WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - During this holy week for Christians, Georgetown University is doing penance for an almost two hundred year old sin.
In 1838, the Jesuit fathers who founded Georgetown sold 272 enslaved people literally down the river to even greater deprivation in the Deep South. The Catholic school is now struggling to make amends.
"I'd use the word contrition," said Father Matthew Carnes, a professor at Georgetown who was part of a working group on the issue. "A sadness. This goes deep into your core and says who you are and who we were then."
RELATED: Georgetown to give slave descendants priority for admission
What was then Georgetown College was facing bankruptcy when it shipped the enslaved people who had been laboring on the Jesuits' plantations in Maryland to three even more brutal plantations in Southern Louisiana.
The searing memories have been passed down from generation to generation of survivors.
"Very young, she waved goodbye to her mother on a shore," said Cheryllyn Branche, remembering the story her great- great- grandmother told. "She never saw her again."
Father Carnes said he can almost here the cries of the enslaved Catholics being loaded on the ships by their own priests. "Oh absolutely. And it echoes. And it hurts me today.
On Tuesday, Georgetown begins it's penance for this early sin. It includes a liturgy of remembrance, contrition, and hope and the renaming of two buildings on campus, one in honor of Isaac Hawkins, the first name on the bill of sale.
RELATED: Georgetown to rename two buildings tied to slavery
"They're the biggest donors the school has ever known," said Adam Rothman, a history professor at Georgetown who was also part of the working group. "They saved the school....Naming one of the buildings for Isaac Hawkins is the first step toward recognizing that."
"It reminds us that this sin had a real resonance in human lives," said Carnes. "Names, faces, hands that worked and had calluses and scars. Scars on back from beatings. That's the reality of this."
But contrition is just a start. There are now thousands of descendants of those enslaved people. Georgetown says it will treat them as legacy members of the university -- which means they'll get extra points if they apply to study there. If they need it, they'll get financial help.
But some descendants feel the school needs to do even more, perhaps a scholarship specially designated for them.
© 2017 WUSA-TV