Monday, June 8, 2015

The De Smet Statuary at SLU: An Alternative Approach

Editors' note: The meditation below by Fr. Claude Pavur, S.J. describes a sculpture named "Where the Rivers Meet," depicting Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet and two Native Americans.  In late May 2015, the sculpture was removed from its location outside Fusz Hall.  The sculpture has long been viewed as controversial. In particular, some have expressed concern that the work reinforces the idea of Christian and white supremacy. As the title of his piece indicates, Fr. Pavur suggests an alternative way to imagine the work and its message.  Following the meditation are further reflections from Fr. Pavur. 

Image of the sculpture by Mark Scott Abeln.

The two natives, robust, proudly upright in frame, and clearly fit for battle, are transfixed now in peace, enthralled at the spirit of the man before them.  Neither is kneeling.  One of them rests on his right calf and raises his left knee.  The other stands nobly, holding his spear vertically as a staff, to receive a blessing through the brotherly/fatherly gesture of a hand resting on his shoulder.  The stranger, someone truly Other, is speaking words that raise their hearts and minds to the Great Spirit in a way they had not ever experienced before.  The man in the robe is looking the standing chief full-square in the eye, giving him his complete attention, seeing into his soul, loving him.  The stranger makes both of them feel more noble, more truly who they were meant to be, more truly themselves.  He points to a higher way than they have ever known.  That is what they sense.  That is why they keep looking.  They feel the Spirit coming through this man's words.

The Stranger stands on higher ground, as is customary for preachers and for those who are honored.  He lifts a cross above his head, showing that he too is under the Lord of All.  Look there, look up.  Grace comes from above.  To receive it there must be lowliness, humility, the ground.  Even warriors must look up.  Even powerful kings from across the sea must look up.  Even heroic preachers must receive their graces from above.

The stranger is a friend, not a warlord, not an aggressor.  The stranger has suffered many trials and gone many miles to meet them.  They realize that they are the ones who are being honored.

A spectator happens upon the scene.  His eyes travel from the figure seated on the ground to the noble chief, along the arm resting on his shoulder to the robed figure of the preacher.  But the eyes do not stop there.  They follow the upraised left arm to the crucifix held high.  What can this mystery mean?  Perhaps this is a breakthrough into another world, another way of being, one that is higher.

We are glad this blackrobe has come to us.  He offers us what we could never have attained on our own.  Not with all the battles we might win in a thousand years.  This stranger is our friend and brother.  He carries grace.  And he serves us.


This meditation flowed through me in one continuous stream between 2 and 3 in the morning on June 2, 2015, as I wrestled with Saint Louis University’s decision to remove the De Smet statuary from campus and put it in a museum.  The words of the critique that provoked the move were stinging: colonialism, white supremacy, racismnative Americans not welcome here except in submission to our culture. Could there be a more twisted misreading of this work? Did the critique perhaps arise from another agenda, another culture that ultimately wishes to annihilate something of the original native culture of Saint Louis University?  SLU has its own indigenous people too, its own ancestors, its own ways, its own understandings and expressions of itself, its own historical events and stories and rituals and symbols.  Was this critique working in cahoots with a secular progressivism that ultimately wants to severe all ties with the past, dump religion and tradition, and self-righteously cast off all the claims of certain “indigenous communities” with whose visions they stand in conflict?

Or was it part of the perennial, nearly universal adolescent dynamic that says that the generation that made us follow rules and that held up ideals to us is not so good after all. Look at their shortcomings! Look at what white Europeans did to native Americans! (Never mind that the native Americans were not all saints, were not innocent of torture and war and slavery and oppression and invasion and deception and acts of brutality and domination. Never mind that the Europeans were also sometimes good and beneficent and hoping for peaceful mutually beneficial co-existence. Never mind that the story is sometimes told in skewed and tendentious ways by academics with their own atom bombs to explode.)

Or was the critique simply a tone-deaf response to Catholic religious sculpture using traditional means to express a point: the Lord uses some great personalities to mediate grace.  These figures that seem heroic to us stand on a slightly higher platform and, in humility of heart and religious passion and self-sacrificing service, they point us—all of us— to a higher and better way.

