Loras College President James Collins addressed new research that shows Bishop Mathias Loras, the school’s founder, enslaved a woman for 16 years during the mid-1800s. In the wake of those findings, Collins announced the school will be removing the statue of Bishop Loras and placing it in storage until a larger discussion is held by the community. Below is his statement on the “deeply upsetting” news.
Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,
I write to you with a broken heart as I need to share deeply upsetting news for our community.
In recent weeks, Loras College received disturbing information about its founder, Bishop Mathias
Loras, from a researcher who was examining Bishop Loras’ personal records to advance his
scholarship work. In the course of his work, the researcher confirmed that the Bishop had
enslaved a woman named Marie Louise for 16 years, from 1836 until 1852. Bishop Loras had
purchased Marie Louise for $800 while he was living in Mobile, Alabama. The researcher also
found that, although Bishop Loras left Marie Louise behind in Alabama when he moved to Iowa,
he hired her out to others and used proceeds from her labor to help build his various ministries
here. Doing a new, detailed analysis of historic documents and Bishop Loras’ unpublished
personal financial ledgers, the researcher showed for the first time the extent of those
transactions, leading to a new understanding of Bishop Loras’ participation in the system of
slavery. While some previous biographers had established the basic facts of the Bishop’s slave
ownership using his personal letters, the evidence recently uncovered by the researcher
challenges past depictions of him.
Upon receiving this information, the administration sought the expertise of its history faculty, one
of whom conducted additional in-depth research and confirmed that these facts are indisputable.
Further, there is no evidence that Bishop Loras ever expressed remorse for his actions.
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.
As much as the ideals of our founders and the early Catholic Church in the United States were
inspiring, we must realize that they were often lived in direct contradiction to the values we hold
today, and which we have long held to be absolute. All too many higher education institutions,
government, and other industries benefited in immoral ways from racial injustice and oppression.
That we are not alone in confronting this part of the College’s past does not absolve us of our
duty to address it.
While our colleague completed the research necessary to validate this information, and together
with Board Chair Tony Reardon (’72), we assembled the Board of Regents and a diverse group of
Loras alumni and friends to review what we had learned and to discuss appropriate ways in which
the College could begin to take action and move forward in response.
A clear consensus around the following priorities emerged:
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.
With these priorities as a foundation, the Loras College Board of Regents has directed several initial
actions to be taken in response to what has been learned about the Bishop.
As a first step in honoring Marie Louise’s legacy, the Board will create a scholarship fund in her
name, effective with the 2021-22 academic year. It will also create a scholarship fund in honor of
the College’s first Black graduate and fifth Black priest to be ordained in the United States, Fr.
Norman Dukette (’22) (effective with the 2021-22 academic year).
The statue of Bishop Loras will be removed from its current location and placed in storage until we
have convened as a community to discuss the impact of this knowledge about our founder, and
specifically, whether and in what context the statue could or should be displayed in the future.
With regard to our college’s name, and as expressed by the Regents, 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 College will retain its name while we focus our
energy and resources on accelerating and expanding efforts to advance human dignity, diversity,
equity, and inclusion on campus, and especially among our leadership, administration, and
faculty. We know there is much work to do.
We recognize that not everyone will agree with these decisions. 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. I am sure you will have questions, and we
welcome them. In collaboration with College Diversity Officer (CDO) Sergio Perez (’13), I plan to
convene as many conversations as humanly possible in the days ahead. In particular, I wish to
connect with our Black students and students and colleagues of color, to listen.
As Iowa’s first college, and sixth-oldest Catholic college in the nation, we will continue to advance
the inherent dignity and worth of every person, all of whom are made in the image and likeness of
God. We are committed to communicating promptly and transparently about the measures we are
taking as we move forward, and will provide updates on the next steps in the near future. To that end, we have created a dedicated webpage to help keep you informed and invite your perspectives and those among our alumni community. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions. We will be
responsive in our follow up.
May you all help us to forge a pathway toward true Christian, diverse, equitable, and inclusive ways.
James E. Collins (’84)