Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why do we need the Heithaus Haven?

Why do we need the Heithaus Haven?

Kenneth L. Parker

According to its literal meaning, a “haven” is a safe harbor for tempest tossed vessels, a quiet place to repair storm-damaged ships and to prepare for journeys on uncertain seas. A haven is not simply a place of repose, but a sheltered port to mend broken equipment and to plan for action.

We call this the Heithaus Haven, in honor of Fr. Claude Heithaus, S.J, because he exemplifies what we understand the Catholic Jesuit mission of Saint Louis University to be. He was not afraid to speak a truth that became clear to him: that racism is wrong, contrary to the gospel, and that the exclusion of African-Americans from this campus was a stain on our collective conscience that must end. His bold actions in February 1944 called for change. He issued this call to action in a homily at College Church and published articles in the University News and the Catholic Digest. Superiors harshly disciplined him and critics denounced as offensive his use of media to expose this wrong. Yet his bold actions, borne out of deep reflection and moral courage, effected change at this university. That same year the first African-American students registered for classes at SLU. We became the first historically-white university located in one of the fourteen former slave-holding states to do this. Other universities took courage from our example and desegregated in the years that followed.

Fr. Heithaus wanted Saint Louis University to be—in its community life and structures—what it formed students to become in the world: men (and now women) for others. Racism damaged that ethos and was a countersign of what SLU claimed to be. By exposing this shameful practice, he sought to heal our university community.

Fr. Heithaus had a haven among like-minded Jesuits in his religious community. The contributing editors of the Heithaus Haven seek to provide that same support for students, staff, faculty, trustees, alumni, and all those who love and care about the mission of this university. We want this to be a “place” where failures to live up to SLU’s mission—within our university—can be addressed and named for what they are. We hope that in this “safe harbor,” calls for action can be considered, to chart a new course that will steer us in a direction that is true, guided by our deepest values.

This is our challenge to all who love Saint Louis University and are committed to its mission:

Have the courage to reflect on the profound meaning and implications of Saint Louis University’s mission. Look unflinchingly at the ways we have failed to live up to these ideals as individuals and in our institutional structures. Propose actions that will enable us to become what we claim to be. This is the reason why we need the Heithaus Haven—for such a time as this. May this be a perpetual commitment, an ongoing project beyond the crises of the present, so that this becomes a habit of our minds, a commitment of our hearts—to be for one another, what we claim to be for the world. If we do this, Saint Louis University can be again a beacon of hope, guiding others in ways that are true.


  1. Great reflection; Fr. Heithaus was a true SLU hero. Yes, Ken, it takes courage to continue deeper into reflection on these weighty matters...

  2. Thank you, Ken and the rest of the editors, for providing a place where honest discussion about what is good for the University will not be met with hostility and rebuke.

  3. I love your challenge, especially: "Propose actions that will enable us to become what we claim to be." But the idea of what we (should) claim to be needs to be sketched out somehow, or we'll possibly have action proposals coming from very different, perhaps antithetical, conceptions of what we should be.

    We don't really have to start from scratch, of course. Much reflection exists already. Many insights have already been achieved. But do we agree with them or not, why or why not? Where do we each stand and why? How many of us have read some of the relevant literature? How do we evaluate that literature?

    What I would want to hear in the commentary are the core-positions people hold about what concrete things especially need to be done, in light of what conception of the university.

    If people feel they have trouble articulating their own positions, I recommend as essential reading Alasdair Macintyre's " The End of Education: The Fragmentation of the American University" (Commonweal, October 2006): .

    Just to read and react to that would be something valuable. And in any case it can be easier to define one's own position against someone else's. The reflections of Dr. Eric Cunningham at Gonzaga are also most relevant: .

    I have begun to lay out my own position in several places. A brief and recent one is in the recent Conversations and available at .

    At, there is also my talk "Defining Jesuit Education," for a more in-depth look.

    All good wishes on setting forth, Heithaus Haven!

    Claude Pavur, S.J.

  4. Wonderful article Ken! Thank you. Fr. Heithaus sounds like a remarkable human being. It's always a good exercise to look at people one admires. I have always told my kids: look at those you admire and respect. Figure out why, and then incorporate those qualities in your own life. It will make you a person who respects themselves.

  5. Thank you, Uncle Claude, for being a role model for our family and for generations to come!!!

  6. Thank you also for setting up this public forum. I hope people make use of it effectively.

  7. I have had the honor and privilege of knowing several members of the Heithaus family for over 20 years. All of them live the mission of our University. All treat others with compassion, grace, and respect. Their lives are shining examples of what it truly means to be men and women for others. All of them give endlessly of themselves and ask nothing in return. All of them do Fr. Heithaus proud. All of them are inspiring to me.


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