SLU Community Gathers for Mass of the Holy Spirit


Photo Courtesy of Trenton Almgren-Davis

Last Thursday, Aug. 29, SLU students, faculty and alumni gathered at St. Francis Xavier College Church to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Classes that fell between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. were cancelled to ensure that all could attend the liturgy. The pews in College Church were packed to the brim, in large part due to the welcoming of the largest class of freshman in SLU’s history. 


Rev. Christopher Collins, S.J., the Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity, presided over the mass, and Rev. David Suwalsky, S.J., chair of the Theology Department, delivered the homily. 


Catholic high schools and universities throughout the world celebrate a Mass of the Holy Spirit as an opportunity to pray for guidance and favor for the upcoming academic year. The Mass has been a tradition at Jesuit academic institutions since it was first celebrated in 1548 at the University of Messina in Sicily, the first Jesuit school. 


The tradition took root quickly, and by the time St. Ignatius of Loyola died in 1556, there were thirty-five Jesuit institutions, each celebrating a Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the academic year. Today, the tradition is still going strong, with no signs of slowing down—especially, it seems, at SLU.


Father John LaRocca, S.J., of  Xavier University in Cincinnati, writes that the Mass of the Holy Spirit boils down to “asking the Holy Spirit to be with all of the university community: All who learn here, all who teach here, all who work here to be able to see the presence of God in the world and within the subject matter we deal with.”

The Mass of the Holy Spirit is an important opportunity to be reminded of SLU’s core mission as a Jesuit institution of higher learning. Suwalsky’s homily called attention to SLU’s mission in the “pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity.” Suwalsky reflected on the teachings of St. Ignatius, praying for spiritual and intellectual guidance and an abundance of joy, laughter and consolation. 


The tradition is carried out with a spirit of inclusivity and fraternity, and is meant to bind together a campus filled with students of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. As is the case with all liturgies celebrated at College Church, the mass was offered in an atmosphere of unity and interconnectedness. The Mass of the Holy Spirit is meant to transcend differences and unify the SLU community as we anticipate the new year. 

To emphasize this sense of campus wide solidarity, the Mass opened with a student procession meant to showcase the diversity of talent present at St. Louis University. Representatives from student governing bodies like SGA, RHA, Greek Life, Learning Communities, Student Cultural Groups and Student Faith Groups marched down the center aisle in a wonderful display of all that SLU has to offer.