Georgetown Jesuits enslaved her ancestors. Now she’s working for justice.

Mulledy Hall, also known as Freedom Hall, center, is seen on the campus of Georgetown University. Mulledy Hall, also known as Freedom Hall, center, is seen on the campus of Georgetown University. The building will be renamed after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in the Jesuit university's documents on its selling of slaves. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) 

Onita Estes-Hicks has been Catholic her entire life. Men in her family were named “Nace” after St. Ignatius, a testament to the influence of the Jesuits in her family’s life. But her relationship with her faith was forever changed in 2004, when her family discovered that they were the descendents of one of the 272 enslaved persons sold by the Jesuits who ran Georgetown University in 1838.

Advertisement

We talk to Onita about what it was like to find out about her family’s history, what Georgetown has done to ask for forgiveness and what it’s been like to form a community of other descendants.

In Signs of the Times we unpack the latest developments from the case of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick (for a fuller discussion, listen to this week’s episode of Inside the Vatican) and discuss the new Archbishop of Washington, D.C. In our new segment, “Being Frank,” we talk about the pope’s advice to young travelers to focus on encounter, not consumerism (or Instagram likes).

Links from the show:

GU272 Descendants Association
New correspondence obtained by Crux confirms that the Vatican placed restrictions on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
In new interview that appears to have been conducted before this report was released, Pope Francis said he ‘knew nothing’ about McCarrick
Washington’s black Catholic community looks to Archbishop Gregory for new leadership
Pope praises Catholic tourism group dedicated to young people

What’s on tap?

Goodbye whiskey from Father Eric Sundrup 😔

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Ernest Allen, Jr
12 months ago

I have been especially moved by the actions of Georgetown University students who voted in favor of paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved human beings sold by the Jesuit founders. This remains a thorny issue, to be sure, but I am persuaded that this moral issue is one that the University must now be prepared to engage.

Terri Hicks
11 months 4 weeks ago

I think the steps that have been taken by the Georgetown students are far and above what America as a whole has done to try to deal with the issues of the ugly past of slavery. I hope their actions sets an example for the rest of not only universities and Places of higher learning but for the United States as a whole, representatives in DC, and to general society at large. As a person who has been married to one of the descendants of GU272, I realize the importance of recognition And moving toward reparations for these atrocities.

Advertisement
More: Jesuits / Race

The latest from america

In the Ohio and Upper Mississippi river basins, 10 million metric tons of commercial fertilizer is applied each year, and much of it ends up in our waterways. (iStock/filmfoto)
In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis called drinkable water a human right. But as Nathan Beacom writes, our methods of farming and raising livestock are degrading our soil and polluting our waterways.
Nathan BeacomMay 28, 2020
The ethical problem with talking about ‘expected life years’
Bernard G. PrusakMay 28, 2020
Did the old “normal” way of doing things exhaust all possibilities for communal celebration? Is that what we want to return to, even if doing so were possible?
Jack Bentz, S.J.May 28, 2020
A St. Augustine statue at the Charles Bridge crossing the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic. (iStock/Tuayai)
Though Augustine might have a reputation for pessimism, Kathleen Bonnette writes, his spirituality and his actions during the siege of Hippo can offer guidance for responding to the Covid-19 crisis.
Kathleen BonnetteMay 28, 2020