Moving Towards Reconciliation: Conversations and Efforts about Race, Slavery and History Across the Network

Bill Hobbs
Unquestionably, the issue of race and reconciliation is a topic that confronts and challenges our school communities today. It is not a new topic, and while it is national in scope, the reality and impact are felt in particular in the local context of each school community. For that reason, the Network of Sacred Heart Schools is working with the  Society of the Sacred Heart United States -- Canada Province to provide opportunities and resources for our school communities to understand the experience of racism broadly and locally.
From April 5th through 8th, 2018, several faculty members from Sacred Heart schools, along with the Director of Program Planning, Bill Hobbs, met at Duchesne House for Volunteers in New Orleans. Led by Bonnie Kearney, RSCJ and Sergio Vasquez, this initial group came together to explore, learn and discuss the topic of race and reconciliation in Sacred Heart education. In a spirit of simple communal living and reflection and prayer, the group set out on a heart-felt journey to explore what has been called America’s “original sin.”

The entry point was the experience of the African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities in New Orleans. The group experienced an impactful visit to the Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans, which tells the story of slavery from the perspective of those who were enslaved. At the Musée de f.p.c (Museum of the Free People of Color), the narrative of the communities of color from colonization to the present day was shared with the group. At the Community Book Center, located down the street from Duchesne House, the group learned more about the experience of black Americans in politics, education, religion in New Orleans. After a Gospel-Choir Mass on Sunday morning, the group headed to Congo Square to join in the weekly drum circle.
An important part of the experience, particularly from a Sacred Heart perspective, was meeting with Maureen Chicoine, RSCJ, who shared the work of the Province Committee on Slavery, Accountability and Reconciliation. She explained what the committee has done so far in exploring the Society of the Sacred Heart’s connection with slavery, the history of the Province ownership of slaves in Louisiana and Missouri, the outreach that been undertaken in connecting with descendants of those slaves, and opportunities for efforts moving toward reconciliation in the future.
A significant amount of time was spent around the dining room table at Duchesne House. The group of nine adults shared their own stories of racism in their lives, the realities of local and school communities, and hopes for facing this issue in Network schools today and into the future. Participants discussed curricular opportunities and insights, focused on the challenge of diversity in both the student and adult communities of Network schools, and shared programs and resources.

Our weekend together further highlighted the need to engage in dialogue to first take stock and to become aware of where we are starting from in this conversation. In other words, throughout our conversations it became clearer that each person understood the issue of race in a unique way. Until we can acknowledge our myriad starting points our collective work will be disjointed and lacking the unity called for in a Sacred Heart school (cor unum et anima).”  

- Stewart Heatwole from Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School, St. Louis, MO
At the Network Membership Meeting in April, Lyn Osiek, RSCJ, who chairs the Province Committee on Slavery, Accountability and Reconciliation, made a presentation to the Network Heads of Schools and Board Chairs. In addition to providing this audience with history of the Society’s involvement in slavery in the United States, she also included the preliminary responses of the Province in recognizing its accountability and work toward reconciliation.
This summer, a group of students will experience a version of this program at Duchesne House as part of the Network Summer Service Projects. Two additional programs for adults have been scheduled for next year -- one in October and one in April, to continue the discussion on impacts and opportunities in Network schools. In addition, at the request of the Province, a Network committee on education about racism will be established in the months ahead that includes administrators, board members, and faculty that will see through the implementation of a program for education against racism in all the schools within the Network of Sacred Heart Schools.
Schools of the Sacred Heart share in the educational mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart as articulated in the Goals and Criteria. The structure supporting Sacred Heart education in Canada and the United States includes the Conference of Sacred Heart Education and the Network of Sacred Heart Schools.  Together they provide services and programs to ensure vitality of mission for the member schools sponsored by the Society of the Sacred Heart.