In September of this year, the president of Georgetown University, John DeGioia, issued a formal apology for the 1838 sale of 272 slaves.
When compared with other universities built on the backs of enslaved persons, Georgetown has so far offered the most wide-ranging reflection on its past, and more than any other university has clearly signaled its commitment to devote the university’s resources to pursuing racial reconciliation. Placed within a broader historical trajectory, the apology signals a dramatic transformation. The Jesuits have gone from one of the most outspoken pro-slavery groups in the United States—Matthew Quallen estimates that the Maryland Jesuits were among the top five percent of slave-holding institutions in the early Republic—to an institution that has emerged as a leader on thinking about racial reconciliation. If indeed there is something within the Jesuit tradition that compels the Jesuits to offer public penance, how would one go about defining the “something”?
Albert Wu explores this question by reviewing three recent texts that explore the Jesuits and their role in global conversations.