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ST. LOUIS — Similar to the discovery that her ancestors were enslaved by Jesuits in Maryland and St. Louis, Rashonda Roundtree asked a host of questions this week about a foundation created to combat persistent racism in the Catholic order. Roman priests and brothers who helped form it. identity.

Rashonda Roundtree, of St. Louis, poses with a portrait of her grandfather, John O. Tilghman, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, outside St. Francis Xavier College Church on the campus of St. Louis. Roundtree is a direct descendant of slaves owned by the Jesuits who founded the university. Researchers, working on behalf of the Jesuits and the school, have collected records of early priests to shed light on links to slavery and to locate descendants of slaves. Photo by Christian Gooden, [email protected]

The Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation says it is a new nonprofit organization born out of a partnership between Jesuit provinces in the United States and the descendants of 272 slaves sold to Louisiana plantations in 1838.

So far, the Jesuits have donated $15 million to the foundation. There is a fundraising campaign to raise $100 million in contributions over the next three to five years. From there, the effort will open up to businesses and other entities that have benefited from slavery, with the goal of reaching $1 billion.

“It’s a wonderful first step in the right direction,” said Roundtree, 41. “It takes a lot of courage for the organization to do something of such magnitude. … It’s just that a lot of questions are looming.

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Will the Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation cover any of the student loan debt Roundtree racked up while studying business at St. Louis University, the Jesuit-inspired school that bought and sold slaves ?

How could the foundation help her two children aged 3 and 5? Is there guaranteed support for them?

What about the rest of his Catholic family?

“I wonder if it’s going to be a lasting solution or a band-aid,” Roundtree said.

Programming details are not yet available, Joe Stewart, acting president of the foundation, and the Reverend Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States and Canada, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“We need to raise capital before the foundation is operational,” Kesicki said. “That’s my main goal moving forward. The immediate first step is to capitalize the foundation.

Stewart, 71, a descendant of a Jesuit slave named Isaac Hawkins, said the foundation is being built to ‘invest in the future of descendants’ for more than a century, while tackling existing racism .

Jesuits in the United States pledge $100 million for racial reconciliation

The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation is a partnership of descendants of slaves and slaves.

“We hope to be leaders in truth and reconciliation for a nation that has never dared to commit to truth and reconciliation,” Stewart said. “There was shame, blame, conflict and hatred. Is still. Our goal is not to engage in this, but to focus on transformative initiatives.

The foundation said the effort will not include direct payments or reparations, as some descendants have requested. Rather, it will invest in “the educational aspirations of descendants and future generations” while helping society end racism.

There are thousands of living descendants of people enslaved by Jesuits in the United States, including some 5,000 of the 272 sold in 1838, who helped fund Georgetown University.

“More descendants are being born every day,” Stewart said, adding that others live as far away as Korea.

An ongoing research effort in Saint-Louis has identified about 70 slaves who belonged to the Jesuits in the region between 1823 and 1865. They worked mainly in the former farm of the Saint-Stanislas seminary near Florissant, when the region was still a jump-off point on the western border for the likes of Reverend Pierre-Jean De Smet and other Jesuits. They established a foothold here in 1823, coming from White Marsh Plantation, Maryland, with five slaves.

Uncharted Territory: The Jesuits of Saint-Louis are looking for the descendants of the people they enslaved

An ongoing research project has identified around 70 slaves held by the Catholic order here. In a quest for reconciliation, they reached out to descendants, evoking a mix of strong emotions.

Besides the farm, the Jesuits here had also enslaved people at St. Francis Xavier College Church and St. Louis University, part of the search effort to find living descendants like Rashonda Roundtree. In late 2020, she said the Jesuits had confirmed she was a descendant of Jack and Sally Queen, who were forced to leave Maryland for Missouri in 1829. The queens were allowed to bring their children, who are mentioned in the seasonal fabric registers archived by the Jesuits.

Danielle Harrison, co-director of Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Projector SHMR, reiterated that the new foundation was created to help descendants whose ancestors were enslaved by Jesuits in the United States.

“We see our role at SHMR as helping to bring those relationships together,” Harrison said Wednesday via email.

From the beginning, the research project in Saint-Louis aroused a certain contempt, including within the Jesuit community. Slavery was legal in Missouri until 1865; a war was waged to end it. Harrison has previously said that there are often people with different opinions in any effort.

“Institutionally,” she said of the study of history and the search for descendants, “the Jesuits fully support this work.”

Jesuit Reparations

In this image from video made available by C-SPAN, Father Timothy Kesicki, President of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, delivers a prayer at the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, April 5, 2018. (C-SPAN via hotspot)


On Wednesday, Kesicki hammered home that point.

“We know, historically, that African Americans didn’t have equality at the end of the Civil War,” he said. “I’ve been very clear that I believe racism will endure until we come to terms with our history of slavery.”