There were mea culpas offered during a moving liturgy in Gaston Hall in the school's landmark Healy Building and at dedications in the Quadrangle, where newly renamed buildings stand near Dahlgren Chapel.
The two buildings, which once bore the names of the 19th-century Jesuit priests who managed the deal that sent 272 slaves from Maryland to Louisiana, were dedicated in the names of former slaves: Isaac Hawkins, whose name is shown at the top of the bill of sale, and Anne Marie Becraft, a freed African American woman who founded a school for Catholic black girls in Georgetown.
At the Gaston Hall ceremony, attended by descendants of the slaves sold off by the university, Georgetown's president, John DeGioia, said the school — like others on the East Coast — participated in America's "original sin," slavery. "We offer this apology for the descendants and your ancestors humbly and without expectations, and we trust ourselves to God and the Spirit and the grace He freely offers to find ways to work together and build together," DeGioia said.
Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, said, “Today the Society of Jesus, which helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say: We have greatly sinned, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do.” He added: "We betrayed the very name of Jesus for whom our least society is named."
“Penance is very important,” said Sandra Green Thomas, president of the GU272 Descendants Association. “Penance is required when you have violated God’s law.”
The university selected the day because it was a few days after D.C. Emancipation Day, which commemorates the freeing of slaves in the District of Columbia by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862.