Jesuit artifacts to move to SLUMA

Saint Louis University and the Jesuits of the Missouri Province won a tense legal battle Friday as St. Louis County Associate Judge Gloria Clark Reno ruled that the Jesuits are the rightful owners of a valuable collection of Jesuit artifacts.

The collection, which is valued at more than $1.1 million, has been stored in the historic Rock Building in Florissant for more than 30 years. The Jesuits, along with University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., were fighting to move the collection to the SLU Museum of Art, claiming that they were the rightful owners of the artifacts.

In April of 2002, the Jesuits filed a lawsuit against the board of the Museum of the Western Jesuit Missions, claiming that the board, St. Stanislaus Historical Museum Society, Inc., does not have legal ownership of the art or the building in which it is housed, though many of the artifacts are from Florissant.

In 1823 the Jesuits settled the site in Florissant, with many of them buried at the cemetery there, including Peter DeSmet, S.J. Biondi wants to move these buried Jesuits to Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

The collection includes approximately 2,500 artifacts such as gold and silver church vessels from the past four centuries, ancient Christian books, a jacket belonging to DeSmet, some pottery, oil paintings and Navajo sand paintings.

The Jesuits said that the new SLUMA location would provide a better environment for the artifacts, since renovation of the Rock Building, which was needed, would cost more than $2 million.

The board claimed that the Jesuits abandoned the artifacts and that they have been taking care of the art and maintaining the building for the past 30 years. The Jesuits, however, say they have been involved with the upkeep of the collection.

“It has been 30 years of neglect,” said board member Edwin Benton in May. “They paid for insurance and grass cutting.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Reno said the Jesuits at no time abandoned interest in the artifacts nor transfer ownership to the museum board.

Reno did, however, grant ownership of two damaged kitchen cabinets, a grand piano and a collection of Indian art to the museum.

Lyn Cocks, president of the board, had no comment on the ruling, due to ongoing litigation.

University officials were unavailable for comment.