For the first time in my acquaintance with this statuary group I began to really appreciate it. There is a beautiful sweep from the seated American native to the cross that makes us look up and think about its meaning. How brave to carry this message.  I become grateful for all the laborers who have brought me the greatest message ever received on earth, despite its vast unpopularity. (Is this really what is feared? Is this what is being removed?)

Liberal education is ultimately about defining, with some particularity, and extending, with some felt understanding, the meaning of the pronoun “We.” And it is about the deepening and broadening of the soul that goes on in that process. The project opens upon the religious realm in which we all recognize our kinship, our oneness, our vocation to compassion and community. It is a mystery that surrounds us and lifts us up.  Let us learn to love it.

Claude Pavur, S.J.
Associate Editor, Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies, Boston College
Associate Professor Emeritus, Saint Louis University


Related links:
April 23, 2015 University News commentary on the sculpture, by Ryan McKinley.
May 21, 2015 St. Louis Magazine article, by Lindsay Toler.
May 27, 2015 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article , by Koran Addo.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


The Heithaus Haven

Leadership Award

Presented to

Fred Pestello

President of Saint Louis University

With Deep Appreciation
For His Visionary Guidance
And Undaunted Leadership

In Implementing the "Clock Tower Accords"

Which exemplify the Heithaus Haven's Commitment to

Creating open and public spaces for dialogue

Fostering solidarity across all members of the SLU community


Advancing Saint Louis University
 as a world-class Catholic, Jesuit institution in 
“pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God 
and for the service of humanity.”

On the occasion of the 71st Anniversary of 
The Homily of Fr. Claude Heithaus, S.J. 
Which Called for an End to Racism 
At Saint Louis University 

11 February 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Beneath the Surface of Things

Reflections on the Clock Tower Accords
and the Accomplishment of Conventional Ends Through Unconventional Means

Daniel Monti
Department of Sociology and doctoral program in
Social and Public Policy

Saint Louis University

I can’t claim any special insight into the workings of Fred Pestello’s brain or soul. I take him at his word when he describes his reasoning for sitting down with the “Occupy SLU” crew that camped out at the clock tower this past October.

Some persons have embraced his words and the sentiments they reflect. Other persons have disagreed strongly with what he did and has said about the protesters and the so-called “Clock Tower Accords” that emerged from his discussion with them.

All I can say with certainty is that at some point discussions about the temper and direction of race relations in this country become deeply personal. Pestello certainly sounds as if they are for him. I know they do for me.

My formal training in race relations began in 1959 in the company of my mother, while we were standing in the lobby of the train station in Miami, Florida.

Not that I could have done a damn thing to protect her, but I put my ten-year-old self between my mother and the white people who glared at her as she made a fuss over the young black woman carrying her brand-new baby. The main terminal was spacious, and one might not have seen the disapproving looks or been inclined to ignore them as one would the sideway glances of any passerby. But there was anger in the white faces I saw that day that even an inexperienced child from Jersey could decode. 

My mom, congenitally warm and welcoming, didn’t have a clue that she was crossing a line that wasn’t supposed to be crossed. But I sure did. My mother did her admiring thing for the new mom, who was beaming, and the baby, who was admittedly pretty cute. I stood guard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Stand with President Pestello

Maggie Needham

As my senior year at Saint Louis University draws to a close, I am amazed at how much has changed since I first stepped foot on SLU’s campus, in 2011. I have seen this university struggle to find its place as a Jesuit institution in the city of St. Louis, and I have seen our campus polarized by issues that should have brought us together. This polarization has stunted our growth as a community, and it has prohibited us from doing the hard work that our Jesuit mission proclaims.

I have also seen many students, faculty and staff dedicate their lives to furthering the mission of our university -- “the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity.” President Fred Pestello has become an invaluable member of our community, taking the time to understand SLU and to work with student and faculty leaders, to continue and to strengthen their work.

When I made the decision to attend SLU, I did so based on the school’s commitment to service, rooted in its Catholic, Jesuit values. I wanted a school that would challenge students to be women and men for and with others, as well as clarify my understanding of social justice. These are the values that make SLU such a meaningful institution; and they are the reason that so many of us choose to invest our lives in the SLU community.

These are also the values that Pestello has embraced and that make him an exemplary leader for our university.

