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Old, new frontiers cited at SLU bicentennial Mass

More than 5,500 gather at the Gateway Arch near university’s original site

Frontiers were the focus as St. Louis University kicked off the celebration of its bicentennial Sept. 23 with the first Mass ever under the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi riverfront.

The Mass and associated festivities looked back at the university's founding by Bishop Louis DuBourg in the American frontier, and also looked ahead to the frontiers of the future. In the homily to more than 5,500 in attendance, Father Ronald Mercier, SJ, detailed the beginnings of the university, known then as the St. Louis Academy, in a small home located on what is now the Arch grounds. He noted that SLU alumni continue the Church's commitment to the Gospel, to inclusion, justice, peace and freedom. The university itself remained in St. Louis City when others fled, he added.

"Laboring with God, great things can occur," Father Mercier said. "With God, in seeking the truth, we not only transform lives, but also our city, county and world."

The altar was set up on the stage in front of the Gateway Arch grand staircase. It was the same altar used during the Mass celebrated by St. Pope John Paul II at the TWA Dome in 1999 when he visited St. Louis.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson was the primary celebrant, joined by several Jesuit priests as concelebrants. The Mass was attended by members of the Osage Nation, including chief Jeffrey Standing Bear, and many SLU alumni, current students and families visiting for Family Weekend and homecoming at the Jesuit university.

After Mass, university president Fred Pestello said kicking off SLU's 200th anniversary with a Mass was a fitting way to give thanks for the history and to pray together for an exciting future. He thanked many people involved, and even the curious joggers on the Arch grounds who stopped to observe.

He correlated the Arch, a symbol of the gateway to the West, to St. Louis University and St. Louis University High School, as the gateways to education in St. Louis. St. Louis University High School also traces its beginnings to the university's humble origins when classes were offered to young men in a few rooms of the house rented by Bishop DuBourg.

After the Mass and before fireworks capped the evening, Patrick Riopelle of St. Bernard Parish in Middleton, Wis., cited what he called "a message of hope" at the Mass. "You look at society today, and everyone is ripping each other," Riopelle said. "We need things that unite us."

Riopelle was at the Mass with his daughter, Natalie, a senior at SLU.

Melinda Rubio of Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park attended with her son, Tyler, a senior at St. Louis University High School, and a group of more than a half dozen. Her son is "doubly blessed" to be at the school during the bicentennial, Rubio said.

SLUH "teaches you service for others," she said, and has had an "amazing journey" since its founding.

Christopher Weiland of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview, Ill., has a daughter, Kirby, who is a SLU freshman. He described Mass as "the core of our faith," which relates to the mission of the university.

"As a Catholic in this country, I feel it's critical to be supportive of our Catholic institutions," Weiland said. "It was important for me and my faith to be here today to celebrate 200 years of history and a future that is bright."

Erin Goedeker of St. Stephen Protomartyr Parish in south St. Louis — attending with her husband, SLU alum Brooks, their children and family and friends — also echoed the celebration as a melding of the past and what's ahead.

"We look to the future for our kids and for Catholic education in St. Louis," she said. 

Bicentennial Events

Nov. 2, 2017

"Mercy in the City – Street Strategies" lecture by Father Greg Boyle, SJ

Center for Global Citizenship on campus

Feb. 26, 2018

"Discerning Our Role in Creating a Society of Justice and Love" lecture by Father Mark Thibodeaux, SJ

St. Francis Xavier (College) Church

March 22-23, 2018

Conference: Intercultural Origins of St. Louis and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1800-1840

DuBourg Hall on campus

April 16, 2018

"Lessons from Pope Francis on American Politics and Civic Life" lecture by Father Matt Malone, SJ

St. Francis Xavier College Church

April 22-24, 2018

St. Louis Climate Summit

Sponsor: Jack Fishman and Peter Raven

Various campus locations

Sept. 24, 2018

"Reimagining Health Care — Ignatian Insights for Achieving the Greater Good" lecture by Father Michael Rozier, SJ

St. Francis Xavier (College) Church

Oct. 9, 2018

Pope Pius XII Symposium: The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany

Pius XII Memorial Library

Nov. 5, 2018

"Jesuit Education – Do We Need a New Paradigm?" lecture by Father Michael Garanzini, SJ

St. Francis Xavier (College) Church

Nov. 15, 2018

Bicentennial culminating event featuring the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and a multi-media program

Chaifetz Arena on campus

For more information and a complete list of events, visit www.slu.edu/bicentennial

St. Louis University today:

• This year, SLU welcomed its second largest class of freshmen with 1,640 students. They are the most academically gifted in the university's history, among the top 10 percent of all students tested in the U.S., with a GPA of 3.9 and average ACT composite score of 28.1.

• SLU just opened its second new residence hall in two years, reflecting a $115 million investment.

• Now ranked 94, among the top 100 U.S. universities. The entrepreneurship program ranks ninth in the nation and SLU ranks 44 among the best value schools and 56 among the best colleges for veterans.

• SLU received prestigious National Science Foundation grants to enhance experiential learning with a structural engineering lab that allows projects to be built and tested at full scale and to study questions such as can life begin in oil and how does global warming impact singing insects.

• SLU received a $6.4 million contract from the NIH to research a possible therapy for treatment-resistant tuberculosis. 

>> SLU milestones

• First medical school in the American West (1836)

• First law department west of the Mississippi (1843)

• First forward pass in football (1906)

• First federally certified flight school (1927)

• First human heart transplant in the Midwest (1972)

• First location of the national Campus Kitchen project (2001) 

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