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St. Louis University is a Secular Institution, Not a Catholic or Jesuit University

February 19, 2007 Events/Meetings, Midtown, Religion 38 Comments

Yes, you read correctly, Saint Louis University is neither a Catholic or Jesuit University. Now I know what you are thinking, that I’ve gone off the deep end this time. Everyone knows Saint Louis University is a Catholic University, right? Well, just hear me out. First, I personally agree with most of you the university is most definintely a Catholic University run by Jesuit priests. So where does this proclamation come from saying the university is secular and not a religious institution? There is a group, which I will reveal in a minute, who are making this claim and doing so in court. The case is on the docket for the Missouri Supreme Court to review on Wednesday February 21, 2007.

Interestingly, the group claiming Saint Louis University is not a Catholic University is…. Saint Louis University! Really, you just can’t make up stuff this good. Saint Louis University (SLU) is saying they are secular and they’ve got at least eight million reasons for trying to convince the court that is the case. Confused yet? Let me help you out but you’ve got to pay close attention because this is a complicated issue.

In short, some years back the city approved a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) plan for the Grand Center Redevelopment Area (itself blighted for some 30 years). Several projects were to be funded with this TIF including the SLU Arena, the old Woolworth Building and the Metropolitan Building. In total, 24 projects were listed within the district totaling some $80 million in TIF funds. Through some clever wording it turns out, critics claim, SLU will get all the area’s TIF money for the next seven or eight years — all going into the new arena, which broke ground last year. This might be as much as $14 million, they claim.

In the United States we have this pesky little provision in the constitution requiring separation of church and state. The Missouri constitution, I am told, goes even further in its wording on use of public money at religious institutions. So the question before the Missouri Supreme court is the use of $8 million in public TIF funds for the construction of an arena at a Catholic university. With $8 million in public tax money at risk, SLU has been quietly arguing in court they are not a Catholic university.

Now, I’m no theologeon but I kinda get the impression from SLU’s mission statement they are indeed a Catholic University:

The Mission of Saint Louis University is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. The University seeks excellence in the fulfillment of its corporate purposes of teaching, research and community service. It is dedicated to leadership in the continuing quest for understanding of God?s creation, and for the discovery, dissemination and integration of the values, knowledge and skills required to transform society in the spirit of the Gospels. As a Catholic, Jesuit university, the pursuit is motivated by the inspiration and values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and is guided by the spiritual and intellectual ideals of the Society of Jesus.

SLU’s argument is their board of directors are mostly lay persons, therefore they are not of any religious creed. Of course, all evidence is to the contrary. Here are some more tidbits from their mission statement page suggesting how they support the above mission, the university:

  • Strives continuously to seek means to build upon its Catholic, Jesuit identity, and to promote activities which apply that intellectual and ethical heritage to work for the good of society as a whole.
  • Nurtures within its community an understanding of and commitment to the promotion of faith and justice in the spirit of the Gospels.

There are numerous examples of SLU stating they are indeed a Catholic University, these are well cited in the various court briefs that I have been supplied. Here is one from a press release on the arena groundbreaking:

Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of 11,800 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University is the place where knowledge touches lives.

Interesting, in the same press release SLU makes it sound like the full TIF is being paid solely from revenues generated by the arena:

The Arena will be funded through fundraising, $8 million in TIF funding and bonds, which will be paid off with revenues from the Arena.

If the arena were a single project TIF, such as say a downtown loft building, this would be completely true. But, the arena is part of the Grand Center revelopment area which was expanded to include the site, even though it is a substantial distance away from what we think of as Grand Center.

Basically the incremental increase in property taxes, sales tax and such from redeveloping the district are to be used to help fund projects. The reality is other property owners in the area are involuntarily helping subsidize SLU’s new arena. I was told by one opponent, intimately familiar with the issues involved, that one commercial property’s taxes were reassessed so that taxes increased from $5,000/year to roughly $35,000 per year.

By getting the property taxes raised, on the argument the district has increased in value thanks to SLU and former Alderman Mike McMillan, the owners are helping fund the TIF. Their choices are to pay up or sell. Say you’ve got a great building in the area and you want to redevelop it yourself or sell to a developer. You, like developers throughout the city, look for TIF and/or tax abatement to help make the project feasible. Here is where it gets a bit tricky.

First, you are graciously given a B or C bond on within the TIF. But, the chances of you ever getting any money on this bond are way down the road, after SLU has received their money first. SLU hold a “B” bond which is subordinate to their “A” bond. All other bonds that have been issued are subordinate to both of the SLU bonds which total over $10 million. So say you decide to go foward without a TIF but you want tax abatement to lock in the current (and increasing) property taxes at the current rate. Oh, sorry — no can do. What that means is even if you raise a substantial amount of money to complete a project within the district the property taxes will go up immediately and you’ll be helping fund, with public money, the arena for SLU.

Through a number of ordinances the city has determined that up to $80 million in TIF bonds can be sold. These will be broken down in A, B and C bonds with the A’s getting paid first and so on. SLU’s arena project got the first A bond, worth $8 million. The master developer for the area, Grand Center, Inc headed by former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, has the authority to increase the bond by up to 30% making the $8 million bond rise to over $10 million. The second bond for SLU at $2.5 could easily go to $3.25 million. If that is not enough, and the tax revenue is there to support it, the Board of Aldermen could simply pass another ordinance to subordinate other bonds and issue another to SLU. SLU’s President, Father Biondi, argued in a deposition the TIF was necessary for the arena:

Q. Is it your opinion that the eight million is a necessity, and, if so, why?
A. Yes. It is a necessity . . . Athletics plays an important role here at St. Louis University. . . Why is an arena important? Because it’s an attractive venue for students from across the United States to come to this campus to be educated in the Jesuit
tradition. [emphasis mine]

They come to be “educated in the Jesuit tradition” at a non-Catholic, non-Jesuit university? I don’t think so.

