Our ancestors begged not to be sold south to the cotton plantations of Louisiana. They asked to bring their rosaries with them, some ran away.
The truth about the 272 enslaved Africans sold by Georgetown University was a widely publicized story in 2016 when the institution revealed its relationship to slavery, and in 2017 when the Jesuits issued their official apology.
Can our Church heal this great sin without reconciliation?
There are no alternative facts regarding the sale of these 272 children, women, and men; the original inventory list is housed in the Georgetown University Slavery Archives. Now, descendants of the “GU272,” who number more than 10,000 worldwide, seek to reconcile a defining part of our history. The GU272 Descendants Association, a non-profit, has chosen to join hands in a bold step with our Jesuit brothers. Our association’s approach is three-fold: reuniting families and honoring the lives and contributions of our ancestors; unshackling the hearts and minds of those who have never been in physical bondage, but who nonetheless labor under an assumed hierarchy; and promoting an effective pathway forward. Our membership is open.
Slavery was the original sin of our country and our Church. Our more than 400-year history in the United States has revealed a truth about the Catholic Church’s previously kept secret. Our white brothers and sisters, priests, clergy, and religious cannot piously consider themselves Catholic or Christian while denying their ancestors’ complicity in the purchase, abuse, and sale of black and brown bodies, and without recognizing the sinfulness.
There can be no denying that healing and reconciling our Catholic Church is inextricably linked to healing our nation.
The Jesuits of the United States and Canada, Georgetown University, and the Catholic Church have demonstrated a commitment to embracing the reality of our destiny. In 2016, armed with the truth, our association committed to organizing an effective path forward — a sustained movement to reconcile with our Georgetown family, our nation, and our one human family, from the legacy of slavery.
Moving forward with healing as a Church and as a country is an intentional process, not just to learn the uncomfortable truth of our past, but to make a conscious commitment to action to mitigate the effects of slavery and racism.
Forming a foundation to invest in and support the educational aspirations of GU272 descendants and promoting truth, racial healing, and transformation involves a demonstrated commitment by our Church to heal itself and our country.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Only the work of our hands reveal our hearts; reconciliation is ours to embrace in the Catholic — the universal — Church.
We bring our faith in God as the creator of us all, loving all of us equally. Faced with the truth, how will our Catholic Church reconcile our past, so that we can move forward?