Last week came word Saint Louis University will remove a heroic-sized statue of Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet S.J. from the front of Fusz Hall, where it has stood for sixty years.
The statue depicts Fr. De Smet holding aloft a crucifix as he ministers to two American Indians, one of whom is kneeling.
Historically, the statue is accurate. Fr. De Smet, “Blackrobe,” as he was known, was a nineteenth-century missionary to Indian tribes, who converted thousands. A friend of Sitting Bull, he spent his last years in St. Louis.
And as the mission of this Jesuit university is, presumably, to instruct the Catholic young in their faith and send them out into the world to bring the good news of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior to non believers, what exactly is the problem here?
According to S.L.U. Assistant Vice President for Communications Clayton Berry, “some faculty and staff…raised questions about whether the sculpture is culturally sensitive.” Senior Ryan McKinley is more specific: “The statue of De Smet depicts a history of colonialism, imperialism, racism and of Christian and white supremacy.”
But if the founder of Christianity is the Son of God, then Christianity is a superior religion. What Ryan and those faculty and staff seem to be ashamed of, uncomfortable with, or unable to defend, is the truth for which Saint Louis University was supposed to stand.
But simply because they are cowardly, or politically correct, why should that statue be going into the S.L.U. art museum? Why should not they themselves depart for another institution where their sensitivities will not be assaulted by artistic expressions of religious truths?
The message the S.L.U. president should have given the dissenters is simple: We are a Catholic university that welcomes students and faculty not of the faith. But if you find our identity objectionable, then go somewhere else. We are not changing who we are.
Yet another missionary to the Indians is now becoming a figure of controversy. On his September visit to Washington, D.C., Pope Francis plans to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan whom John Paul II beatified in 1988, who converted thousands of Indians in California in the eighteenth century, when it still belonged to Mexico.
Fr. Serra established nine missions up the coast, among them missions that would grow into San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Not only is Fr. Serra’s name famous in California, his statue has stood since 1931 in the U.S. Capitol in one of two places set aside for the Golden State. The other statue representing California is that of President Ronald Reagan, unveiled in 2009, which replaced a statue of the preacher Thomas Starr King.
With the pope coming here to canonize Fr. Serra, the war drums have begun. It is said the priest accompanied Spanish soldiers who brutalized the Indians, and Fr. Serra helped to eradicate their religion and culture, replacing it with his own.
Now a move is afoot to remove Fr. Serra’s statue.
According to the Religion New Service, “State Sen. Ricardo Lara, an openly gay Los Angeles Democrat, wants to replace a bronze statue of Serra with a monument honoring Sally Ride, the nation’s first female astronaut. Lara said Ride would become ‘the first member of the LGBT community’ to be honored in Statuary Hall.”
Another drive is underway by feminists to remove the visage of Andrew Jackson from the twenty dollar bill and replace it with that of a woman, preferably a minority woman. Jackson, it is said, was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokees in the Trail of Tears.
Yet, Jackson, slashed across the head by a British soldier in the last days of the Revolution for refusing to polish his boots, was also arguably the greatest soldier-statesman in American history.
Gen. Jackson led the 1815 defense of New Orleans against the British invasion force, and crushed the Indian marauders in Florida, drove out the Spanish governor, and cleared the path for annexation.
Twice elected president, Jackson is, with Jefferson, a father of the Democratic Party, and he and his protegés Sam Houston and James K. Polk virtually doubled the size of the United States.
One Internet poll advanced four leading candidates to replace Jackson: Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Wilma Mankiller, and Harriet Tubman.
But when we look at who is currently on America’s currency—George Washington on the one dollar bill, Abe Lincoln on the five dollar, Hamilton on the ten dollar, Jackson on the twenty dollar, Ulysses S. Grant on the fifty dollar, Ben Franklin on the hundred dollar—do any of these women really compete in terms of historic achievement with what those great men accomplished?
Aren’t we carrying this affirmative action business a bit too far?
What all these arguments are at bottom all about, however, is a deep divide among us over the question: Was the European Christian conquest of America, given its flaws and failings, on balance, a great and good thing. Or not?
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of Pat Buchanan (June 2015).