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 College Church opened the gallery labeled in
this picture as a “chapel for the negroes” in 1858.
Black Catholics in St. Louis, including those enslaved by the 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 preliminary report of research findings was released in May 2018. The following month, Research Coordinator Kelly Schmidt presented her initial findings to the members of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province. Following her presentation, a trio of Jesuit colleagues offered their insights on what it meant to them as people of color, to learn that Jesuits were part of the institution of slavery. Videos of both the presentation of findings and the panel response are available at the bottom of this page.
The pages listed in the sidebar to the right contain information about the research and its findings to date. This information will be updated periodically, because one goal of this project is to share what we learn, especially with the descendants of the men and women whose forced labor enabled the Missouri and New Orleans Missions to flourish. In time, we anticipate working with descendants to create a separate, searchable database, which will allow them to learn about their family heritage.
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.
Next Section - Purpose of this Research