SLU Moves Controversial Statue Into Art Museum



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Religiously incorrect

For me, the real question of the statue isn't whether it's racist, but whether it's idolatrous. It suggests that Fr. DeSmet wields the power of the cross, that is somehow belongs to him. The problem is that the direction of the Indians' gaze is ambiguously represented. It's hard to tell where they are looking. Is it at the cross, or Father DeSmet? Now, I'm sure, like Gertrude (below), many people assume that it's directed at the cross, and that Fr. DeSmet is just holding it. Maybe. But I wonder how people would react if the sculpture had, say, placed the cross on the wall of Fusz and show the Indians and Fr. DeSmet in positions of equal reverence. Which is, after all, what DeSmet was actually after.

It's striking, too, that we know the name of the priest depicted, but not the name of the Indians. If memory serves, the original installation outside of Fusz did not identify them. Can anyone correct me if I'm wrong? But if I'm right, we might ask why that should be.

The point I'm trying to make is this: even from a Catholic, Christian perspective, the sculpture could be seen as problematic insofar as it suggests that the cross somehow belonged to Fr. DeSmet, rather than he to it. That's not to impugn his motives, or even the motives of the sculptor, who I'm sure meant to honor the figures he was depicting. It's simply to say that perhaps it would have been better to make the cross the center of the sculpture rather than any person. Now, you might say "but the statue was meant to honor Fr. DeSmet." Sure. But I wonder who Fr. DeSmet would have preferred to honor.

Finally, to those who would say that moving the statue is a violation of SLU's Catholic, Jesuit identity, I say that moving it is proof of that identity. Many of the students and faculty who have expressed concern about it are operating out of Christian values: concern for the other, sympathy with those on the margins (and Indian people are still very much on the margins of our society, which should be source of national shame), and a desire for truth, the kind that can better rendered with the resources a museum provides. If people want to see Crucifixes on display at SLU, I invite them to walk into any classroom on campus. SLU isn't losing its Catholic identity; it's living it.

Paul Lynch more than 2 years ago

No longer symbolizes SLU's mission

As Joe Weixlmann says, "Where the Rivers Meet" (made in 1953) is not being destroyed but rather moved -- moved into a place where its original historical meanings can be better represented and understood. I do not know what mid-century Jesuit attitudes towards native Americans were: I would appreciate having these explained in the proper context of an art museum. One function of public art is to express the values of a community. A statue that shows a white priest physically towering above 2 native Americans, one of whom is kneeling, and both of whom are gazing up reverently to him, embodies not the truth of the Jesuit ministry but an ideological view of it, one that unfortunately reinforces traditional hierarchies, whatever the original intentions of the sculptor or of those that commissioned it (intentions that I'm sure were thoroughly sincere). This hierarchical view of human relations is now completely out of kilter with SLU's avowed mission, which is that the university will "welcome students, faculty and staff from all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds and beliefs and create a sense of community that facilitates their development as men and women for others." As public art, this statue no longer embodies the university's mission of extending respect for others, nor does it serve to build community. That is why it is being moved. This is not an act of iconoclasm, but an acknowledgment that "Where the Rivers Meet" no longer symbolically embodies SLU's Jesuit ideals.

Ruth Evans more than 2 years ago

Establishing Context

There seems to be substantial public misunderstanding surrounding the decision to bring context, AND THEREBY REALISTIC COMPREHENSION, to the DeSmet statue by moving it inside the SLU Museum of Art. Museums are places where such context is typically provided through explanatory signage and other forms of documentation; they are also places where heritage is PRESERVED, not abandoned, as some commentary here and elsewhere has stated or implied. It is in SLUMA that people, especially those unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding Fr. DeSmet's ministry, will be able to better understand and appreciate his historical role -- something that clearly was not being effectively achieved through the statue's previous placement. And It is sad that the seemingly logical action of constructively addressing the issues of misunderstanding facilitated by the statue's previous positioning is being seen by some as sinister, when moving it and providing it context is clearly an action which aims to do what universities are expected to do -- namely, to educate. Instead of attributing negative motivation to the statue's being repositioned, we would all be well-served to celebrate its having been physically re-situated in a place where it can be more well-understood and intelligently discussed.

Joe Weixxlmann more than 2 years ago

So let's see...

So in the 1800s, chiefs from Osage Nation traveled by their own choice (and wearing ceremonial headresses, etc) to ask Bishop DuBourg to send priests to baptize and minister to them. While with him, they knelt in reverence and awe to a crucifix, which showed him they truly valued the Faith. So then missionaries went, again *at the request of the Osage*, to minister to the Osage, baptizing them and working to establish schools for them (in this case siding with the Osage as the government mistreated them, worked to move them, etc). Father De Smet was one of these priests. Later a statue is made showing some of these Osage looking with awe not at a white man but at a crucifix. Again, not submitting to the man, but to God, the God they themselves worked hard to be able to follow. Time passes. University students decide to privilege feelings over facts, and the statue gets removed because it is easier and more emotionally satisfying to make decisions based on unfounded indignation and hasty assumptions than research into the actual past or an understanding of the very faith that this Jesuit institution is supposed to promote.

Gertrude more than 2 years ago


Is SLU a Catholic institution? Last time I checked, it was run by Jesuits. I understood it to be catholic. I don't expect my comment to be posted, since it is at odds with the STL agenda, but you never know? There are random acts of objective journalism out there. Let's see how it goes....? Meanwhile, we HONOR Fr. DeSmets with a Mass every year in my parish. We also pray for his beatification. A truly holy and humble servant of God.

Jack Gates more than 2 years ago

Cowardice by administration

Cowardly administration bows to revisionist history.

Alana more than 2 years ago

Not "White Supremacist" But . . .

Christianity isn't a white religion, it's a universal religion. That's what "Catholic" means. The problem is that the statue is a lot like a commemoration of the conversion of the Jews, if by "a lot like" you mean "exactly like." Moving it to an art museum seems like good solution, stepping back from the endorsement while acknowledging its place in history

Robert Fiore more than 2 years ago


Its terrible that a Catholic university would bow to the whims of the ignorant masses. Those who haven't any idea what these brave missionaries did to spread the word of God.

Mark Thomas more than 2 years ago

Poorly Written Article

This article completely takes the SLU UNews quote out of context. The entire point of the SLU UNews article is that the statue is misunderstood and is actually historical and respectful. It is unfortunate that this article perpetuates those misunderstandings. It is also unfortunate that SLU is losing its identify.

Jenny more than 2 years ago

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