections to this legacy. Billings, the keynote speaker, and a descendant of one of the slaves owned by the Maryland Province Jesuits, will discuss her direct connection to the history and her work with the African American community.

The panel will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18 in the Cardinal John P. Foley Campus Center.

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