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Museum offers a unique look at Jesuit history

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Tucked away in the third floor of the Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA) is a permanent exhibit on Jesuit history. The Collection of Western Jesuit Missions exhibit has been at SLUMA since 2001 and is on permanent loan from the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus. The collection features many old, valuable and significant pieces of Jesuit history.

One of the corners of the exhibit focuses on the planning and building of Saint Francis Xavier College Church. A letter shows that in 1913, Joseph Grimmelsman, S.J., got permission to build the church if he could keep the debt under $200,000, which, if adjusted for inflation, is just over $4.5 million today.

There are pictures from the construction showing many of the intricate features being installed. One aspect of the church that was particularly difficult to build and get funding for was the bell tower. Records in the museum show that the three bells installed were cast in Seville, Spain in 1761, 1789 and 1812. The final bell had to be recast, as it was broken during a battle.

“This bell was recast because of its having been broken in pieces by a shell which the French threw from Trocadero,” St. Francis Xavier Church said in a statement from that time. “[It was] the fifth (night) of the glorious struggle of the Spanish people against tyranny.”

Another corner of the exhibit focuses on Pierre-Jean DeSmet, S.J. DeSmet was instrumental in bringing the Jesuit mission west into America and across the Mississippi. The exhibit features several letters and personal artifacts that belonged to DeSmet. DeSmet Jesuit High School, a Jesuit Catholic college preparatory high school, located in Creve Coeur, Mo. and founded in 1967, was named in honor of DeSmet.

Throughout the main part of the collection are several items from around the St. Louis and greater-Missouri area. There are many monstrances from churches around the area, some of which are quite valuable. One in particular, which came from Saint Stanislaus in Cleveland, Ohio, was valued at over $2 million. Other highlighted items include the reliquary casket of Saint Victoricus, a martyr from the third or fourth century. (The casket is from the 18th century.) There is a pair of ornate wooden globes that were made in 1696 and brought from Europe by DeSmet. Many other Jesuit artifacts are featured from a wide range of time periods.

Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer
Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer
Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer
Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer
Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer
Alex Garbin / Staff Photographer

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