History of Enslaved People Steering Committee


Sr. Mary Berchmans Hannan '48 & '50

President Emerita

Max Bindernagel

Religion Department

Mary Kate Blaine


Will Farquhar

History Department

Caroline Coleman Handorf '96

Director of Communications

Peggy Judge Hamilton '85

Diversity Co-Coordinator

Raynetta Jackson-Clay

Diversity Co-Coordinator

Olivia Wills Kane '85

Director of the St. Jane de Chantal Salesian Center

Dan Kerns

Head of School

Dr. Susan Nalezyty

School Archivist


Dear Friends,

On this day 156 years ago, 12 enslaved persons who had been the property of the Convent of Georgetown Visitation breathed the air of freedom for the first time in their lives.  


Today, DC's Emancipation Day, we gathered as a community to recognize those individuals, and their predecessors who had been enslaved by the Sisters from 1800 - 1862.

This assembly was the culmination of countless hours of careful work by School Archivist Dr. Susan Nalezyty, who studied primary sources in the School and Monastery Archives, as well as in public repositories. She wrote a detailed report that allows the documentary evidence to tell the stories of those who were enslaved by Georgetown Visitation.  This work is helping us restore the identities of those who were enslaved at Visitation and sheds light on whether and how buildings on our campus relate to those enslaved individuals. Among her findings:


  • Between 1800 and 1862, when DC was emancipated, the Sisters of the Visitation owned slaves, as did others in Georgetown, other religious orders, and other educational institutions. The Sisters were deeply typical of their time and place.
  • The enslaved people on Visitation's campus included men, women, and children, from young babies to older individuals.  
  • Many of those enslaved by the Sisters were brought here by women joining the convent. Some of the enslaved people labored on our campus, while others were hired out or sold to underwrite the continued operation of the school.

Over time, many myths and generalizations have arisen around slavery at Visitation. This research provides an essential historical context, rooted in documentary evidence, that enables a better understanding of this difficult past. The stories of those enslaved on Visitation's campus, of the Sisters, and of their relationships with each other are nuanced and individual and reflect the complexity of the human experience; to be understood, they must be studied.

Dr. Nalezyty's report is the first step of our special monastery and school joint project to do just that: The History of Enslaved People at Georgetown Visitation: Learning, Reflecting and Teaching. We undertake this work with humility, honesty, and humanity. To learn more about this project and its origins, we invite you to read Sister Mary Berchmans' Founders Day remarks.

The shadow of slavery is long. Even today, more than 150 years after emancipation, we see evidence of the deep wounds slavery has left on us as a nation. In shedding light on this difficult part of our history, we hope to learn how we can not only ensure our community is welcoming and inclusive, but also make our world more equitable and just. We plan to advance these goals by engaging our campus community to help us:


  • Incorporate this substantial primary research into our ongoing study and interpretation of this school's long and rich history;
  • Determine how best to share this with our wider Visitation family;
  • Integrate this history and related social justice content into our curricular and co-curricular offerings;
  • Understand how this new information impacts our community;
  • Identify opportunities for reflection and reconciliation; and
  • Identify ways we can make our community more inclusive.

Since hearing about this work in the fall, our students have been curious and thoughtful, posing challenging questions and demonstrating clear interest in being an active part of this ongoing work. Their sincere engagement with the complexities of this information have and will be invaluable as we continue to move forward with this sacred work.

In closing, I invite you to join me in prayer as we humbly acknowledge the lives and legacy of those who were enslaved here:

God in heaven, today on the anniversary of Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, we acknowledge and remember those who were enslaved on this campus, those who contributed to the growth and success of our school, not by their choice but through the evil of slavery. 

They are the women, men and children who to this point have been anonymous, faceless and nameless. We have deprived them of their name and their dignity, and for this we beg forgiveness. Today we remember them with the respect they are due.


We ask for forgiveness for our part in the cultural sins of slavery, and for the way that it was lived out in our early community here at Georgetown Visitation. We apologize for a lack of moral courage in addressing these transgressions.  


But God, we are an Easter people, committed to hope.  During these days of Resurrection and new life, we pray that we can be a people of change.  Inspire us to see each and every person we meet as our equal and as a child of God. Accept our prayers of contrition for the failures of the past and reinforce in us the desire and need to live out our discipleship, as women and men of faith, vision, and purpose as we create a world of justice, compassion, and lasting peace. We ask for these things in Jesus' name.





Dan Kerns

Head of School



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