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SLU Bicentennial Celebration Commences with Mass Under the Arch


On Saturday, Saint Louis University kicked off a year-long celebration leading up to the 200-year anniversary of its founding in 1818 with a Mass under the St. Louis Gateway Arch, followed by food, entertainment and fireworks over the Mississippi.

Bicentennial Mass under the Arch

More than 100 Catholic and religious leaders joined Saint Louis University for the Bicentennial Mass, including the presider, the Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis. Photo by Steve Dolan.

Thousands attended the outdoor Mass and festivities that followed in a gathering that included SLU students, faculty, staff, alumni and the larger St. Louis community. Believed to be the first Mass ever held beneath the Arch, the setting recalled the school’s first location in a small home located on what is now the Arch grounds.

Originally known as Saint Louis Academy, the school that Bishop Louis William DuBourg founded in 1818 laid the groundwork for both Saint Louis University and Saint Louis University High, whose members were invited to participate in the Bicentennial Mass.

Principal chief of Osage Nation Geoffrey Standing Bear joined a procession of members of the Osage Nation, followed by a procession of members of the University that included SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson presided over the Mass.

“Saint Louis University has been a great institution for 200 years since its foundation as the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River,” Carlson said. “As we gather for this historic Mass under the Gateway Arch, we are reminded of those early missionaries who brought Christ with them as they ventured into the West. Their courage then should strengthen our faith now, and embolden us to share anew the joy of the Gospel with the modern world.”

Ronald Mercier, S.J., provincial of the Jesuits’ Central and Southern Province, was the homilist, and principal concelebrants included Lawrence H. Biondi, S.J., president emeritus of Saint Louis University,  Christopher S. Collins, S.J., assistant to the president for mission and identity of Saint Louis University, Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., secretary of higher education for the Society of Jesus, and Douglas W. Marcouiller, S.J., regional assistant for Canada and the USA for the Society of Jesus.

View a video recap of Saint Louis University's Bicentennial Mass

“With gratitude and awe we celebrate this liturgy of thanksgiving to God for what began with Bishop DuBourg and has been continued by women and men who have helped that not only take root but flourish,” Mercier said. “What a vision. Not simply being caught up by one’s limits but being aware of a vision to which one lay hold and of a future one wished to create with God.”

Mercier reflected on the ways in which SLU has achieved the vision that Bishop DuBourg laid out for it: directly in students, alumni, faculty and staff and indirectly through those they have served.

“What extraordinary achievements SLU has seen,” Mercier said. “From those first seeds planted by DuBourg in health care, in engineering, in basic sciences, in humanities, in social sciences.  From a school founded on the frontier of the United States, it has become one that blazes new frontiers in the intellectual, the social, the faith, the common life of this community, and this world. And those endeavors, that harvest, continues unabated. We need to remember how the alumni of SLU and SLU High have enriched this city, this country and this world.”

Emily Borgemenke, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been a liturgical minister since her freshman year for the student Masses at College Church. Because of this involvement, she was asked to be a part of the Bicentennial Mass as an altar server.

“It meant so much to me to be a part of this celebration,” Borgemenke said.  “It definitely sits at the top of my list for my best experiences at SLU. It was inspiring to see so many people in the crowd, from so many different backgrounds, coming together under the arch in thanksgiving to God and in honor of 200 years of Saint Louis University.

“It was something I will never forget, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of such a historic event. I especially loved meeting and working beside the Archbishop.”

In closing remarks, Pestello told the crowd he wished each person could be standing in his location, looking out to see the sea of people come together. He thanked all who spent months planning the event and noted that it is fitting to begin SLU’s bicentennial year by coming together to celebrate the Mass.

Pestello shared with the crowd the ways in which he experiences SLU each day, beginning with his drive in from the west each morning.

“I see the shimmering Arch in the sunlight,” Pestello said. “I’m reminded that St. Louis is the Gateway to the West and Saint Louis University and Saint Louis University High are gateways to education. To upward mobility. To forming the citizens of the future.”

Pestello reminded the audience that each person helps shape the trajectory of SLU, noting that it was once said that it would require a miracle to come to fruition.

“I may need to follow up with Pope Francis on this one, but if that is the case, it seems that we are a living miracle everyday in all we do,” Pestello said. “To be here in this place, at this time and for this reason is a miracle. I’m so grateful we could all be here to share and celebrate Saint Louis University and Saint Louis University High together.”

After the Mass, the crowd watched a video announcing SLU's 200-Years-In-One service challenge. Visit to learn about the challenge to all SLU students, faculty, staff and alumni to continue to improve the world around us by giving back 200 years of volunteer service. 

The bicentennial Mass was the first of numerous events that are planned for SLU’s 15-month bicentennial celebration. Details about other SLU bicentennial events can be found at

Saint Louis University is a world-class Catholic, Jesuit institution educating nearly 13,000 students on two dynamic, urban campuses - in St. Louis, Missouri, and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, the University began 15 months of bicentennial activities with the Mass under the Arch. With a legacy of innovative academics and research, compassionate health care and faithful service, Saint Louis University attracts a diverse community of scholars who push intellectual boundaries in pursuit of creative, meaningful ways to impact the world, striving to serve a higher purpose and seek a greater good.