“Why are you digging up that old stuff?” friends asked as I searched old records and plodded through cemeteries seeking to find my roots.  While I did not uncover an unbearable truth, a friend did.

While tracing his family tree, he learned that American Catholic priests of the Jesuit order owned several large plantations in Maryland and held hundreds of slaves. These priests also founded Georgetown College (now University).  In 1838, in order to pay its debts, the school boarded 272 men, women, and children on a ship and sent them to Louisiana to be sold. The story was later told that they all succumbed to fever and died in mosquito-infested swamps. 

Remembrance Hall, formerly named McSherry Hall, is seen on the Georgetown University campus, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Washington. After renaming the Mulledy and McSherry buildings at Georgetown University temporarily to Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people. Georgetown president John DeGioia announced Thursday that the university will implement the admissions preferences. The university released a report calling on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the university’s participation in the slave trade. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

But they did not die; they lived, and many of their descendants, still Catholic, survive to this day. They ended up in the area of Maringouin in Iberville parish and in Ascension parish. Impressive plantation houses now dot the area testifying to the opulent lifestyle afforded by those whose slaves worked in the sugar fields.

Georgetown University’s president has acknowledged its involvement in slavery, and the school is wrestling with how to make amends. One recommendation is for the University to give preference in admissions to the descendants of Maryland slaves. Another is to increase financial assistance for those who are eligible.

The average cost to enroll in most of Georgetown’s undergraduate academic programs is approximately $50,000 per year.  According to recent data, only 6 percent of the University’s undergraduates are African American.

The magnitude of this tragedy cannot be denied, but amends can—and must—be made.