Several issues are at play here. First, Grand Center has been blighted for decades and has a blanket TIF to aid in redevelopment but all the tax revenue is going to a single SLU project located a good distance from Grand Center. Second, SLU does not need the funds so the criteria used to determine if a project is eligible for a TIF, the “if not but for” test fails. SLU could build the arena without the $8 million in public funds. And finally SLU is a Catholic, Jesuit university and therefore is ineligible to receive public moneies based on the Missouri constitution.

I haven’t told you who filed the original lawsuit challenging the use of TIF for SLU, the Masonic Temple Association of St. Louis. Yes, this is the Masons vs. the Jesuits. Both sides been through a couple of rounds with SLU coming out the winner. The stakes are big and others have submitted “friends of the court briefs” on both sides the issue.

In addition to the above links, here are documents for your review:

Articles in the Press:

Most of the above articles are from the St. Louis Business Journal and all of those show a clear bias in favor of SLU and the TIF subsidy.  Basically this seems like an unfair deal and it explains why projects such as the Metropolitan Building and the old Woolworth have not gone forward.  No TIF for them, no project for us to consume.  With both TIF financing and church-state issues all wrapped up into one this will certainly be interesting to see how the Missouri Supreme Court rules on this case.


Currently there are "38 comments" on this Article:

  1. Craig says:

    This is a very misleading post. I don’t have time to get into all of the details now, but if people read the materials posted by UR, it should be clear that SLU is not running away from its identity as a Catholic, Jesuit institution. In fact there is nothing unconstitutional per se about the state giving aid to a religious organization. Instead, the test depends on what the aid would be used for.
    SLU is not claiming that it is a secular institution, only that it performs secular functions (such as educating UR’s author). That is why SLU and other “religious schools” receive millions of dollars in state and federal money each year — a practice that has been held to be entirely constitutional.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’m leaving for an appointment otherwise I’d had a lot to say in response.  I’ll stick with this is the first university I have attended where we have a cross in every classroom.  And from the Missouri Constitution: 

    Prohibition of public aid for religious purposes and institutions.
    Section 8. Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of personal property or real estate ever be made by the state, or any county, city, town, or other municipal corporation, for any religious creed, church, or sectarian purpose whatever.]

  2. Craig says:

    Unfortunately, whether classrooms contain religious symbols is the not the test for whether state aid can be given to a university.
    If UR is going to cite the Missouri constitution it should also cite the decades of case law that have interpreted its words.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The link provided does reference case law as it applies to that section of the constitution.]

  3. ? says:

    This is a tricky issue. I went to a catholic high school, and I remember that they got money from the state to help pay for a new roof…the money just couldn’t be used for the parts of the roof over the chapel. It could be argued that since it is a sports arena, it will be a secular use and public money could be used to pay for the infrastructure. The same can be said for SLU receiving federal money for the new research center…it’s a secular use. As far as SLU not being a catholic university, well I would say it still is but that it is moving away from being so.

  4. Matt B says:

    Steve said…
    “I was told by one opponent, intimately familiar with the issues involved, that one commercial property’s taxes were reassessed so that taxes increased from $5,000/year to roughly $35,000 per year.”


    Opponents (and proponents) have a tendency to cherry pick and exaggerate claims to support their case. Given an address, this claim could easily be confirmed, and perhaps other reasons could be offered for a 700% increase in taxes.

    This could be a compelling argument against the TIF, but as you have floated it out there, this claim would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

  5. urban reader says:

    This seems to be a minor wrinkle which could be easily overcome by any number of enterprising St. Louis attorneys.

    If SLU were willing to cede fee ownership of the facility, here’s the solution…

    Form a separate, nonprofit corporation, not controlled by SLU. The nonprofit then leases the property to SLU for 99 years. SLU becomes the tenant, and the financing is run through the private, non-profit, secular corporation.

    Next, sell the naming rights to SLU!

    We’re all winners!

  6. Steve-O says:

    ^”We’re all winners! ”

    That certainly depends on your perspective. Should development of the entire TIF district be compromised for this one project that arguably could be accomplished without it?

  7. awb says:

    The whole idea of offering Tax-Increment Financing to a tax-exempt or not-for-profit entity is pretty silly to me. As a school, SLU’s property is not taxed. As a not-for-profit, SLU doesn’t pay tax on any profit. So why exactly is SLU entitled to any form of subsidy based on taxes paid by the rest of us? Especially at the expense of tax-paying property owners in the area?

    This is a real show of chuzpah–and not in the good way.

  8. johnny says:

    So, its a sports arena. They won’t hold mass there? They won’t pray at the graduations held there? I don’t want my tax dollars funding catholicism, islam, buddism, taoism or any form of religion. If SLU wants the arena, they can raise tuition or dial for dollars. Taxing me should not be an option.

    Of course they will win this battle. The easy argument is that Federal Student Loans pay for kids to attend school at SLU, this TIF could be given the same cover.

  9. Matthew Murphy says:

    SLU split similar hairs back when I worked on the student paper. The context was slightly different, however, they wanted to sell the hospital.

    They responded to critics who said they couldn’t sell the property because it was, through SLU as a Catholic institution, the property of the Catholic Church. Father Lawrence Biondi said that was incorrect in that the school was a Catholic institution but the power and control emanated from a lay board.

    Thus the university is Catholic–the way Boston is Irish–but not part of the church.

