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The Loyola University Maryland Jesuit Community on Revelations of Jesuit Slaveholding

Baltimore, MD
May, 2024

The Jesuit Community at Loyola University Maryland is now aware of the connection between Jesuit slaveholding in Maryland and the founding of the Loyola College in Baltimore in 1852.  The historical research of Jesuits and laypersons into Jesuit slaveholding in Maryland from the early colonial period of the 17th Century to the end of slavery in the United States in the 19th Century indicates the reliance, both direct and indirect, which the Society of Jesus had on the labor of enslaved men, women and children.  Most significantly, recent research reveals the likelihood that the financial wherewithal for the establishment of Loyola College in Baltimore came from payments received over more than a decade from the sale in 1838 of several hundred enslaved black men, women and children from Jesuit owned Maryland plantations to owners of enslaved persons in Louisiana.  Although slaveholding and the commerce in enslaved persons was common among landowners in Maryland until the end of slavery, Jesuit history indicates that the Society of Jesus engaged in these activities even as concerns over two centuries were raised about the propriety of Jesuit participation in slavery, both by Jesuits locally and by our worldwide Superior General in Rome.

We know that among enslaved persons, as late as the 20th Century, there was sadness and bitterness regarding Jesuit slaveholding and commerce.  Jesuits who ministered to men and women in Southern Maryland with memories of Slavery and its aftermath document clearly the sadness and bitterness occasioned by the 1838 sale of enslaved persons to the Deep South.  The effect of slavery on the enslaved, writes Jesuit Father John LaFarge in 1935, did not appear “as a necessary object of the Church’s protest…”  Slavery and slaveholding were countenanced by the Society of Jesus, along with a subsequent acceptance of the ” place” of African Americans in Maryland Society following the Civil War.   

To be clear the Jesuit Community at Loyola University Maryland is proud of a legacy of Jesuit efforts to build a Catholic presence in Maryland in the face of strong anti-Catholic prejudice at the time, through the education of youth, evangelization of peoples and the care of souls.  Among Jesuits in Maryland up to the present there are some exceptional men who have endeavored to ensure that these gifts were available to African Americans in Maryland also.  In each era, however, the exceptional behavior of some confronted a more prevailing attitude among Jesuits toward African Americans.   Indeed, the legacy of Jesuit history in Maryland includes attitudes and actions of which we are not proud, namely the enslavement of persons, the commerce in human beings and a banal acceptance of racism which has at times perpetuated racial injustice.  Thus, the sadness of descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and a history of prevailing Jesuit attitudes toward African Americans, bring our Jesuit Community to today.

The Jesuit Community of Loyola University Maryland is prepared to take an active role in efforts to heal what was broken.  We collaborate in this with our Jesuit brothers in this region and across the country who recognize the suffering and bitterness of the past and who desire to strive for a far better future free of both racism and human slavery.