“To focus on the on-going issue of racism in the world and the Society of the Sacred Heart’s participation in the historic sin of slavery ... we commit ourselves to recover the story of slavery in our early days in this country, to share this historical fact as widely as needed, to assist in the attempt to locate the descendants of enslaved persons who lived on property owned by the Society of the Sacred Heart, and to take appropriate steps to address this painful chapter in our history while also working to help transform on-going racist attitudes and behaviors." — Mandate of the Committee on Slavery, Accountability and Reconciliation

Acknowledging our participation in the structural sin of racism publicly became an element to mark the Society’s presence in North America for 200 years in 2018. (Watch Former Provincial Sheila Hammond, RSCJ, Welcome | Grand Coteau Gathering September 2018)

Claiming the truth of our past

The communities of the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ), from the time of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne (1818) until the close of the Civil War, participated in the violence of slavery by buying*, selling* and holding in bondage more than 100 men, women and children in the states of Louisiana, Missouri and Kansas. These individuals' skills were used and exploited to construct the buildings, make the bricks, and sustain the very foundations of the Society. They also shouldered much of the burden of the household labor, cooking, washing, gardening, and caring for the children in the schools.

The Society of the Sacred Heart’s first foundations:

  • St. Charles, Missouri (1818 and closed 1 year later)
  • Florissant, Missouri (1819) 
  • Grand Coteau, Louisiana (1821)
  • St. Michael's, Louisiana (1825) 
  • St. Louis, Missouri (1827)
  • St. Charles reopened (1828) 
  • La Fourche, Louisiana (1828)
  • Sugar Creek, Kansas (1841) moved to St. Mary's, Kansas (1848)
  • Natchitoches, Louisiana (1847)

The research shows that from the founding of the first schools until 1865, the Society enslaved approximately 150 people in Louisiana, Missouri and Kansas. The Society continues to conduct research in this area.

*We have opted to tell the truth about human chattel slavery clearly, here, by retaining the dehumanizing transactional language of the historical documents. However, we have chosen to call the reader’s attention to these terms with an asterisk. We hope the reader will trip over these terms while reading, and feel the discomfort of using them. Our intention is to make it clear that, although our historical documents may describe a person as being “gifted,” “loaned,” “bought,” or “sold,” we cannot unquestioningly accept such language today, because we cannot morally accept the premise of ownership and domination on which that language is based.


Research to date

The Committee

In the fall of 2016, the Provincial Team of the Society of the Sacred Heart, United States – Canada Province, constituted a committee with the mandate to focus on the Society’s role in racism and the enslavement of human beings. The committee completed their portion of this ongoing work in 2020.

Read more
We Speak Your Names Prosession

Gathering of Descendants

We Speak Your Names, a gathering of the descendants of those who were enslaved by the Society, took place on September 23, 2018 in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. This event was planned by a committee of descendants and was a direct response to their expressed desire to have the Society remember and honor their ancestors.

Read more

Genealogical research: Identifying descendants of enslaved persons

Before we began our research, we knew that the Society enslaved people in Grand Coteau, Louisiana; Natchitoches and Lafourche, Louisiana; St. Michael's in Convent, Louisiana; St. Louis and Florissant, Missouri; and Sugar Creek, Kansas. However, the Committee on Slavery, Accountability and Reconciliation felt that the Society owed it to these individuals to find out whatever we could about the specifics of their lives and experiences.

Maureen Chicoine, RSCJ, launched the necessary genealogy research to identify descendants of the enslaved persons once held in bondage by the Society. She and Irma Dillard, RSCJ, met with descendants to hear their families' stories, learn from their experiences, and begin to ask how the RSCJ could begin the work of restoring right relationship with these families.

Contact Us


Learn about the two memorials to those enslaved by the Society in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

Read more

Ongoing work of reconciliation

While we continue to work with the descendants of those enslaved women, children and men who built the foundation of the Society of the Sacred Heart in the United States, we are also working to transform existing racist attitudes and behaviors within ourselves and within those communities and institutions that bear our name. This commitment to truth-telling, healing and reconciliation for a better future is taking a variety of forms.

Read more

In the media

Media coverage on the Society of the Sacred Heart’s history of enslavement.

Watch and read more

Black Lives Entwined With Our History, Chapter 1

This documentary video was produced in the fall of 2018, and largely reflects the research completed by that point in time. The video was updated in 2020 with several new images.

Watch now