Jesuit Father Thomas Murphy Addresses American Catholicism and Slavery

February 5, 2020

The Diocese of St. Augustine has invited Jesuit Father Thomas Murphy, associate professor of history at Seattle University, to give a talk on American Catholicism and slavery as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the diocese (1870-2020). The talk, titled American Catholicism, Slavery and Bishop Verot, will take place at Holy Faith Catholic Church, 747 NW 43rd St., Gainesville, on Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Parish Life Center.

In 2001, Father Murphy published his doctoral dissertation, a book that sat on shelves for 15 years, and suddenly it became a hot topic. The title? Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1717-1838.

The book has helped inform the discussion about American universities’ slave-owning histories and their responsibility to make reparations to the descendants.

Today, the thought of anyone, much less the church, owning slaves is shocking, but for many centuries slavery, which was widespread, was tolerated by the church.

And while the Catholic church eventually condemned the practice of slavery, church leaders were slow to support the abolition movement. In fact, the first bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Augustin Verot, gave a sermon defending slavery shortly before the Civil War – a sermon that was widely quoted by the Confederacy. Despite condemning the mistreatment of slaves, the church still viewed them as property. Father Murphy’s presentation will address the church’s attitude towards slaves in his presentation.

Much of the church’s resistance towards the abolition movement had to do with nativism and loyalty to the Constitution, which did not include banning slavery until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865. Church leaders did not begin condemning slavery until 1839, just 26 years before its end when Pope Gregory XVI openly condemned slave trading.

For details about Father Murphy’s presentation in Gainesville, call (352) 376-5405. The event is free and open to the public.

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