Creating inclusive community: Dr. Kristin Anderson-Bricker

By Megan Himm (TheLorian)

Who was Marie Louise and why does her story matter?

Dr. Kristin Anderson-Bricker: The knowledge that Bishop Loras bought and sold another human being has rocked the Loras community. While it’s important for us to talk about this history, it’s essential that we use it as a vehicle to discuss the continued impact slavery has had on us as individuals, a community, and as a nation.

Why were you researching Bishop Loras?

AB: President Collins learned of recent, unpublished scholarship reassessing Bishop Loras as a slave owner. Because of my knowledge and skills as an American historian, he asked me to review the evidence and provide historical context on slavery and the American Catholic Church, the history of Loras College, and memorialization.

How did you discover the information regarding Marie Louise?

AB: Unfortunately, no primary sources remain written by Marie Louise.  Therefore, I analyzed the letters written to Bishop Loras, as well as his financial ledger, to learn details about her life. Because enslavement stole from Marie Louise her liberty and denied her human dignity, I wanted to recognize her person hood by telling her story.   

Marie Louise, a woman of African descent, lived and worked in Mobile, Alabama. Her husband, Francis, suffered from tuberculosis after being kicked in the side by a horse. A Mrs. Durand owned Francis and refused to sell him to Loras for less than $700. Marie Louise seemed to know her own mind, despite enslavement, and did not obey readily. In fact, she exhibited a clear pattern of resistance. Throughout the years, Marie Louise often kept her wages. In spite of repeated incarceration and the threat of sale, she continued to keep her money. Slave-owners considered this stealing, but perhaps Marie Louise planned to purchase her freedom. Mathias Loras entered in his financial ledger, “Liberty promised if she pays $250.” Marie Louise also acted independently, said what she thought and refused to be obedient to Loras’ various agents over the years. She also suffered from health problems—either real or feigned as a form of resistance—requiring time off from work and the expense of medical care. She worked as a laundress in 1851. When threatened with sale in 1851, she promised Bishop Loras seven dollars a month rather than be sold. She continued to resist by keeping her wages and spent time in jail as a result. Subsequently, Loras’ agent sold Marie Louise to Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, a family she requested, in 1852.[1]

What was your reaction to the discovery?

AB: My research interests did not include the history of Loras College, the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Bishop Loras, or the American Catholic Church prior to this summer. Consequently, I personally found the new knowledge troubling. My profession helped me process these emotions because history stresses the importance of historical context and the difference between memory and the past. As I applied my professional skills, I focused on how to assist the community in acknowledging the truth and acting to mitigate the legacy of slavery and the systematic racism it spawned. 

What were your emotions when you shared this information? (Were you nervous?)

AB: I knew that many members of the community would be distressed to learn that not only Bishop Loras, but the American Catholic Church, participated in the institution of slavery and failed to speak out against racism. Therefore, I think compassion has been my primary emotion each time I share this information. I understand the strong emotions of anger, sadness and frustration expressed by members of the community as well as peoples’ need for more information in order to transition those emotions into action.

[1]Loras Otting, ed., Letters to a Pioneer Bishop: Correspondence to Mathias Loras (Dubuque: Loras College Press, 2009), xii-xiii; Albin Degaltiere to Mathias Loras, 1 December 1843, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 188; John Stephen Bazin to Mathias Loras, 15 February 1844, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 31; John Stephen Bazin to Mathias Loras, 8 May 1844, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 32; John Stephen Bazin to Mathias Loras, 10 November 1846, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 34-35; John Stephen Bazin to Mathias Loras, 25 March 1847, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 36; Joseph Krebs to Mathias Loras, 27 March 1847, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 408; Joseph Krebs to Mathias Loras, 1 August 1850, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 409-410; James McGarahan to Mathias Loras, 3 April 1851, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 568; Joseph Krebs to Mathias Loras, 10 January 1853, Letters to a Pioneer Bishop, 411; Financial Ledger of Mathias Loras, Archives of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa, 49, 55, 63, 69, 70.

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