  10. awb says:

    The document with the link SLU TIF Masons Appeal appears to be a ruling about the Summary Judgement. I really like pages 9 through 13 where one of the judges agrees that the case should go before the Missouri Supreme Court, but for reasons other than those cited by the majority.

    He really rubs it in that the majority used a New York case to base their ruling, but he rightly points out that this is Missouri. Our constitution is not governed or challenged by New York’s state constitution.

    I hope this goes to court, because I can’t wait to see how the Jesuits testify publicly.

  11. publiceye says:

    “I hope this goes to court, because I can’t wait to see how the Jesuits testify publicly.”

    Written trial record, briefs, oral arguments by the lawyers. No Jesuits.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — There is no real trial record as the prior court rules in favor of SLU via summary judgement.  We do have some of the record from one Jesuit under oath, Father Biondi.  From P16 of the Masons Brief:

    Q.  With all of these assets, is it really necessary for you to have this eight million
    dollars from the TIF? 

    A.  Absolutely.

    . .  .

    Q.  Is it your opinion that the eight million is a necessity, and, if so, why? 

    A.  Yes.  It is a necessity . . .      Athletics plays an important role here at St. Louis
    University. . .  Why is an arena important?  Because it’s an attractive venue for students
    from across the United States to come to this campus to be educated in the Jesuit

  12. Maurice says:

    So Steve, are you for or against the project? Because to me it sounds like you are against it. Will you (or anyone else) still be against it when they raise your tuition to cover the cost? Will you still be against it when you walk up the aisle at your graduation there, instead of the Savis center? Will you still be against it when you attend a concert there?

    Now I will grant that there are a lot of people out there that think Fr. Biondi is a bully and so on, but there are more people who believe in that man and what he has done for the Mid-Town section. I’ll admit that I’m biased and I’m one of the latter.

    Compare that entire area to pre-1987 when Biondi came onboard. The whole area was a crime infested, boarded up area. EVERYONE has benefited from Fr. Biondi’s vision and have rode on the coat-tails of SLU’s success. He could have stayed SLU centered, like many of the other area colleges are, but he (and his minions) are very concerned about the City and, yes, their campus.

    Let them have the Arena, they deserve it.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — They are already raising our tuition and finding computer lab space for us to do our projects is a challenge. I ordered specialized GIS software for home use because we simply don’t have enough lab space. We are talking about $8 million, not that much to SLU. But, when you have massive bonds to pay off on all their parking garages maybe they do need the $8 million.

    Wow, I hadn’t actually thought about graduation. I skipped my undergrad ceremony and may well do the same for my masters in a couple of years. The issue is complicated. One, we have the idea of public funding for a religious school —- something I am against. Second, we have public funding for an institution while other projects in the real Grand Center district sit vacant. Third we have this idea that every place needs their own arena — how will this arena compete with Scottrade Center?

    Well, what I think Biondi has done for Midtown is to destroy any character it once had. Of course for the arena site this is the second time it has been clear, the first was in the 1950s when nearly everything south of Olive between Grand & 20th was razed at part of the Mill Creek Valley urban renewal failure. Biondi has razed building after building, gated off everything else and created a staid campus that is lifeless compared to so many other campuses in a far less urban setting. I’m not sure we can recover from the damage done by Biondi.

    The arena is being constructed so that is not being disputed, the idea is if city tax money should help fund the construction or if that tax revenue should instead be focused in the real Grand Center.]

  13. Maurice says:

    Well Steve, this is one area where we will have to agree to disagree. The area where the arena will sit use to be crime ridden apartments until SLU purchased them a number of years back. Now I will give you that they sometimes have not done a great job of improving their properties (improving, not just maintaining) as I think the Coronado apartments as well.

    But again, which is the lesser evil? By that I mean, would the mid-town district improved were it not for the SLU campus improving? Is SLU damned for buying up property that was not safe nor being maintained in order to provide a safe area surrounding their campus?
    I don’t see what character the mid town has seen destroyed…the fox and other performance buildings are full, north side of Lindell has plenty of life and activities, Harris Stowe is expanding, etc.

    I do agree with you though that I”m not too hip on public funding for a religious institution.

    There were a number of articles both pro and con in the student newspaper when the arena and research building were in the planning stages. They make good reading.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The area where the arena will sit was once part of a thriving neighborhood until it was completely leveled in the 1950s by people who thought they could improve upon a tight grid of streets with diverse buildings and uses.  They were wrong.  So when we tore down all the failed urban renewal stuff you basically saw SLU, Harris-Stowe, AG Edwards and Sigma come in with a land grab.  They have all actively destroyed the modest street connections that once existed for the last 50 years at a time when we should have been weaving this area back into the fabric of the city — more connections, not less.  

    SLU for one razed the buildings at two of the four corners of Lindell & Grand.  Not good for an urban context.  Also, along Lindell heading East to Compton a number of buildings existed and they related to the street, much like those across from the Moolah do today.  Instead, the pedestrian has a long sidewalk with a gate that basically sends the message, “keep out”.  

    Many newer and less urban campuses have safe surroundings because these universities have embraced the idea of a “campus corner” area where coffeehouses, copy places and retail stores thrive being adjacent to the student population.  The Loop serves this role for Washington University.  SLU has given us parking garage after parking garage.  SLU has likely made the areas within their fences safer at the expense of the areas outside the fences.   They’ve done a horrible injustice to the city through razing buildings, closing off streets and focusing on the auto rather than embrace mass tranist.]

