Loras College in Dubuque removes founder’s statue over his slave-owning history
Bishop Loras paid $800 for the woman and kept her for 16 years, hiring her out to get ministry money, researcher finds
DUBUQUE, Iowa (WKBT) — Loras College has taken down a statue of its founder, Bishop Mathias Loras, after a researcher told college officials that Loras bought a slave for $800 in 1836 and kept her for 16 years.
Loras bought the woman, Marie Louise, while he was living in Mobile, Ala., the year before he was consecrated the first bishop of the new Diocese of Dubuque, according to a letter, dated Sept. 8, that Loras President President Jim Collins wrote to students, faculty and staff.
Loras, who established a seminary in 1839 that eventually became Loras College, left Mary Louise in Alabama, but he owned her until his death in 1858. In the meantime, he hired her out to others and used the proceeds to pay for ministries in Iowa, the researcher discovered.
Previous biographers had used Loras’ personal letters to establish the fact of his slave ownership But the researcher’s detailed analysis of historic documents and Loras’ unpublished personal financial ledgers “showed for the first time the extent of those transactions, leading to a new understanding of Bishop Loras’ participation in the system of slavery,” Collins said in his letter.
Gobsmacked at the revelations about the school’s founder, administrators consulted with history faculty members, one of whom confirmed the details of the expose.
“Further, there is no evidence that Bishop Loras ever expressed remorse for his actions,” Collins’ letter says.
“Slavery is an evil in any age, and its legacy of dehumanizing injustice persists. Bishop Loras’ abhorrent conduct is antithetical to the mission, vision, values, and Catholic identity of this institution. Consistent with these values, Loras College denounces racial injustice and hate in all its forms,” the president wrote.
The college’s board of regents met and set the following priorities:
“Truth – We will communicate about this matter openly and honestly.
“Atonement – We must honor the life and dignity of Marie Louise and atone for her enslavement.
“Rights and Responsibilities – We reassert our commitment to ending racial injustice within the College and beyond.
“Call to Community – We will seek and engage our community in this process.
In addition to removing the statue and putting it in storage, the board also will create a scholarship in honor of Mary Louise, effective with this academic year, Collins said.
It also will create a scholarship fund in honor of the college’s first black graduate and fifth black priest to be ordained in the United States, the Rev. Norman Dukette.
Regarding the school’s name, Collins wrote, “the educational experience beloved by our alumni, students, and faculty is not defined by the man. The ideals to which we aspire are and have always been far greater.”
The Loras name will remain “while we focus our energy and resources on accelerating and expanding efforts to advance human dignity, diversity, equity and inclusion on campus,” Collins wrote.
The school also created a dedicated web page so people can keep up with developments on the issue.
“We recognize that not everyone will agree with these decisions,” Collins wrote. “I ask that we all pause and reflect first and then engage openly, honestly and civilly as we come together as a community to honor Marie Louise and the facts about her enslavement.”
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