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Bicentennial Year in Review


SLU’s bicentennial celebrations lasted 15 months. The memories will last a lifetime.

Fireworks in the sky over College Church

Fireworks marked SLU's bicentennial year Homecoming in September 2018. SLU photo

A Year in Review

Saint Louis University marked its 200 years in ways big and small — with academic conferences and lectures, with a 5K run and a street festival, with a book and a mural, with historical markers and exhibitions, and with a symphonic concert and an ambitious service challenge. As SLU closes out this milestone year, here’s a look back at the events and commemorations that honored SLU’s bicentennial.

Mass under the Arch

Nearly 6,000 people participated in the Mass under the Gateway Arch. Photo by Steve Dolan

Bicentennial Mass at the Gateway Arch
Sept. 23, 2017

This one-of-a-kind gathering kicked off the 15-month bicentennial celebration on the banks of the Mississippi River with Mass, entertainment and fireworks near the site of SLU’s first classes in 1818, which were held in a small rented home on what is now the grounds of the Gateway Arch. Nearly 6,000 SLU students, faculty, staff, alumni and people from throughout the St. Louis region attended the event. It was believed to be the first Mass ever held beneath the Arch. 

200-Years-In-One Challenge Launch
Nov. 14, 2017

The University’s 200-Years-In-One Challenge invited everyone in St. Louis, the nation and around the world — whether they were SLU-affiliated or not — to add their volunteer and service hours to the large illuminated clock that was installed at the southeast corner of Grand and Lindell boulevards. When the challenge ended on Nov. 14, 2018, it had well exceeded its goal, with participants logging 222 years, all in one year.

Thanksgiving Parade
Billikens took part in the City of St. Louis's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by Laura Geiser
Madrid Campus’ 50th Anniversary Celebration
March 7, 2018

SLU-Madrid recognized 50 years of educating “Global Billikens” and marked Saint Louis University’s 200th anniversary during a day of events that included Mass at Iglesia de San Francisco de Borja, the flagship church of the Society of Jesus in Spain; an honorary degree conferral ceremony recognizing Enrique “Kike” Figaredo, S.J., Isabel Gómez-Acebo and José María Merino; and a banquet on campus.

Bicentennial 5K
April 15, 2018

More than 500 people took part in run/walk that looped around SLU’s midtown campus. Sponsored by SLU’s Staff Advisory Committee, the event raised $6,300 for a fund that grants one-time gifts to any SLU employee experiencing a financial crisis. Participants received special bicentennial-themed T-shirts and medals.

Bill Nye and Carl Pope

Noted science advocate Bill Nye and environmentalist Carl Pope were the keynote speakers at the bicentennial St. Louis Climate Conference. Photo by Simon Nguyen

Saint Louis Climate Summit
April 22-24, 2018

The summit gathered together experts in the areas of in climate science, ecology and sustainable development and included both academic sessions and a community event that featured noted environmentalists Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, and Bill Nye “The Science Guy.” The three-day summit was inspired by Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical that called attention to humankind’s responsibility to care for the earth in the wake of climate change.

SLU Night at the Ballpark
Aug. 30, 2018

More than 2,100 SLU students, alumni, faculty and staff attended SLU Night at the Ballpark, which saw the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Special activities included a pregame pep rally and the Billiken and University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., throwing out the first pitch.

Health Care and Social Justice Conference
Sept. 13-14, 2018

This two-day conference presented the work and research performed by University faculty, students and alumni in the areas of health, health care, public health and health law. National experts, including speakers Dr. Emilie Townes, Daniel E. Dawes and Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, covered topics such as African-American health, health equity in America and mental illness.

Grand Celebration Street Festival
Sept. 28-30, 2018

SLU closed Grand Boulevard from Laclede Avenue to Lindell Boulevard for a special celebration that invited attendees to step into the street to enjoy live music, performances by trampoline virtuosos, carnival booths and more. The evening concluded with SLU’s signature Homecoming and Family Weekend fireworks display.

