Twenty-two years away would make any place seem different. In the case of Dan White, S.J., things really are different. As the new pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church and a 1990 SLU graduate, Fr. White has been met with many changes upon his return.
This La Crosse, Wis. native was a history major at SLU, entered the Jesuits upon graduation, and received his MA in American Studies in ’95.
Since then, he has spent time working in Louisiana, Belize and Australia. Upon his return to St. Louis, White has been able to witness the enormous changes that both SLU and the midtown neighborhood have undergone.
Not unlike his time as a student, White has had to adjust to living with a large group of people.
“I live in one of the Bellarmine houses,” White said. “It’s been good, but I definitely feel the generation gap. I’m 20 years older than a lot of the guys, and they’re all very active,” said White. “And a little bit loud,” he added.
White enjoys running and biking in his free time, and appreciates the fact that SLU is so close to his favorite place in St. Louis: Forest Park. SLU is also nearby another one of White’s old haunts: The Moolah Theater. The last movie he saw there was “The Master,” and while he is a Philip Seymour-Hoffman fan, he had to admit that the film was “not that great.”
After his time in Louisiana came to an end, White said he was very excited to start at College Church.
“I love that the parish and the university are so well integrated.” White said.
He admits that a church that must serve an entire parish as well as an entire university is a complicated place, but he looks forward to the challenge.
“The problem with such a beautiful, old church is just that- an old church. The air conditioning broke over the summer, which was not good,” White said.
One of the biggest responsibilities that White has taken on is the numerous weddings that come through College Church.
There are tons and tons of weddings,” White said.
White has found a more complicated challenge when trying to engage the post undergraduate demographic of young people.
“Culture has changed a lot,” said White. “We need to see how to bring faith into a culture that is not as committed to institutions and is suspicious of authority.”
Despite the challenges, White welcomes the chance to serve such a dynamic population.
“I love the energy on a college campus and I like that there’s a lot of interesting things going on,” he said. “The midtown area has changed a lot. None of this used to exist,” said White.
After being away from St. Louis for over two decades, White has now concluded that “It has become hip to live here.” Take that, Chicago.
The failing church air conditioning was not the only surprise that awaited Fr. White’s return to St. Louis.
“SLU’s campus is just incredible now,” said White “[During my time as a student], campus ended right by the soccer field and West Pine was still open as a road.”
White appreciates, however, the fact that some things have not changed.
“I love that it is still an urban campus, connected to the city. It is a very civically engaged place. The Jesuits have always been that way.”
White has noticed some changes beneath the surface, as well.
“I have found that the field of concern here has grown considerably… the university is much more intentional about being a Jesuit university. The mission of the school is more prominent.” White recalls that during his time as a student, “nobody could tell you the school’s mission statement. Now, there are more than a few students that probably can.”
White is happy to be back in St. Louis. Upon reflecting on where life has taken him since his college years, White said, “Sydney [Australia] may have the opera house, but they don’t have an arch.”