  14. Steel says:

    It is my understanding that SLU operates both as a Catholic not-for-profit university and as a for profit business. It is also my understanding that these are two separate entities of the same being. The proper entity is used to get what the University needs/WANTS. Further, When applying for grants or funding they often partner with a secular or for-profit organization that may apply on their behalf or may allow them the ability to apply for themselves. For example soon the University will be receiving public safety funding made possible by homeland security grants that they are not elgible for. However they have parntered with STL City Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) and suddenly they become elegible. All SLU has to do is house a CEMA office on its campus. I think this is how they are playing arena thing. Is their partnership with Grand Center enough to qualify them for the TIF?

  15. SMSPlanstu says:

    Weird Steve,
    Your search for the truth in a journalistic manner is surprising. Most of us would be oblivious to the knowledge you dig up. Good work.

  16. Diana B. says:

    As a current student at Saint Louis University, I find the idea of our administration using public funds to build that god damn arena absolutely appalling. Yes, the arena will act as a marketing tool for students and be a money factory for the University, but we could have fund-raised that $8M, and not decided that we aren’t “technically” a Catholic institution.
    As a Catholic, I came to SLU because of it’s Jesuit-Catholic identity and since day one, I’ve heard that Biondi wants SLU to become the number one Catholic university in the nation. In 2005, our endowment was $750M; in 2006, $847M. Everyone knows that hitting the billion dollar mark makes you a real contender in higher education.
    SLU claimed almost $59M in government contributions on its 04-05 tax return. And yes, it is a 501(c)–non-profit, charitable organization whose gross receipts for 2004-2005 were $1,152,824,882.

    It’s interesting, because last fall the University announced that they were going to recruit MORE Catholic students for the class of 2011. So much for diversity.
    SLU knocked down 12 of the Grand Forest apartments to make way for the arena right when on-campus housing was at a premium. Now, housing is maxxed out at 107 percent–they’ve made the Reinert rooms into triples and are double booking rooms, making students who couldn’t get out of their housing contract but chose to live off campus anyway pay for rooms that other people are sleeping in, and also paying for.
    We don’t need that $8M. Midtown needs it. SLU students need an off-campus coffeehouse and a quick non-chain food joint and a place besides Humphreys to hang out at. We don’t need that arena, we need new desks and cheaper books and Metro passes for all students. And we certainly don’t need the 8.5 percent tuition increase Biondi is throwing on us for next year.

  17. Chris says:

    Mo- It is worth noting that the Coronado was improved and still owned by Amrit and Amy Gill and SLU had almost nothing to do with it (except of course for providing the market base)…

  18. Maurice says:

    I disagree that AG, Harris and SLU did a land grab on the Grand Apartments. NO ONE(yelling for emphasis) would be caught dead in that area back then (the 70’s and 80’s). The apartments were run down, and crime and rapes were occuring every day. I worked for SLU back then. I remember when West Pine actually went through the campus and how unsafe it was. Yes, the fences are inconvienent, but they do help keep the students safe and perhaps in time, they will come down (I doubt it, but who knows)

    The buildings at the corner of LIndell were a 2 (or was it 3 story) store front which yes, could have been saved, the other corner, where the fountain now sits was a bank built in the late 70’s…not very historic.

    Yes there were some buildings lost along Lindell. Many of those were private buildings and it was only in the 90’s that SLU purchased what was left of them, thereby saving them. (The Art Museum) By that time, Crazy Wraps had already came in and the Social Security built that ‘fortress thing’ at the corner in the 70’s. The Coronado WAS a SLU dormitory for a number of years. I remember it well and I was very upset that SLU did not take care of it, but at that time they also did not have 1) the student population to support it and 2) the size of the endorwment it has now. Many of the buildings torn down along Vanderventer were apartment buildings that had been condemned.

    When Fr. Biondi came in 1987, the University was recovering from almost going bankrupt. If they had the funds, I would not be surprised if they had moved.

    As for comparison to Wash U and the Loop, that really is not possible. The Loop is a private area and only in the past few years has Wash U. started to buy the apartment buildings and such…the Loop is barely within walking distance of the main campus and between the two there use to be high crime as well. In terms of investment in their community, Wash U is years behind SLU.

    I will concede that SLU needs a few restuarants and coffee shops in addition to what they currently have, but the Pasta House was on campus and failed, so did another coffee shop. And besides, isn’t that where private enterprise should be stepping in? How loud would the complaints be if SLU went into those lines of buisness? The Moolah is successful, so is Vitos and a number of others. Yet a few have failed as well…that is the market forces at work.

    The arena and research center will make the University greater than it is, and it will pull the area around it up as well. I know many current students are upset and think that both are a waste of money, but they are valuable recruitment tools whether they see it or not. And why shouldn’t SLU try and keep the money they spend for rent at the Savis and Scottish Rite?

  19. Diana B. says:

    (The ‘other coffee shop’ failed because it was poorly managed. It was very popular with students. I did not mean to imply that SLU should get into that line of business, but they should try to court such an establishment into moving nearer to campus).

    Here’s an excerpt from The University News’ editorial pages, dated 11/09/06:

    How did we respond to the accusation that we operate under a religious creed? Did we say, “Yes, SLU is a Catholic university-we operate under a Jesuit mission?” Did we proudly proclaim, “SLU’s Jesuit tradition is not merely an historical phenomenon, but a way of life that guides all university decisions?”
    Of course not. Knowing that an admission of faith would be politically damning, we did what any party hungry for millions of dollars would do: We weaseled our way out of the question.

    Here’s what the court said, and what we agreed with: “SLU, although a university with a Jesuit tradition, is not a university ‘controlled by a religious creed.'”
    Come again? Did Saint Louis University-an institution that constantly touts its status as one of the top five Catholic universities in the nation, an institution that actively recruits Catholic students, to compete with other Catholic universities, an institution that, as Fr. Lawrence Biondi, S..J. insists, will be the best Catholic university in the nation by 2012-just sell its religious identity for $8 million?

