Bishop Rosati and the Legacy of Vincentian Slaveholding

The August 26th announcement in Newsline regarding the history of slave ownership by the Vincentians came as a surprise to most people on campus. The removal of the Rosati name from signage in the DePaul University Library and from the Library website was swift and yet there was a void left by this erasure that understandably raised more questions. This post offers a brief background on the relationship of the name to the Library and the University.

Joseph Rosati was an Italian Vincentian priest who, along with Felix DeAndreis, led the first group of Vincentian priests and brothers to the United States in 1816. Rosati and DeAndreis are credited with founding the Congregation of the Mission (a.k.a. the Vincentians) in the United States, as well as establishing the Congregation’s first seminary at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri. Rosati served as the Superior of St. Mary’s of the Barrens seminary, and in 1827, Rosati was named the first Bishop of St. Louis. These feats are well known, but archival records held at DePaul, Notre Dame, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis also show that Rosati owned and rented enslaved people both in his role at the seminary and while he was the Bishop of St. Louis. This research has not previously been part of the popular stories told about Rosati and the early days of the Vincentians in the United States.

DePaul University was founded by Vincentian priests in 1898 as St. Vincent’s College, and was later chartered as DePaul University, in honor of St. Vincent de Paul, who founded the Congregation of the Mission in France in the 17th century. DePaul’s present-day mission is guided by Vincentian ethics of personalism and human dignity.

The Vincentians (Western Province) named Room 300 in the John T. Richardson Library after Bishop Rosati in 1993, by way of a donation to the University that included naming rights for two rooms in the newly constructed Library. The archival records of the Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission were established in 1939 and were named after Felix De Andreis and Joseph Rosati. Special Collections and Archives preserves and provides access to those archives through a contractual agreement, but they are owned by the Western Province. The University, Library, and Special Collections and Archives did not name Room 300 or the archival collection.

The investigation into slaveholding by Catholic orders is not new, nor is the evidence for this just now being discovered. What has evolved is the realization that reconciliation and repair cannot begin unless organizations confront the past, become transparent, and engage in difficult conversations. Special Collections and Archives has included historical documentation of this dark chapter of Vincentian history in an exhibit and in instruction sessions, and has assisted researchers remotely and in our reading room to use these records and to include them in larger scholarly and community conversations.

A University task force is now being formed to bring together voices from across campus, including students, staff, and faculty, in order to determine options for renaming Room 300, to plan for addressing and educating about the Vincentian legacy of slaveholding, and to assist with the University’s response to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at DePaul in the present time. Members of Special Collections and Archives are participating in these conversations as well as in conversations with our archival colleagues at other Catholic and Vincentian organizations. The task force is being convened by Fr. Memo, Vice President of the Division of Mission and Ministry. Calls for participation will go through Faculty Council, Staff Council, and the Student Government Association, as well as through ex-officio appointments.

One Reply to “Bishop Rosati and the Legacy of Vincentian Slaveholding”

  1. Thanks very much! So glad we used the information over the years. You explained it all so clearly and thoroughly.

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