His leadership is moving SLU strongly in the right direction, aligning the school’s actions more closely with its mission. The actions of our new president have been, from the beginning, informed by a dedication to living the the mission’s values. He has explicitly chosen to pursue truth, with every decision he makes, and to engage SLU and St. Louis community that he now calls home. His presence on campus has been marked by listening, collaborating and communicating, with transparency.

Pestello’s interactions with the Occupy SLU movement in October are a prime example of how he lives the Jesuit mission. He could have immediately shut down the protest or confronted the activists as unwelcome outsiders. However, that approach would have ignored the school’s mission in favor of pretending that injustice in St. Louis does not affect us. But the SLU administration, under the leadership of Pestello, used the opportunity to engage in dialogue about racial inequality and learn from voices in our community that are often relegated to the margins.

In an email to the SLU community on Oct. 18, Pestello explained: “What we needed most was to listen and learn and find common ground.” His actions showed the humility and courage that we will all need, if we want to make a positive, enduring change. The pursuit of truth requires that we listen to those around us and learn from their experiences. And service to humanity requires us to take concrete steps to bring justice to all communities.

In agreeing to the Clock Tower Accords, Pestello demonstrated that he was willing to take those concrete steps. He agreed to work with others to strengthen SLU’s relationship with the city of St. Louis, to support students of color at SLU and to engage in dialogue about race. He also agreed to recognize the part that SLU has played in racial-justice issues, with a commissioned sculpture, which would, as Pestello noted, “honor our shared Jesuit values that promote inclusion rather than division.”

This sculpture -- regardless of its final form -- will serve as a testament to SLU’s place in history and in this city, and it will serve as a hopeful reminder that, as always, there is more work to be done.

From day one, Pestello has advocated and practiced open dialogue and humility. He has used his position and authority at SLU to explore how the university community can better serve others. That is servant leadership. And that is valuing social justice, love and unity.

Pestello lives the mission of our university, and he challenges and inspires us as students to live the mission, as well. He challenges us to understand complex issues and engage with those different from us. I appreciate all he has done for SLU in the months he has been here so far, and I look forward to seeing how SLU continues to grow under his servant leadership after I graduate.

I am proud to be a Billiken, and I stand with President Pestello.

Monday, January 13, 2014

To The Presidential Search Committee...Hear Us, Trust Us.

Allison Walter

Especially this past year, Saint Louis University has undergone a significant organizational shift. These changes have impacted the jobs of faculty, the education of students, and the future of this educational institution. As stakeholders in the university, the students and faculty deserve to express our opinions in the selection process of a new University President. I believe this is a justice issue because every action of a Christian university should work to further its mission, and the president is the person who sets that trajectory. 

As an interested student, my goal with the following documentary has been to encourage students and faculty to remain conscious of their continued role in shaping Saint Louis University for the future, to encourage these same groups to articulate what it is they expect from their university, and to reveal to those in authority the vital opinions of their stakeholders. I believe that the support of the people is important for leadership to be effective, and this documentary is a step toward ensuring that support is available for the new University President.

Beginning as the capstone project for my communication major, this project grew to be an act of advocacy. This documentary intends to convey what the students, faculty, and staff of Saint Louis University believe to be important in our next president. These stakeholder groups hope to help shape the future of Saint Louis University, and I hope to provide the Presidential Search Committee with a uniquely grassroots perspective to which those in authority may not have easy access. The purpose is that the Presidential Search Committee may view the documentary and take our values into genuine consideration.

The primary audience for this project is the Presidential Search Committee members with a secondary audience of the Saint Louis University community. I, Allison Walter, identified, selected, and interviewed all of the participants. I also videotaped and edited all of the footage as well as produced the final video. The individuals interviewed for this project agreed to do so in order to support my creative academic project. It is important to note that none of the participants were seeking an opportunity to promote or convey any particular communication to the search committee. The participants were responding to my questions.

Click here to watch the documentary:

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Open Letter on Spousal Benefits

There are many reasons to be proud of being a Billiken.  Not the least of them has been its open and progressive tradition.  In the coming year, SLU will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Father Heithaus’ call to integrate the university.  This was another of the important firsts to which our university lays claim.  This tradition is one of the things that attracted me to SLU as prospective faculty member and was the answer I gave to many when they questioned me on why I was going to work for a Catholic University.  In my 11th year of teaching here at SLU, I have unfortunately experienced firsthand that SLU is abandoning this tradition. 

