The Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project (SHMR) gained a new project coordinator in January. Laura Weis, Ph.D., joined the initiative sponsored by the USA Central and Southern Province in collaboration with Saint Louis University. The project staff also includes several researchers and translators.
Since its beginning in 2016, the project has made great strides in researching the history of Jesuit slaveholding in the part of the country that is now the USA Central and Southern Province.
Weis brings new energy and a fresh perspective to the project. “I’m incredibly pleased with the decision to hire Dr. Laura Weis as the project coordinator for the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project,” said David Miros, Ph.D., director of the Jesuit Archives & Research Center (JARC). Dr. Miros has overseen the project since its inception three years ago. Much of the research for the SHMR project has been conducted at the JARC in St. Louis.
“Laura’s academic training, organizational strengths and professional experience make her an excellent choice. We are indeed fortunate to have her lead such an important initiative for the Society of Jesus in the United States.”
A native St. Louisan, Weis is excited to return to her hometown after spending over ten years away. For three and a half years, she worked in public policy in Washington, DC, for two Quaker organizations advocating for nonviolent responses to conflicts abroad. She completed her doctorate in history and peace studies in 2018 at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
She is also Jesuit-educated, having earned a bachelor’s in history and sociology from Saint Louis University (SLU). She was impacted by SLU’s social justice emphasis, especially while enrolled in a social justice course in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11: “I became interested in ways out of violent conflict that weren’t military solutions,” and in repairing relationships through dialogue, reconciliation and restorative justice processes.
Her new position suits her training at the nexus of both historical methods training and peace studies. Weis appreciates that the project “values both of those approaches,” she said, “especially the role of acknowledging, understanding and communicating the past. These narratives continue to influence the way people relate to each other and to institutions.”
Laura Weis and Kelly Schmidt, SHMR Project Research Coordinator, discuss a document.
Weis has high hopes for the continued work of SHMR. “As project coordinator, I’m looking at the way the project has developed as three-fold: the historical research on Jesuit slaveholding; communicating those findings to a wider audience and, in particular, to the descendants of enslaved people when possible; and, finally, broaching the question Where do we go from here?”
While research is ongoing, Weis looks forward to exploring the last question “in a way that contributes to the larger national conversation on the legacy of slavery, which continues to be with us today in broader, systemic issues.”
Most importantly, her goal is to “continue centering the lives and experiences of the people the Jesuits held in slavery.” She sees this “not just as a matter of research, but also a way of moving forward.”
In the coming months, the SHMR Project will invite members of the community, including the descendants of those held in slavery by Jesuits, into a conversation that recognizes the pain of the past and offers a path toward healing relationships. The province also seeks to include the wider public in an effort to move together toward reconciliation.
To learn more about the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation project and its findings to date, click here.