    Why not take the cheaper route-a kiss on the cheek and 30 pieces of silver?

    How can we claim to operate independent of a religious creed when crucifixes hang in SLU classrooms, when the Arts and Sciences core requires nine hours of theology and when our president is a Jesuit priest?

    Before taking or leaving this contested chunk of public money, SLU should consider the message this decision sends to the community and re-examine its identity: Are we a Catholic institution, or an institution that just happens to harbor a bunch of Catholics?

  20. bch says:

    I’ve seen mention of an off-campus coffee shop for SLU. What about 6 North? I work nearby and see SLU students there all the time (judging by the sweatshirts, etc).

    As far as SLU being secular, I’m suprised Biondi hasn’t appealed to the Pope to be ruled technically not a Jesuit, but pinky swear to kind of sort of act like one when its convenient. When I spent 8 years in what I thought were Jesuit insitutions, I got the impression that Jesuits took vows of poverty and were more concerned about helping poor people than billion dollar endowments. I remember being asked by a homeless person for some change on SLU’s campus and having bicycle cops swoop in from every direction to escort the poor guy outside of the iron gates.

    Thank god SLU will have its own Arena though. During my Jesuit education at SLU and SLUH, I worked in a women’s homeless shelter, a state run old folks home where 90% of the people had alzheimer’s, and spent a year working with adolescent victims and perpetrators of sexual/physical/emotional abuse. Often I thought to myself, ‘if only the Billikens had their own arena, these people’s lives would be better.’

    I’m not indicting all Jesuits buy the way. The ‘real’ ones I’ve known I still hold up as a gold standard of morality, critical (and free) thinking, and selflessness.


  21. Jeff says:

    Summary Judgment, for the record. Unless you’re British, I guess.

  22. Kevin says:

    Totally right on Steve…but Duuuuh.

    1) If SLU is truly catholic, and if catholics are supposed to help the poor and needy, then why has (and is) SLU directly surrounded by some of the worst and blighted areas of the city? Wouldn’t a true Catholic/Jesuit institution never have let the area fail so easily? There are more panhandlers and poor people in the SLU area and (yes this is true i’ve seen it) does a Lincoln filled with priests living a ‘life of poverty’ drive on by a man with a shopping cart at a stoplight?

    2) SLU really doesn’t hold up to its Catholic strictness, cus news flash- its a COLLEGE! SLU will take whatever $$ it can get- many of these out of state wealthy kids who got in here with an A in Wallet 101 an a C in Math- and yes they will sleep til 4pm after having using used a condom (oh no!) to have premarital sex (oh no!) and thus miss Sunday morning mass (oh no!) only to study for a test in taught by an openly gay (oh no!) Jewish (oh no!) professor. Maybe then, once the University has knocked down a St. Louis Public School (those kids don’t need an education anyway) can Billy attend a SLU bball game and watch them lose miserably and watch his parents $$ go down the tube.

    3) Tenet owns SLU hospital, a for profit organization, but at least there is a chapel and Jesus all over the walls i guess to cancel it out. Next door is SSM Cardinal Glennon, a non-for profit hospital. Both Catholic insitutions.

    …right on Steve, but duh. Like anything Catholic or religious, its Catholic when it wants to be. Many Colleges started with religious ties, but that was then…things have changed. But the contributions and improvements that Father Biondi / SLU have made are good, so minus the priest collar and the whatever traditions, its a college and a business. There is a growing amount of diversity and a great knowledge being shared and research being conducted. So no matter what the hell (oh no!) it wants to call itself, Jesuit or whatever, SLU remains a good institution no different than any other college out there. Kids still want to come here to go to SLU, get an education, be something better, do something better for the world, or maybe just get a degree to make money for themselves. At least they can hopefully see that what a University calls itself really doesn’t matter.

  23. Brad Mello says:

    The real question Steve is, what mid-evil torture is Fr. Biondi thinking up for you at this very moment?

    As a non-St. Louis resident though — I don’t fully grasp the tax issues here or the history. As a college professor at at Catholic related institution I do know that federal funds find there way to my institution as well as many other religious institutions mostly in the way of student loans and research grants. I’d be worried about that if there was a religious test for admission or if generally accepted scientific standards weren’t being followed in the research process but otherwise — supporting student choices and faculty research seems to me to be a worthy public goal. My sense is that you are against this Arena because it hurts the urban fabric potential not because of the funding — but that’s just me reading between the lines.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Well, there is no urban fabric left but it does hurt the potential of creating any.  A student loan is quite different than a portion of my sales tax at a nearby restaurant going to fund an arena at a religious institution.]  

  24. awb says:

    Public Eye,

    The trial I hope for is the one referenced in the last line of one of the links, where Judge Lawrence Mooney, discussing the argument of SLU being controlled by a religious creed, writes, “I hope our Supreme Court orders a trial on the merits of that interesting question.”

    Jeff, thanks for the spelling lesson. Can’t say I’m British, just a sloppy speller.

  25. Alright, Steve, this THEOLOGIAN will bite. I write this more as an essay than a response because I feel this concept of Jesuit (and other Catholic) higher education demands such a piece. In this essay, I will mostly address what it means to have a Catholic and Jesuit identity. I will also articulate my experience of Jesuit education. I will conclude with a few thoughts on Catholic Social Teaching and what “Catholics are required to do.”