In October I celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary.  I was married under a chuppah by a Rabbi (yes I am Jewish) in Massachusetts, I can show you both the wedding certificate and ketubbah.  When I returned to SLU I asked to have my husband added to my health insurance but was denied.  I was told that we weren’t married.  We have lived with that insult for four years, but things have changed.  This summer the Supreme Court struck down key features of DOMA which allowed our marriage to be recognized by the federal government.  In September, the Department of Labor sent out guidance that employers should base determinations of spouse on state of celebration instead of state of domicile.  In plain language, that means it doesn’t matter that Missouri continues to deny recognition as long as my marriage is legal in Massachusetts (which it is).  With these changes I again asked HR to extend coverage to my husband.  Again I was told that I wasn’t really married.  When I continued to press I was told that they had looked further into the matter and that SLU was not mandated to do so.
Was Father Heithaus mandated to initiate integration of SLU?  Have we turned our backs on social justice and caring for the whole person?  I fear we have.  My husband now tells me that he does not feel welcome on campus.  I can’t tell him otherwise and only wonder what I will tell the daughter we are expecting. 
I would also add that this position is inconsistent with more recently espoused goals to be the finest Catholic and a top-50 university.  For those of you who are thinking, but SLU is Catholic and the Church does not officially recognize same-sex marriage, I would point to the Jesuit institutions that do provide these benefits.  Of the 7 Jesuit universities recognized by US News and World Report as national universities, SLU is the only one that does not provide these benefits.  Overall, the majority of Jesuit universities do extend benefits to same sex spouses and/or domestic partners.  While it is true that many of these schools are in marriage equality states, several of these schools extended these benefits before being mandated.  Within the Midwest this includes both Marquette and Loyola Chicago. 
Looking beyond the Jesuits, here in the Saint Louis area, Washington University, Webster University, University of Missouri Saint Louis (UMSL), and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville all provide these benefits.  UMSL faculty and staff started receiving benefits this year when the Curators approved benefits for all 4 schools in the UM system, which also includes Columbia, Kansas City, and Rolla (now Science & Technology).  Other public universities in Missouri that provide these benefits include Truman, Missouri State, and my husband’s alma mater Central Missouri.

By saying that it is not mandated, SLU is turning its back on its history, mission, and strategy.  The time has come for SLU to be true to itself and do the right thing.  I want to be able to give my family the support and security they deserve.  I want to feel welcome on campus and to be a proud Billiken again.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Next SLU President

Last spring, the Heithaus Haven hosted a Town Hall meeting on "The Next SLU President."  In addition to conversation about desired qualities and characteristics of our next president, Ken Parker arranged for the meeting to include a dialogue with two distinguished and renowned Jesuits - Fr. Joseph Tetlow and Fr. John Padberg.  Thanks to the efforts of Tomas O'Sullivan, we have a detailed record of the conversation to share:

Minutes of the
Townhall Meeting on the Next SLU President

3:00pm-5:00pm: Friday, May 10, 2013

Carlo Auditorium, Tegeler Hall, Saint Louis University

Attendance: c. 40-45
including students, staff, faculty, alumni, & Jesuits

Facilitator:          Bonnie Wilson (Department of Economics, John Cook School of Business)
Recorder:           Tom├ís O’Sullivan (Department of Theological Studies, College of Arts and Sciences)


The meeting opened with a welcome to all participants from the facilitator on behalf of the contributing editors of the Heithaus Haven. She suggested we are gathered to share, to learn from one another, and to begin to discern the qualities and characteristics of our next president. Out of respect for the fact that we are gathered in a Catholic, Jesuit institution, she invited all, whether Jesuit or not, whether Catholic or not, to join in silence for an opening prayer.

The prayer offered thanksgiving for the Jesuits, who share their mission with us; for the administrators and benefactors of the university; for Fr. Biondi as he discerns his new role; for Mr. Adorjan and the trustees as they embark on the task of finding a new president; for our students, currently in the midst of their exams; and for the least among us; and asked for the blessing of being gracious to others and of knowing ourselves.