Fortress Press

Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery

Fugitive Saints

Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery

Katie Walker Grimes (Author)


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How should the Catholic church remember the sins of its saints? This question proves particularly urgent in the case of those saints who were canonized due to their relation to black slavery. Today, many of their racial virtues seem like racial vices. In this way, the church celebrates Peter Claver, a seventeenth-century Spanish missionary to Colombia, as “the saint of the slave trade,” and extols Martín de Porres as the patron saint of mixed race people. But in truth, their sainthoods have upheld anti-blackness much more than they have undermined it. Habituated by anti-blackness, the church has struggled to perceive racial holiness accurately. In the ongoing cause to canonize Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian-born former slave, the church continues to enact these bad racial habits. This book proposes black fugitivity, as both a historical practice and an interpretive principle, to be a strategy by which the church can build new hagiographical habits. Rather than searching inside itself for racial heroes, the church should learn to celebrate those black fugitives who sought refuge outside of it.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506416724
  • eBook ISBN 9781506416731
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 204
  • Publication Date April 1, 2017



1. Sainthood and Historical Memory
2. Claver’s Ministry of Slavocracy
3. Coercive Kindness: Re-Considering Claver “from Below”
4. Claver as Race-Making Ally of Anti-Blackness Supremacy
5. The Racialized Humility of Peter Claver
6. The Racialized Humility of Saint Martín de Porres
7. Catholic Sainthood and the Afterlife of Slavery
8. Venerable Pierre Toussaint and the Search for Fugitive Saints
9. “Far is Free”: Towards a Fugitive Hagiography



A clear-eyed, brilliant, theoretically sophisticated analysis . . .

"In this book, Katie Walker Grimes makes a clear-eyed, brilliant, theoretically sophisticated analysis of the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to understand virtue as the resistance to suffering and death, life as the embrace of power and struggle, and holiness as the rejection of slave-making, whether in the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries—and especially in the twenty-first!"

M. Shawn Copeland | Boston College

Grimes offers an energizing new vision for religious engagement on racial justice issues.

"Katie Walker Grimes uses the most powerful, provocative new theories of blackness to challenge the Catholic Church’s complicity in racial injustice. Taking as its guiding thread the lives of New World saints, this book probes the disgraceful entanglement of Christian individuals and institutions in slavery and its afterlives. Grimes offers an energizing new vision for religious engagement on racial justice issues as she calls for the figure of the fugitive to take center stage."

Vincent Lloyd | Villanova University

Grimes is a powerful writer . . . she has a case here and it has long needed a hearing.

"For several years now, Katie Walker Grimes has been asking questions about the church’s advancement of antiblackness supremacy. Now she looks at its iconography and saint-making to demonstrate its 'participation in black chattel slavery and its ongoing Pan-American afterlife.' Grimes is a powerful writer whose provocative argument will not be easily accepted, but she has a case here and it has long needed a hearing. Read it and see for yourself. This is tough work by a very significant scholar."

James F. Keenan | Boston College