A Catholic university in St. Louis has taken down a statue of a Catholic missionary over complaints that its depiction of Catholic conversion efforts represents a legacy of white supremacy, The College Fix reported.
The statue at Jesuit-run Saint Louis University (SLU) is of Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet, who evangelized American Indians during the 1800s and has several cities and schools in the U.S. named after him. It shows him holding a crucifix aloft as he ministers to two American Indians, who both look up to him in awe.
The statue stood in front of SLU’s Fusz Hall at the center of campus for over 50 years, but finally succumbed to a barrage of complaints from those who say the statue is emblematic of imperialism, racism, classism, and a parade of other dreadful-isms.
For example, in an editorial published last month in the school’s University News, student Ryan McKinley said that, regardless of De Smet’s own personal beliefs, or those of the Indians he preached to, the statue represents nothing more than “Christian and white supremacy.”
“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.
Instead of remaining publicly displayed in a place of honor, the statue has been moved to the school’s SLU Museum of Art, where the school says it will be displayed in its “historical context.”
The complaints that De Smet’s conversion efforts are an unsuitable topic for a statue are ironic on several levels. First, his conversion efforts and those of other Jesuits were quite successful; DeSmet successfully converted the Flathead Indians and thousands of others, and Christianity is still the largest religion among American Indians. In some ways, attacking the statue is similar to attacking one of the Irish being ministered to by Saint Patrick, as Patrick was also a foreign missionary.
Not only that, but De Smet was a trusted friend of the Indians who helped them negotiate with the U.S. government and who, in his writings, preserved a great deal of information about their culture and traditional way of life.
De Smet’s good relations with Indians reflected a long history of positive Jesuit engagement with America’s natives. In Latin America, Jesuit-run missions protected Indians from enslavement European colonizers, and their influence was so bothersome to colonial authorities that both Spain and Portugal made efforts to suppress them.
While the De Smet statue is coming down, SLU is forging ahead with plans to erect a statue commemorating a six-day anti-police protest held last October in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in nearby Ferguson.