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Loras College removing founder’s statue after learning of ties to slavery

Loras statue
Crews removing the statue of Bishop Mathias Loras, founder of Loras College, from the Loras College Campus

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) -- A statue of Loras College's founder is being removed from campus after school officials learned new information about Bishop Mathias Loras' history of slave ownership. Loras, the first bishop of Dubuque, established the seminary in 1839 that would eventually become Loras College.

Loras College President Jim Collins wrote in a letter to the campus community Tuesday that the statue will be 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."

In the letter, Collins said school officials received information about Loras from a researcher who was examining Bishop Loras' personal records for scholarship work. The researcher confirmed Loras purchased an enslaved woman named Marie Louise while he was living in Mobile, Alabama. Loras enslaved Marie Louise from 1836 to 1852. He left her behind when he moved to Iowa, but hired her out to others and used proceeds from her labor to help build his various ministries in Iowa. 

Collins noted previous biographers established Loras was a slave owner, but the new evidence challenges past depictions of him. A member of Loras College's history faculty researched the new details and confirmed the facts were indisputable. Collins also added there is no evidence Bishop Loras ever expressed remorse for his actions. He says confronting this part of the College's past doesn't absolve them of their duty to address it.

"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," Collins said.

The Board of Regents, alumni and friends of the College gathered to determine how to address the new information and move forward. Several actions are being taken, including removing the statue, at least for now.

The board also will create a scholarship fund honoring Mary Louise's legacy starting in the 2021-22 school year. Another scholarship fund will be created in honor of Loras' first Black graduate and fifth Black priest to be ordained in the U.S., the Rev. Norman Dukette ('22) effective with the 2021-22 school year.

Collins says there are no plans at this time to change the name of Loras College because "the educational experience beloved by our alumni, students and faculty is not defined by the man." The College will retain its name while focusing on accelerating and expanding efforts to advance human dignity, diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College.

In collaboration with College Diversity Officer Sergio Perez ('13), Collins says he plans to hold as many conversations as possible in the days ahead about the issue. Adding he wishes to connect with students of color in particular to listen to their experiences.

"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," Collins said.

The College will provide updates on the the next steps in the near future. A webpage has been created to provide updates and gather perspective from alumni.

The full letter from President Jim Collins can be found here:

Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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