DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Update on the Task Force to Address Vincentians' Relationship with Slavery

Update on the Task Force to Address Vincentians' Relationship with Slavery

​​​St. Vincent statue

(DePaul University/Josh Woo)

This summary  outlines the work of the Task Force to Address Vincentians' Relationship with Slavery since the update included in a  December 2021 edition of Newsline. 

The Task Force to Address Vincentians' Relationship with Slavery comprises 17 faculty, staff and student members. It was established in fall 2021 following information that members of the Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission, DePaul's sponsor organization, enslaved people in the 1800s.  Research from St. Louis identified one of the prominent Vincentians who engaged in owning and selling slaves was the city's first bishop, Bishop Joseph Rosati, C.M., after whom a room was named in DePaul's Richardson Library. 

Following the removal of Bishop Rosati's name, the Task Force was given three charges by DePaul President A. Gabriel​ Esteban:

  • To rename this library room;
  • To identify learning initiatives, documentation and research to educate our community;
  • To give space to the community to express their concerns around related issues of equity at DePaul in the present time. 

The work of the overall Task Force has expanded since its inception, and its members unanimously agreed to extend their participation through June 2023, to undertake a year-long program of educational and other programming that reflects the importance of this topic.

In addition, in the past six months the Task Force secured a Vincentian Endowment award to fund student researchers to participate in the project and established four subcommittees to progress this work. 

Sharing regular updates with stakeholders is one of the goals of the Communications Subcommittee.  Fr. Memo Campuzano, C.M., reported on the Task Force's work at the spring JEDI conference. The Communications Subcommittee also is developing a public website and a comprehensive calendar of programming and notable dates, such as listening sessions and speakers, that will be shared with the entire community in the fall.  The subcommittee will also provide quarterly updates via Newsline.

The Race and Space Subcommittee will lead the library room re-naming project. This work will include displaying information inside the room relevant to the re-naming, enabling future generations at DePaul to know the pertinent history.  

Looking at Race and Space beyond the library, and acknowledging the need for Black students to see themselves reflected in the geography of DePaul, this committee will also lead a process to rename the Belden-Racine residence hall after a person of African descent. The subcommittee is taking the lead in planning a fall kickoff event to help educate the university and to establish what they hope will become an annual tradition that acknowledges our sponsor's involvement with slavery.  This subcommittee is also working on programming that will likely include speakers related to the Task Force's charge, culminating in June 2023, with a public re-naming ceremony. 

The History and Research Subcommittee has made significant strides in mining the archives at DePaul.  Subcommittee member Lori Pierce, associate professor in the Department of African and Black Diaspora studies, reports that, “Research in the Vincentian archives is allowing us to build on existing work to identify and chronicle the lived experiences of enslaved people who lived at Vincentian sites in Perry County, St. Louis, and Cape Girardeau. This foundational work of documentation and truth-telling is essential if we are to understand the history of structural racism within the American Vincentian tradition, which itself is fundamental to plans for commemorative and anti-racist actions." 

Margaret Storey, a professor in the Department of History, says, “We have been fortunate to bring two student researchers onto our team. Stephanie Crean and Hannah Kornblut are both history majors fluent in French, so they have been doggedly transcribing and translating handwritten French language documents so that the contents are more readily accessible to all researchers. They are also developing annotated bibliographies and glosses of secondary literature, reading through English language documents, and contributing the names of enslaved individuals they encounter to our project database."

The Task Force is keeping in contact with historians doing similar research for the Archdiocese of St. Louis as well as the archivist of the Western Province and other Vincentian historians. Task Force members feel strongly about Vincentians of the Western Province being engaged with the work of the Task Force at DePaul, and the Provincial is supportive of this connection.  The Western Province is simultaneously continuing its own work around its connection to slavery, building on the tradition of Frs. Stafford Poole, C.M. and Douglas J. Slawson, C.M.'s volume Church and Slave in Perry County, Missouri, 1818-1865 and the work of Fr. John Rybolt, C.M.

Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., who is serving as the liaison with the president on the Task Force and is a member of the Western Province, feels strongly about the Task Force's work.  “I am sure that this is an essential task of the Vincentians of today to heal our history and to embrace the present and the future with a new commitment to a society where racism in all its forms is finally defeated," he says.

Finally, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee has partnered with the Black Equity Initiative to secure funds for scholarships for Black students and maintain a focus of having DePaul community members involved in processes, such as re-naming and processing the legacy of Vincentians connection with slavery. 

The Task Force will continue its work over the summer and looks forward to sharing a robust calendar of 2022-23 programming with the university community in the fall.​​​