The famous statue in front of the St. Louis Art Museum — also featured on the nameplate of this publication — depicts the typical image of St. Louis, a king of France and the namesake of our archdiocese, city and county.
Riding a regal stallion, King Louis IX leads the charge into battle, with his sword drawn and thrust skyward though inverted so the handle looks like a cross, identifying his and our true leader, Jesus Christ.
Iconic though it may be, the statue misses the deeper essence of the French king’s commitment to Christ in service to the poor, which is evident in a lesser-known work of art now in place at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.
Gifted by the Little Sisters of the Poor and formerly in front of their residence in north St. Louis, the bronze statue depicts the king ministering to the poor, wearing the regalia of his throne but humbly leaning forward and handing a loaf of bread to a woman while comforting her companion.
“That’s the great thing about this statue,” said Father Nicholas Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship. “He did all this great work of charity. He welcomed the poor into his home; he served them at Lent.”
And he left specific instructions to his son about taking care of the poor. Father James Mason, president-rector of Kenrick-Glennon, quoted from 13th century king’s own words — from “A spiritual testament to his son; A just king rules the earth” — in describing the statue:
“Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater.”
The entire letter is the second reading in the Liturgy of the Hours on St. Louis’ feast day, which is Aug. 25. Fittingly, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on the feast day this year to honor the 150-year mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor serving the poor, unfortunate and afflicted in St. Louis.
Archbishop Carlson also chose the seminary to receive the sisters’ gift. Father Smith coordinated among the Little Sisters, the seminary and BSI Constructors, which moved the 800-pound statue from the sisters’ property to the seminary, poured a new base and completed the installation the day before Thanksgiving. Father Mason thanked the sisters “for all they’ve done in St. Louis and for their generosity,” as well as Father Smith and BSI.
The specific location of the St. Louis statue was chosen with intentionality. Seminarians, faculty, staff and visitors entering the seminary on Kain Drive will observe the statue taking form while driving in from Weil Avenue. After proceeding on the west road of the seminary, they’ll pass the statue while turning left at the southwest corner of the building. The location is between the seminary and the Father Emil Kapaun Student Center, which means seminarians will regularly pass it. Along with priests at Kenrick-Glennon, seminarians were expected to participate in an official blessing of the statue Nov. 29.
“We wanted to find a place that was most prominent for both the men and for visitors,” Father Mason said. “It’s right there when the men go to the student center, the weight room or the ball fields … or just walking around. They’ll see him distributing food to the poor. That’s our mission; serving the poor.”
The St. Louis statue adds to the beauty of the Kenrick-Glennon grounds, which has statues sprinkled throughout the property: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, namesake Cardinal John J. Glennon and Sts. Vincent de Paul, John Vianney and John Paul II. Neighbors often walk the seminary grounds and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Nature Trail.
Father Mason describes the new-to-the-seminary statue as “another beautiful marker of our faith.”
From a spiritual testament to his son by St. Louis
A just king rules the earth
My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation. Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.
If the Lord has permitted you to have some trial, bear it willingly and with gratitude, considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it. If the Lord bestows upon you any kind of prosperity, thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else, because you ought not to oppose God or offend him in the matter of his gifts.
Listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. As long as you are in church, be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.
Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted. Give them as much help and consolation as you can. Thank God for all the benefits he has bestowed upon you, that you may be worthy to receive greater. Be just to your subjects, swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather than with the rich, until you are certain of the truth. See that all your subjects live in justice and peace, but especially those who have ecclesiastical rank and who belong to religious orders.
Be devout and obedient to our mother the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father. Work to remove all sin from your land, particularly blasphemies and heresies.
In conclusion, dearest son, I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.
KING OF FRANCE
FATHER OF YOUR PEOPLE
PLEASE CONTINUE TO PROTECT
OUR HOME WHICH HAS BEEN
UNDER YOUR PATRONAGE
SINCE MAY 3, 1869
IN MEMORY OF
JOHN C. & AGNES MARTIN