    First a few questions about your research as I find it quite subjective and ill-informed. Did you, in your quest to ascertain the Jesuit identity, speak to anyone in the Office of Mission and Ministry at the University, like Mary Flick who talks in front of every employee orientation about the importance of Jesuit Catholic identity? Or did you seek out the wisdom of Ron Modras, Dr. Theol who recently wrote, Ignatian Humanism: A Dynamic Spirituality for the 21st Century, and is considered a premiere authority on Ignatian Spirituality? Or did you even bother to pop into the VP for Development and University Relations’ office and ask Tom Keefe what the story was with SLU seeking out funding?

    Had you gone and spoken to these individuals (though citing the Mission Statement was interesting) you would have discovered the commitment Jesuit schools have to higher learning. I quote Steve Kuder, SJ who writes that “in Jesuit schools we have both a particular mission and also a unique process, an Ignatian way of proceeding. Some call it the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, the IPP, based upon St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. In short: Context, Experience, Reflection, Action, and Evaluation.” Part of that Jesuit way of being includes allowing for participatory experiences for students, faculty, staff, and community.

    Back in the early 80s, it was Saint Louis University who saw to it that middle school girls had a place to practice basketball in the West Pine gym. Saint Louis University School of Public Service and Center for Leadership and Community Service encouraged the growth and development of neighboring schools and has a strong partnership with St. Louis Public Schools to provide tutoring and homework assistance. Did the University catechize these children? No, that is not part of the Jesuit commitment unless directly specified as evangelization and only then is it made perfectly clear that a child and their family chooses to be catechized as well as receive basic education and those kinds of endeavors are special projects and not everyday after-school activities as part of this $20,000 grant.

    The University strongly promotes the Ignatian ideal, A.M.D.G. “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” a Latin term meaning “For the greater glory of God.” We talk about a community of men and women for others. It’s not a brand emblazoned on the black wrought-iron fences surrounding our community. It IS the Ignatian identity that draws 8,000 students to apply for approximately 1,500 places in the entering freshman class. I hardly think those 8,000 are applying because they want to see if SLU can finally beat Xavier. They apply because they know what Jesuit education is and the importance of a Catholic higher education institution. They also know that Saint Louis University boasts a reputable undergraduate program to prepare students for medical school, law school, seminary, and other post-graduate opportunities. A truly beneficial undergraduate experience does not reside only in the books. It exists because of the access to extracurriculars, athletics, technology, and conversation. A truly great academic institution can only be as great and productive as its students make it to be.

    The National Collegiate Athletic Association posts these 2 goals on their mission statement. “The Association through its member institutions, conferences and national office staff shares a belief in and commitment to:
    1. The collegiate model of athletics in which students participate as an avocation, balancing their academic, social and athletics experiences.
    2. The supporting role that intercollegiate athletics plays in the higher education mission and in enhancing the sense of community and strengthening the identity of member institutions.”
    You can find on the Saint Louis University Athletics website the following statement, “At Saint Louis University, we live true to the Jesuit tradition. When our student-athletes are not providing entertainment in various venues, they are in the St. Louis community sharing the knowledge of their respective sports and providing a bright light in the lives of other.” These student athletes did everything from organize a health fair to diabetes testing to homework help after school to developing a coaching program for schools for a particular sport. In everything these athletes do, they do it “For the Greater Glory of God” (whether they can personally articulate or not, I cannot say) as per the Jesuit identity.

    Institutes of higher education whether “public” or “private” cannot easily just be one or the other with monies. Today I’m working on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded-demonstration-site for asthma; people down the hall have received millions of dollars from the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Department of Homeland Security. The list could go on and on. Is our School of Public Health exempt from this funding because we belong to a Catholic, Jesuit institution? In fact, we are the ONLY Catholic School of Public Health.

    As a Catholic, Jesuit institution (as like any college or university) we are obligated to offer our students up-to-date technology (and I would suggest talking to Ellen Watson, VP of Information Technology Services if you want to know what strides the University is taking and has taken to better technology for students), safe and well-maintained fitness equipment, living space, and also to offer a competitive edge for our athletes. The University seeks to build a space with the capacity for 10,000 seats for the showcasing of not just men’s basketball but concerts (instead of getting rained out in front of the Griesidieck complex), circus and family shows, and other non-athletic events. Every week, hundreds of students gather to worship at Saint Francis Xavier (College) Church.

    The last and final point I want to make is to address my understanding as a lay theologian regarding Jesuits and the vow of poverty. I cite the Society of Jesus website which writes, “In binding the Jesuits, the vows set them free: free by their vow of poverty, to share the life of the poor, relying on God’s providence, and to use whatever resources they may have not for their own security and comfort, but for service.” The Jesuit commitment to the community is addressed from draft about Apostolic Priority released on the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, 2005. The Society of Jesus writes, “This commitment transforms what we do day-by- day in education, retreats, and pastoral and social ministry. When we teach, write, and do research, we lead our students to apply themselves and what they learn to become the women and men for others who will dream new dreams, see visions, and work to transform society. When we preach, we connect the Eucharist we celebrate at the table of the Lord to the crying need for bread, equality, and unity among all races, nations, and classes. When we direct the Exercises, we help people to gain the freedom from our culture’s myths, religious stereotypes, and their own demons that will allow them to respond generously to the ways God’s Spirit calls them to loving service and a determined commitment to justice.”

    In sum, I hardly think Saint Louis University has shied away from the Catholic, Jesuit Identity. I am a product of 6 scholastic years of Jesuit theological training and 24 years of growing up in the Ignatian way. Maybe I’m biased but mostly I’m dedicated. I hardly believe that without a strong Jesuit influence (one influence among many) would I continue in my theological studies, public health studies, and being a woman for others. Saint Louis University is an academic and research institution dedicated to its students, faculty and staff to live out the Jesuit mission whether they are athletes needing anew facility, community members seeking free counseling at the Law Clinic, or sorority members scrubbing floors at a local school after a fire, we are all party of a Catholic, Jesuit Institution.

