St. Louis has long struggled with its racism-laden history. Likewise, the account of the Jesuit order and its institutions in Saint-Louis is complex. There is the legacy of slavery, that is, the arrival of the Jesuits in 1823 with enslaved Africans in tow whose unpaid labor would be relied upon to help establish the Missouri Mission. Juxtaposed to this legacy is a history of Jesuit ministry to black Catholics in St. Louis, a ministry that at one time encompassed the spiritual care of the entire black Catholic community in the city. Among those ministers were Jesuit priests who championed racial equality and fought for the integration of Saint Louis University, making it the first university in a former slave state to admit African-American students. Rooted in this history, driven by a thirst for social justice, and animated by a spirit of reconciliation and communion, the parishioners of College Church have formed their response to the unrest in Ferguson.
Shortly after the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death, a group of parishioners – most of whom had been active in the parish’s Social Ministry Commission – came together to form the Committee on Racism and Reconciliation. As its members seek to deepen their own awareness and understanding of racism and the structural components of our society that preserve it, this committee has served as the primary outward-looking vehicle for parish anti-racism efforts. It provides opportunities, for those in the parish and beyond, for education on topics related to racism; it plans activities to celebrate the contributions of black Catholics; and it provides forums – often in conjunction with a neighboring, predominantly black parish – for interracial dialogue. Among its most popular and recurring programs is the Journey of racial justice during Lentwhich extends the invitation to pray the Examafter engaging daily with carefully curated materials (articles, videos, and podcasts) on the topic of racial justice.