Sandra Green Thomas Calls Jesuits’ Pledge of $100 Million “More Than I Ever Thought We Would See”

Immaculate Conception Church (Jesuits’) New Orleans” by darrellrhodesmiller is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Recently, in one of the largest monetary efforts by a Catholic institution to atone for its role in slavery, leaders of the Jesuit conference of priests have vowed to raise $100 million to benefit descendants of the enslaved people their church once owned and sold. 

Sandra Green Thomas, a local political activist who is descended from enslaved people sold by the Jesuits to fund Georgetown University, was recently featured in a New York Times article that covered the Jesuits’ atonement plan. 

In 2017, Sandra Green Thomas said, “The Jesuits, they must do more, and they know it.” At the time her organization, the GU272 Descendants Association had pitched plans of Georgetown raising billions of dollars to fund all their descendants’ education.

Recently, she called the $100 million pledge, “more than I ever thought we would see.”

The GU272 Descendants Association, which Thomas is the founding president of, is a non-profit organization that supports “the goals, objectives, and aspirations of all descendants of the 272+ enslaved people who were owned and sold by Maryland Jesuits in 1838 to keep Georgetown University open, and further to represent the same interests of all other descendants of people enslaved before and after 1838 by the Jesuits of the Maryland Province.”

The Georgetown Memory Project has identified over 10,000 descendants of the 272+ people sold by the Jesuits to plantations in Louisiana to fund Georgetown University. Over 5,000 of those descendants are still alive today. 

While Thomas was impressed by the pledge, she wasn’t completely won over by the currently somewhat vague plan, expressing interest in knowing where all the fundraised money is going to go. Thomas stated, “The foundation as currently envisioned is not reparations. It does a terrible disservice to descendants & the reparations movement to call it so.” She explained, “my concern is whether or not this foundation is going to benefit descendants or those who are in control of the foundation. If the money is not earmarked for the descendants, then it really isn’t reparative. We need more details.” 

The money raised by the Jesuits will be held in a new foundation they are establishing in partnership with a group of descendants. So far, half of the foundation’s budget has been allocated towards being distributed as grants to organizations that engage in racial reconciliation projects. A quarter of the budget will go towards supporting educational opportunities for descendants through scholarships and grants. A small portion will help with the emergency needs of older descendants. 

The Jesuit order relied on slave labor and sales for more than a century to finance their clergy, day-to-day operations, and the Catholic institution they established, Georgetown University. Their pledge arrives at a time when calls for reparations by organizations that benefitted from slavery are rampant. 

Years ago, Sandra Green Thomas explained, “Now what this is doing is forcing America to reckon with the fact that we were a segment of the community that they lived off of in order to prosper and to grow. And it wasn’t that long ago. I mean, this country is in its infancy. It wasn’t that long ago when slavery ended, you know? It’s still very fresh.”

Reverend Timothy P. Kesicki, who is president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States said that “This is an opportunity for Jesuits to begin a very serious process of truth and reconciliation. Our shameful history of Jesuit slaveholding in the United States has been taken off the dusty shelf, and it can never be put back.”

Father Kesicki’s order has already contributed $15 million to the trust established for the new foundation. He said that they have hired a national fund-raising firm, and hope to have reached their $100 million goal within the next 3-5 years.

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