    Mary E. Homan, BA, Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, MA, Systematic Theology, Aquinas Institute of Theology, MPH student, Saint Louis University

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Mary, as the next person indicates, I think you missed the point.  I fully believe SLU to be a Catholic, Jesuit university.  No doubt in my mind.  And while such institutions can receive federal research grants for non-religious purposes the Missouri constitution seems reasonably clear about state or local funds.  This is about what we in Missouri & the City of St. Louis chose to do with our tax money.  I personally could have done just fine with Grand Center TIF funds actually going for project(s) actually located within the area we consider Grand Center.  Instead the TIF district was amended to include the arena site after SLU realized they couldn’t raze lots of properties within Grand Center proper.  This is a special deal to favor SLU at the unfair expense of others.  Where does that fit into the theology?]

  26. Erin says:

    Ms. Homan, I think you missed the point but thanks for the relgion lesson.

  27. LisaS says:

    Mary, I don’t think Steve–or any of the rest of us, really–have any argument with either SLU’s Catholic identity or the contributions that the Jesuits in particular have made to Western society through their academic tradition. There is no denying that the university, its faculty, staff, and students contribute much to the culture of St. Louis. As a Protestant, I appreciate that these things are done largely without discussion of religion.

    However, given that SLU does identify so strongly as a Catholic institution, and requires specific religious identification both for a certain number of seats on the Board and (as of 1967) requiring a Jesuit to be the President, it would seem that funding a University Arena with TIF money is in violation of the Missouri Constitution. (The Federal Constitution does not have the same level of restriction, so their grants don’t fall under this restriction.) Further, I would suggest that in the briefs and press releases from SLU’s allies in the case, if not from the University itself, this historical and moral tradition is actively denied.

    Then again, I’m also appalled when we use public money to build more arenas/stadiums period. Bread and circuses …

  28. Brad Mello says:

    I fail to see how it is different in principle that your local restaurant tax dollars go to a SLU project vs my Federal Income Tax dollars which are no doubt subsidizing your reduced rate student loans which are paying tuition at a religous affiliated institution. Further, I don’t see how Missouri’s constitution is all that different than the U.S. constitution and clearly the U.S. courts have been fine with Federal Dollars supporting religious institutions in one way or another. In a broader sense — tax dollars go to support a lot of sports venues that argue the venue benefits the community in terms of providing jobs and additional tax revenue via concessions and ticket sales. Here in DC two completed stadiums and one in the works received significant tax dollars and tax concessions — which I found rediculous. I’d rather see tax money support sports arena’s at a University rather than some uber-wealthy professional sports team. Certainly the arena will provide healthy recreational outlets for students as well as good part time jobs. Although, as a college professor, I’d probably vote for more study lounges and student learning resources — and I wonder how would you feel if some of that TIF money went to building more facilities of that nature?

    Great post Steve — I’m enjoying this debate and am learning a good deal.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The Missouri Constitution does seem to be a bit more restrictive.  Besides, I can draw a line between education research and the construction of a sports facility that will compete with another publicly funded sports facility only a few miles away.  But SLU wants an arena and indeed it is under construction at we debate this.  The question is does it make sense for the public to be funding part of the construction?  Does it make sense that other property owners in the TIF district will be paying increased property taxes to help fund the arena?  Does it make sense to let important buildings within the heart of the Grand Center district continue to remain vacant for the next 8 or so years while SLU gets an arena they would easily fund without the use of public money?]

  29. Becker says:

    Admit it Steve! You just don’t like basketball that much do you?

  30. newsteve says:

    jeff – check yourself – awb is neither british or a bad speller: see http://m-w.com/dictionary/judgement – from Merriam-Webster:

    One entry found for judgment.
    Main Entry: judg·ment
    Variant(s): or judge·ment /’j&j-m&nt/
    Function: noun

  31. Maurice says:

    I don’t think Mary misses the point.

    There would be no Grand Center without SLU and the changes it brought about in Mid-Town.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — By your phrasing I assume that you think the Grand Center area would be worse off today were it not for SLU?  Well, where is the proof?  In reality all we can do is speculate about alternatives.  But, keep in mind that it was the St. Louis Synphony locating in Powell Hall back in 1968 that got people looking at the area.  In the 80s we saw the renovation of the Fox.

    And what is Grand Center?  Right now it is a failed marketing plan.  So maybe you are right, we can connect Grand Center & SLU.

  32. Brad Mello says:

    Oh my — my anti-spam word it “religion” Coincidence?

    Steve, your last response to my post seems to boil the issue down well — they are useful questions — if it is true that surrounding properties will pay increased property tax as a result of this arena then that perhaps is unfair if they gain no access to TIF funds. But, does their property value go up because the Arena exists? Can they cash in on that?

    And I have to say that in the grand scheme of things, paying for part of an college sports arena with public funds doesn’t seem anywhere near as agregious as the $600 or so million that is going to the new Nationals Baseball park here in DC when the schools are crumbling and such, especially considering the Nats do very little for the community. I’m suspecting SLU does a considerable amount for St. Louis in the good Jesuit tradition.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Maybe it is a good thing you haven’t heard the news  in DC but Missouri is in the process of taking over the St. Louis Public Schools.   With so many critical issues needing to be addressed I find it disappointing so much money is going into the construction of an arena.  With private funds people are free to do as they please but with public funds it is a different story.

