Throughout the history of the past, America has had problems with prejudice, discrimination, and racism. The city of Saint Louis specifically has had a multitude of these issues in its long line of history. Even though today’s present age seems like an idealistic place of equal opportunity and fairness, there is still progress to be made with regards to repairing systematic flaws. Despite this realization, leading up to the present age of the 21st century, breakthroughs have been made in the development of civil rights and raising awareness of racial prejudice. St. Louis has had its fair share of ups and downs with racial equality, but it has progressed significantly due to the presence of influential figures promoting justice. Today, Saint Louis is different from the past because of civil rights advocates like Fr. Claude Herman Heithaus. The city of Saint Louis and Saint Louis University have been heavily impacted by his work. To seek a better understanding of the development of fixing racial injustice in Saint Louis, the following question will be addressed: How did Fr. Claude Herman Heithaus impact religious communities and segregation in St. Louis and at SLU through his religious works and teachings?
Fr. Heithaus was born in 1898 in St. Louis. After attending Saint Louis University, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1920 and earned his Ph.D. from the University of London. His passion in archaeology later brought him back to SLU as a professor in the subject. He was a very outspoken individual, gaining notoriety for pointing out the truth in matters that people would otherwise sweep under the rug. Fr. Heithaus is primarily remembered for starting the Univeristy News here at SLU, for being a renowned archaeologist, and for his famous sermon delivered at Saint Francis Xavier College Church in 1944 (The Heithaus Forum Journal).
One of his earlier works was published in America in 1925 and was a great example of his outspoken nature. There were big plans to erect a one-million dollar “Foundation for Catholics” at the University of Illinois. Many different groups began to rally behind this cause including priests, educators, the Knights of Columbus, and any other person that happened to be swayed by the propaganda used to promote this foundation. So well were these organizations and people convinced that this foundation was something paramount to their well-being, that the Knights of Columbus even pledged to raise $300,000. This propaganda was the exact thing that Fr. Heithaus was targeting in his writing. He claimed that this organization was not selling the project for what it truly was, and that it was painting it in a favorable light as a means to gain more support (A Catholic Foundation Unmasked).
One of his later works in the same publication touched on a much different topic. Fr. Heithaus addressed America on his shock to some polls that he had read. “It has been ascertained that 17 diocesan seminaries, 52 religious seminaries and 25 congregations of nuns will now accept Negro candidates… I found 47 diocesan seminaries, 285 religious seminaries, 209 congregations of nuns unaccounted for.” He goes on to say that America was progressing much too slowly in allowing black people to hold positions of authority in the Church. The Church from the very beginning was meant to be a unifying structure that brings all people together as equal under God. If Christ and his apostles who spread his message had made it so that only certain races would have authority in the Church, no other races would have wanted to be apart of it. Christ tore down the walls that existed to build the foundation of his Church, only for racist-minded men to build another one years after. Heithaus stresses the fact that people should do the same in regards to establishing equality and fairness in the church (Does Christ Want This Barrier).
It is clear that Father Claude Herman Heithaus was one of the many pioneers of integration in the American education system. Despite public ignorance, he acknowledged the wrongdoings happening in this very city and knew it was his destiny to work towards correcting them. He worked tirelessly and dilligently in order to persuade people to see his side of view, and to promote change and equality that would later go on to create a huge social justice movement. He took St. Louis by storm with his ambition and persitence to work towards the greater good, and most definitely left an impact here at Saint Louis University. He faced many obstacles along the way, like many well known figures do, but he never let those hardships discourage him from reaching to achieve his ultimate goal: equal opportunities for all.
Researched and written by Rafael De Costa, Pete Harvey, and Caroline Sevilla
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