Bicentennial concert goers

Concert goers celebrate the end of SLU's bicentennial. Photo by Steve Dolan

Happy Birthday to SLU
Nov. 15, 2018

The culmination of SLU’s 200th anniversary celebration was a bicentennial birthday party that traced the University's history through music performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Held in Chaifetz Arena, the event also featured performances by SLU’s Mastersingers and by St. Francis Xavier College Church Choir. Members of the St. Louis Jesuits, the liturgical composers who reinvented church music in the 1970s, also appeared.

Always at the Frontier - Book

Always at the Frontier: Saint Louis University 1818-2018 is an immersive look at SLU’s two centuries. Written by Dr. Dolores Byrnes, with John Padberg, S.J. (A&S ’49, Grad A&S ’54) and John Waide (A&S ’73), the book breaks down the University’s history into six eras that are explored in depth with archival photographs, illustrations and historical documents. The hardcover book is available for purchase online here.

March 2-Dec. 30, 2018

For much of the year, the Saint Louis University Museum of Art hosted an exhibition that bore the same title as the bicentennial book, “Always at the Frontier: Saint Louis University 1818-2018.” The exhibition featured photos, original documents and ephemera related to SLU’s history.

Bicentennial Markers

As permanent reminders of SLU’s history, markers commemorating noteworthy SLU people, places and milestones were installed around campus this fall. Plaques honoring SLU founder Bishop William Louis DuBourg, noted author Walter Ong, S.J., integration champion Claude Heithaus, S.J., Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Edward Doisy, SLU’s 10 men’s soccer championships, Parks College’s FAA license No. 1, and more are now in place at landmarks both in St. Louis and Madrid.

Mural painting

The SLU community immortalized the University's 200-year history with a new paint-by-numbers mural during Homecoming. SLU photo

Bicentennial Mural

The east wall of McGannon Hall now displays a mural that commemorates SLU’s bicentennial. Covering nearly 3,000 square feet, the artwork is by muralist Grace McCammond, who worked with SLU students to design the largest public art project in University history. A paint-by-numbers activity during this year’s Homecoming and Family Weekend, allowed students, alumni, faculty and staff to help complete the mural.

But Wait, There’s More

There were also many other conferences, lectures and activities organized in honor of SLU’s bicentennial. Below is a sampling of these events.

A Distinctive Vision? Catholic Education 50 Years After Land O'Lakes
Sept. 20-22, 2017

An interdisciplinary symposium on Catholic higher education 50 years after the Land O’Lakes statement on the nature of the Catholic university.

Intercultural Origins of St. Louis and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1800-1840
March 22-23, 2018

A conference examining the international influences present in early St. Louis, the expansion of the St. Louis region and visual culture among others.

From Selma to St. Louis: Theology of Martin Luther King Jr., and the Pursuit of Justice 50 Years Later
April 17-18, 2018

A public symposium offering performances and reflections on King’s legacy of liberation and justice.

Pope Pius XII Symposium: The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany
Oct. 9, 2018

An academic symposium examining the relationship between the Pope, the Church and Nazi Germany.

Bicentennial Fellows Symposium
Nov. 7, 2018

A presentation of the five projects involving seven faculty members that were selected for this initiative to highlight research and scholarship.

Mission and Identity Bicentennial Lecture Series

A series of lectures by leading Jesuits including founder of Homeboy Industries Greg Boyle, S.J., prayer expert and author Mark Thibodeaux, S.J., and America editor Matt Malone, S.J.

Billiken historical image
The SLU community learned its "Legends and Lore." SLU archival photo
SLU ‘Legends and Lore’

A series of presentations by SLU Archivist Emeritus John Waide (A&S ’73) on topics such as the Billiken and SLU’s first forward pass in football.

Still Want More?

Check out SLU's bicentennial recap video!

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Story by Laura Geiser for Universitas.