Nathan Rubbelke, College Fix, May 27, 2015
Saint Louis University has removed a statue on its campus depicting a famous Jesuit missionary priest praying over American Indians after a cohort of students and faculty continued to complain the sculpture symbolized white supremacy, racism and colonialism.
Formerly placed outside the university’s Fusz Hall in the center of the private Catholic university, the statue will go to the university’s art museum, a building just north of the bustling urban campus.
The statue features famous Jesuit Missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet S.J. praying over two American Indians dressed in traditional clothing. Last Monday, just two days after graduation, it was removed from the location it has called home on campus for decades.
A university spokesperson told St. Louis Magazine the statue will be placed within the “historical context of a collection that’s on permanent display in our SLU Museum of Art.” The statue is set for the museum’s “Collection of the Western Jesuit Missions.”
“In more recent years, there have been some faculty and staff who have raised questions about whether the sculpture is culturally sensitive,” SLU spokesman Clayton Berry said.
In a recent op-ed published in SLU’s University News, senior Ryan McKinley stated the sculpture sent a clear, unwelcoming message to American Indians at Saint Louis University.
“This message to American Indians is simple: You do not belong here if you do not submit to our culture and our religion,” McKinley wrote. McKinley called for the statue’s removal, while suggesting the university replace it with artwork made by American Indians.
“The statue of De Smet depicts a history of colonialism, imperialism, racism and of Christian and white supremacy,” he penned.
But the history surrounding the statue is more nuanced than the statue’s opponents portray it.
According to a SLU webpage, De Smet had an excellent rapport with American Indians. He was known to them “simply and affectionately as ‘Blackrobe.’” While converting thousands to Catholicism, De Smet also helped negotiate treaties among the Indians and the United States, ensuring their land and safety.
De Smet also shares a connection to Saint Louis University, serving as its treasurer shortly after the university’s founding.