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Two-day conference will explore Catholic slavery, racism

The first-of-its-kind event will draw practitioners to St. Louis under the auspices of Catholic Religious Organizations Studying Slavery (CROSS).

(Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists)

Catholic-affiliated archivists from around the country will gather in St. Louis next month for a first-of-its-kind conference assisting historians in uncovering the history of racism and slavery in their institutions.

Open Wide our Archives: Truth, Transparency & Access,” scheduled for October 30-31 at the Cardinal Rigali Center, will feature a keynote address from Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville, one of the nation’s Black Catholic prelates.

The conference is being organized by Catholic Religious Organizations Studying Slavery (CROSS), an archivist-led group founded during Fabre’s tenure as inaugural head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

“[CROSS] is dedicated to exploring ways of promoting open access to these records, assisting organizations in gaining knowledge of their institution’s history, and opening a dialog about transparency and truthfulness,” Fabre said in an announcement for the conference earlier this summer.

“How do we begin to acknowledge and reconcile our sins if we do not know our past? We rely on in-depth scholarly research to illustrate the Catholic Church’s customs and practices. However, we also need to initiate our own research into our institution’s past so we can tell our own story with humility and honesty.”

Assisting at the conference will be the current Ad Hoc Committee chair, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, who succeeds Fabre in providing episcopal oversight for the CROSS organizing group. Perry is also scheduled to give remarks at the St. Louis gathering.

Other speakers will include Fr David Endres of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology in Cincinnati, who recently edited scholarly volumes on the important works of African-American and Native-American Catholicism, respectively. Sharing a session with Endres will be Dr. Emilie Gagnet Leumas of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, who with him will discuss the Catholic Church’s participation in slavery.

Dr. Stephanie A.T. Jacobe of the Archdiocese of Washington will co-present with Thomas P. Lester of the Archdiocese of Boston on the new “CROSS: Best Practices Manual,” a guide for institutions seeking to track the history of slavery and make their findings accessible to researchers.

Sessions on the second day of the conference will include several local figures in St. Louis, including Dr. Danielle Harrison, a Black Catholic who will lead a prayer service. Representatives from religious communities and dioceses will follow with a presentation on the results of intra-community research into slavery; a closing session will feature Robin Proudie, a descendant of African Americans enslaved by the Jesuits at St. Louis University, and Dr. Kelly L. Schmidt, a former member of the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project.

“This is the first time that archivists, historians, genealogists, descendants, and diocesan officials have come together over this issue,” said Dr. Patrick Hayes, a CROSS member who works as an archivist for the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists. Hayes noted that one of the conference's goals is to “add to our understanding of slavery as a systematic problem for the Catholic Church.”

“We're going to do a couple of interesting things around this event, including a selection of oral histories on film.”

The cost to attend the conference is $99 and the deadline to register is Friday, September 15. Hotel rooms at the Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis Forest Park have been reserved at a special rate for conference attendees. For more information, interested parties can visit the event page on the website of the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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