Historians have long known that when Jesuits established missions in St. Louis and southern Louisiana, they relied on the labor of enslaved people to help those missions survive. This history is a source of shame for Jesuits today. We deeply regret Jesuits’ participation in this evil institution. No one today can reconcile these actions with the current teaching of the Church or with our commitments as Jesuits, but they are an undeniable part of our history. We are called now to an intentional response, one made in collaboration with those in our communities who continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery.
St. Francis Xavier Church opened the gallery labeled in this picture as a “chapel for the negroes”
in 1858. Black Catholics in St. Louis, including those held in slavery by Jesuits
at Saint Louis University, worshipped there for many years.
Later, many became members of St. Elizabeth’s Parish when it opened in 1873.
In the fall of 2016, the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province and Saint Louis University committed financial resources and personnel for a focused study of the history of Jesuit slaveholding in the province. Province personnel are collaborating with institutions in Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri, the states where Jesuits held people in slavery, to learn the full truth of our history related to slavery and the lives of the men and women who were enslaved.
Researchers have made significant advances and learn more every day. We now know many more names of the enslaved and more of what their lives were like. We've also made progress on tracing their family lineage. A status report was released in May 2018.
If you have information to contribute to this knowledge base or want to learn more, please contact the research team at HistoryResearch@Jesuits.org or call 314-376-2440.