SLU's Origins

“You need Jesuits,” Pope Pius VII told the visionary, peripatetic Bishop Louis W. V. DuBourg in 1815, when they met in Rome.

DuBourg already knew that. As early as March 1814, he wrote to Father John Anthony Grassi, Superior of the Maryland Jesuits. DuBourg asked for men for St. Louis, the episcopal see of his new diocese: an 828,000 square mile territory called “Upper and Lower Louisiana.”

It was the first of many letters and appeals.

In 1823, DuBourg finally tracked down a handful of Jesuits. He had already started two schools, one an “Academy for Young Gentlemen” in 1818. But by 1826, his hopes dashed, DuBourg wrote a letter noting that he had closed St. Louis College, after only eight years of operation.

And yet, somehow, classes continued to be offered… and the school not only survived, it flourished. Today, world-renowned Saint Louis University has more than 3,000 faculty members and 13,000 students, with a prestigious campus in Madrid, Spain.

What happened?

Bishop DuBourg’s dream of Jesuit education took hold, and grew. And in the process, a city was transformed, as was the western half of the United States.

 Improbable twists? Quirky characters? There are plenty. The university’s history is one of doggedness, audacity, shrewdness, and, perhaps most powerfully: loyalty. There are stern ascetics, domineering personalities, some true heroes, even a miracle or two. 

This remarkable institution has overcome many significant challenges during its two centuries of existence. Its leaders maintain the University’s excellence, integrity and independence in balance with service to the region and dedication to the Society of Jesus. Its legacy guides us as we pursue our mission boldly into the next century.