    Property taxes are going up within the district, including the many properties that SLU wanted to raze for the arena until enough of a backlash was caused to get them to consider another site.  It is unlikely, in my estimation, that the arena will actually help the value of these properties.  First, it is so far away from Grand Center that it is not like someone will take in dinner or other venues before or after a game (yes, some will).  The reality is people attending a SLU basketball game will arrive via the highway, park in one of the many overbuilt parking garages and leave — much as they do the Scottrade Center only a couple of miles away where SLU has been playing for a number of years now.

    Furthermore, some of the properties whose taxes are going up have yet to be renovated.  With increased property taxes, the unlikelihood of tax abatement or any TIF funds these prominent properties will remain stagnant.  The TIF funds for this arena will do far more damage than good for Grand Center.]

  33. Jeff says:

    Newsteve – just don’t submit a “Motion for Summary Judgement” to a judge and expect to get away with it.

  34. awb says:

    The Missouri Supreme Court is hearing this today, according to KWMU. For the life of me, I can’t find a single mention of this topic on the Post’s website.

  35. maurice says:

    By your phrasing I assume that you think the Grand Center area would be worse off today were it not for SLU? Well, where is the proof? In reality all we can do is speculate about alternatives. But, keep in mind that it was the St. Louis Synphony locating in Powell Hall back in 1968 that got people looking at the area. In the 80s we saw the renovation of the Fox.

    And what is Grand Center? Right now it is a failed marketing plan. So maybe you are right, we can connect Grand Center & SLU.

    Yes, all we can do is speculate what could have been or not. Would all the development Lewis Reed is touting in his campaigning have happened without him or just an occurance of the natural market forces? We can only speculate. We can speculate till we are blue in the face on a number of (usually) great issues that you raise. But….

    Powell Hall in 1968…SLU was already there.
    Fox renovation in ’80’s …SLU was already there.
    Grand Center….SLU was already there.

    Grand Center maybe suffering from a number of issues and I agree with you that one of them is a failed marketing plan. Maybe not failure as in complete failure, but failure to be actionary instead of reactionary, failing to stay flexible, etc.

    But..Mary had it right. The Jesuit tradition is strengthened exactly because the Jesuits (SLU, Fr. B, and all) immersed themselves right amoung the poorest, the unjustly served, the oppressed. Wash U., Fontbone, Maryville….all great institutions, but for a student that truly understands the Jesuit mission of service to others and for the greater glory of God, they do not, cannot, get the same immersion without leaving their beautiful, suburban campuses.

    SLU has been in the same location since 1818, first in farmland, then the outlaying poor neighborhood, then working class, then upperclass, then poor and desolate area, and now it sees that cycle come around again. All along SLU has remained true to its mission to be of service to others. They partnered with the Fransican Sisters of Mary to build a Medical School and childrens hospital, and their own hospital. They taught members of society when those members weren’t suppose to get an education (blacks, women, etc). They fought the Archdiocese when they needed to be fiscal stewards of God’s gifts and sell the hospital.

    What does all this have to do with funding the Arena you are asking by now? Its relatively simple really… 8 million really isn’t that much to the University..BUT…that 8 million frees up 8 million to…you guessed it….service others (and the greater good of Mid-town, the City, the region, and yes, God’s gift of the world.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — The current campus was first opened in July 1888 so the build up and decline all happened while “SLU was already there.”  This location is their third location by the way with the original 1818 building located on the riverfront followed by a move to 9th & Washington.  It was in 1867 before they purchased land at Grand & Lindell and as I indicate above the first building opened in 1888.  You can read more at SLU’s history site.

    My undergrad was from the University of Oklahoma in an early 20th century urban setting (low-density urban, think Kirkwood) and it has a thriving “campus corner” area immediately adjacent to the campus — dating to 1917.  It has had its ups and downs but over the years it has remained the place where students hung out.  The difference is there were little other choices in Norman OK while SLU has been a part of a thriving city with streetcar lines and such which could easily take students elsewhere.

    Since Biondi has arrived SLU has aggressively purchased property around it, closed off the street grid making it harder to get around the city and then enclosed it all within fences and gates.  This is not embracing your surroundings, this is walling it off.   SLU has been building a suburban campus within the city — intentionally isolated and separated from the city.   Sure, technically it is an urban campus based on location by not on physical design.

    Furthermore, you want me to buy the argument that by giving SLU $8 million that frees up $8 million they can use for service work in the city?  You are joking me?  If SLU wasn’t taking this money, generated in a specific taxing district for a specific purpose, the money would actually help the district!!!!!!!!!!!!!   That is the entire point!!!  SLU is taking these funds away from other important rebuilding projects within Grand Center that cannot otherwise get any funding.  SLU can come up with funds for an arena much easier than a developer can to take on a risky rennovation of a long-abandoned building.  Do you not see the inequity in this situation?]

  36. xyz says:

    I would argue that midtown being impoverished has been exacerbated by SLU’s presence, even if now SLU is trying to make things better. I don’t think SLU is any more noble now than in the past, but rather just has more money at its disposal.

    People on this blog seem to really have it out for WU. In my view WU has done many good things for its surrounding communities. WU is also one of the largest employers around and is a fantastic place to work. You can’t even compare the level/amount of academic research going on either.

  37. Maurice says:

    Whats more important? helping people or helping businesses?

    If one thinks that SLU is behaving in a selfish way, then why support it with your tuition?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Many poeple need help in our region because we are not thriving as we should be.  Funding additional projects in midtown would certainly help more people directly as well as helping more business which helps people indirectly as well.  

    Yes, I am paying a hefty tuition bill so therefore I am helping support SLU.  My only alternative to get this degree would have been to move to another region in the country.  Thus, my only viable option was to attend SLU.  Hopefully as a student and someday as a grad I can have an impact on their future direction.] 

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