Historians have long known that the Society of Jesus relied on the labor of enslaved people. Enslaved people worked at Jesuit missions and schools in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Missouri, as well as in Illinois, Kansas and Pennsylvania before they became free states. Their involuntary labor helped establish, expand, and sustain Jesuit missionary efforts and educational institutions in colonial North America and, over time, across the United States. 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 that foregrounds the lived experiences of the enslaved, acknowledges the legacies of Jesuit slaveholding, and is made in collaboration with descendants and 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 the “1st Jesuit Negro Chapel Old St. F.X. Church” 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. Image courtesy of Jesuit Archives & Research Center.