Two former SLU Jesuits credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults

Two former Saint Louis University faculty members—one who taught at the university as recently as July 2021—were added to the list of Jesuits and former Jesuits who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The Jesuits of the U.S. Central and Southern Province added the late Daniel Campbell and David Meconi to the list on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Campbell was a faculty member at SLU in the 1950s, during the time of the alleged abuse. David Meconi, whose estimated time of abuse was between 2015-2016, was a former Jesuit priest, theology professor and founding director of the Catholic Studies Center. He worked at SLU up until July 2021 when the university said he was placed on leave for matters unrelated to the allegation. According to the province list, there are a total of six Jesuit priests with assignments at SLU who have credible allegations of abuse.

The province informed the university that investigations were opened in February 2022 and concluded with “a high degree of probability” last week that the allegations took place, and “that the possibility they did not occur is highly unlikely,” according to an email sent to the university community by President Fred Pestello on Feb. 9. 

“Our hearts are with those who have suffered from abuse, and we are committed to supporting efforts to prevent abuse from happening to anyone else,” Pestello said in the statement. 

Father David Suawlsky, VP for the Office of Mission and Identity, said the university was not asked for participation in conducting the investigation and was not aware of any legal actions or complaints against Meconi during his time at SLU. Suawlsky also said the university does not know the identity of the victim or the location of the abuse. 

“In this case, there was very little that was shared by the province with the university because my guess has been—it’s only my guess—is whatever that matter was, didn’t intersect with the university,” Suwalsky said.

Many students, now upperclassmen, said they interacted with Meconi and viewed him as a mentor and teacher both in the classroom and in the Catholic Church.

“I knew Father Meconi, well I guess not father anymore, David Meconi really well,” senior Paul Gillam said. Meconi taught Gillam’s first-year theology class and said he served as a guide during his transition into college.

“He helped me find my place here at SLU and helped share the faith with me in a deep and authentic way,” Gillam said. 

He said the news came as a shock to him and other SLU students. “I was in the chapel after I found out, praying, and one of my friends was there just crying. She was heartbroken. We’re all heartbroken,” Gillam said. 

Gillam said he and his peers are drawing close to both each other and their faith during this tragic time. “We just have to be there for one another,” he said.

The provincial joined Jesuits of SLU at the Jesuit Center for dinner on Feb. 8 and had a meeting afterward where the province told them that the finding of the investigations was culpability.

“To put it mildly, it was disappointing, it’s embarrassing, it’s mind-boggling that anyone would do such a thing, period end of story,” Suwalsky said.

The time of abuse for the majority of Jesuits on the USC Province list ranges between 1950-80s, making Meconi’s recent case especially surprising, Suwalsky said.  

“But this is, of course, somebody that many of us knew and have worked with, which was quite unexpected. There are some faculty members who are more directly impacted who worked in his department and you know, so they saw him as a colleague, a professional, as a theologian. So this is not how you typically think your coworker is going to be,” Suwalsky said. 

Theological Studies Department Chair Daniel Smith said the news has “shaken” his department.

“[I] voice my support for the victims/survivors of sexual abuse, and to urge folks to learn more about what we can do to stop abuse and help those impacted by it,” Smith said in an email to the University News.

Campus Ministry hosted an event the following day for “healing and lament,” with an attendance of approximately 10 people. 

“Campus didn’t seem to be turned upside down or anything, which was a little bit unexpected. I thought there would be a lot more shock among the general student body,” Gillam said. 

The muted reaction may be partly due to the news breaking right before SLU’s mental wellness day. Still, much of the SLU community is struggling to process the news. 

“My heart hurts a lot for everyone impacted,” Gillam said.

Suwasky said he addressed the news at Mass Thursday night. There is also a concern for young alumni who knew Meconi, he said, as it is harder to assess their reactions or support them collectively. 

“For Catholic Studies, we were concerned about how much would fall on them,” Suwalsky said. “He had a pretty robust fundraising program to support Catholic Studies. How some of those donors might respond, we’re keeping an eye on that.” 

You have to pray for the victims. We can’t just look at our own image as a church and say, what are people going to think of us?

— Senior Paul Gillam

Accusations of priests in the Catholic Church molesting minors and vulnerable adults date back to the 1950s. A Church-commissioned report in 2004 found that 4,000 Roman Catholic priests face sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years. Pope Francis, who was appointed pope in 2013, has taken several steps to combat the sex abuse crisis. In March, he released his reform program of the Holy See bureaucracy and one of the changes included bringing the pope’s advisory committee on the prevention of sexual abuse into the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office which oversees the Church’s investigations of abuse cases. 

This shift establishes the committee as a more permanent and powerful entity. Its members who include abuse survivors can exert influence on the decisions taken by the prelates who weigh whether predator priests are sanctioned and how.

The Society of Jesus is accredited by Praesidium, Inc., a national organization that establishes and maintains rigorous standards for protecting children from religious and other institutions. Every five years, the province is audited and evaluated, in order to maintain accreditation. 

Jesuits undergo annual training on proper behavior and protection of children and vulnerable adults. Additionally, Suwlasky said any Jesuit, especially a priest, has to present a letter of Good Standing to the archbishop in order to be able to celebrate the sacraments at SLU. 

“When I was first ordained, this was not required. It’s much stricter today. The training is pretty sophisticated today. So it’s a little surprising. It’s not like you could do something and not know that it was inappropriate,” Suwalsky said. 

Carol Zarinelli Brescia, USC Province Coordinator of Pastoral Support and Outreach wrote in an email statement to the University News that sexual abuse violates trust and causes physical, psychological and spiritual pain for the victims as well as their families and communities.

“In my role… I receive reports of sexual abuse by Jesuits.  I listen compassionately to individuals’ experiences of sexual abuse and respond pastorally, helping them find counseling and other resources to assist in their healing,” Brescia said.      

As the university continues to assess reactions and respond to the community’s needs, Suwalsky said he feels a “sense of betrayal” like everyone else but urges students not to assign guilt on SLU’s other Jesuit employees. 

“There’s plenty of reasons for us to see one another as sinners and worthy of redemption, the offer of redemption, but this is a whole different level,” Suwalsky said.   

Moving forward, Gillam hopes that both the global Church and SLU’s Jesuit community continue to deal with allegations of abuse in an urgent and transparent manner.

“You have to pray for the victims. We can’t just look at our own image as a church and say, what are people going to think of us?” Gillam said. “Because when the church becomes self-centered, when the church only just stands and looks in a mirror, that’s poison.”


The Province urges anyone who has experienced sexual abuse by a Jesuit to report the offense to law enforcement or child protective services in the locale where the abuse happened. Survivors are also encouraged to advise the Jesuits by calling Carol Zarinelli Brescia, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She can be reached confidentially by phone at 314-915-7168 or by email at [email protected].

If you are aware of any occurrence of sexual misconduct by a current or former SLU employee, please contact Anna Kratky, Title IX Coordinator, at 314-977-3886 or [email protected].  You may also make anonymous reports to SLU’s compliance hotline or 877-427-7275.