From a bishop’s vision for a school in a muddy river town in the early 19th century to a flagship institution for education and faith formation today, SLUH has lived an epic journey. To commemorate this 200-year odyssey, the school is publishing To God, with Gratitude by Frank Kovarik '94, a magnificent coffee-table book filled with hundreds of fascinating stories and seldom-seen images. The narrative reveals painful trials – like the near closing of the school in the 1820s – and glorious triumphs – like Anna F. Backer’s teaming with the Jesuits to build a stand-alone campus. To God, with Gratitude offers the most complete history of SLUH ever assembled and is sure to captivate those whose lives have been touched by it.
What was it like tackling the challenge of writing a book covering 200 years? We asked Kovarik (pictured below) about his writing experience, from concept to completion.
What was your approach to writing the book? What was your favorite part about the writing process?
I wrote the book in two drafts. The first time around, my main challenge was to write a series of vignettes that would give a reasonable timeline of the key moments and people in the school’s history. The feedback I received on that first draft pushed me, in the second draft, to work on the storytelling—to create a more compelling narrative and build thematic links between the vignettes. I would compare the writing process to creating a sculpture. My favorite part was discovering the shape of the story within the huge block of material that the school’s 200 years present. Of course, it was also great fun to spend time looking through old Prep News issues and yearbooks, and to visit the new Jesuit Archives and Research Center on West Pine Boulevard.
What did you learn about the history of SLUH that you may not have already known?
I was surprised to learn about the diversity of the student body even in its early decades. I assumed that all the students came from the St. Louis area. Many did, but the school was also recruiting from the bayou region of Louisiana as well as the gulf coast of Mexico. These three groups were culturally very different, though, and even spoke different languages. They didn’t always get along with each other. I found one account of a fight that broke out because of some culturally insensitive teasing. Knives were drawn, and punches were thrown. It was a pretty dramatic scene.
What impressed you most about SLUH’s history?
One thing that deeply impressed me was the longevity of the school—its endurance through so many events that threatened its very existence: financial crises and lack of students in the earliest years, nativist riots in the 1840s and 50s, the Civil War, the tornado in 1927, and the decline in the number of Jesuits. The organizational acumen of the Jesuits—later taken up by lay teachers and leadership—and the spirit of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam have sustained this institution in a way that is pretty incredible. Along with that longevity comes another thing that impressed me: how interwoven SLUH is with the history of St. Louis, and how many significant local and even national figures attended the school.
Given what you’ve learned about SLUH’s history, what are some of your hopes and aspirations for the school’s future?
I hope that SLUH will continue to be a major educational force in St. Louis, educating leaders who will help make our region a better place to live for everyone. I am convinced that the SLUH of today is the best SLUH yet—in its educational and formational programs, facilities, faculty and staff, leadership, alumni connections, benefactors, and more. I hope that the SLUH of tomorrow is better still, and that the school continues to widen the circle of people whom it serves. SLUH gives ever greater glory to God when it can form and be formed by a diverse group of people who all believe in the mission of the school.
Order Your Copy Today!
Treasure the rich history of SLUH with your copy of To God, with Gratitude. Each color, hardcover book is $55 (includes shipping and applicable taxes). Visit www.sluh.org/bicentennial/book for complete details and order information.
Kovarik Honored as Outstanding Educator
Frank Kovarik '94, SLUH English department chair and Bicentennial book author, has been named as a recipient of the University of Chicago’s Outstanding Educator Award. Each year, freshmen at the university nominate a teacher who “has influenced them, challenged them, or helped them along the path toward intellectual growth.” Nico Hernandez '18 nominated Kovarik for the award.
“This is a well-deserved honor for Frank,” says Principal Ian Gibbons, SJ. “Frank models what it means to be a ‘man for others’ through his passion for education and his leadership in our efforts to promote solidarity through faith and social justice.”
Kovarik, in his 19th year at SLUH, also serves as SLUH’s Director of Equity and Inclusion and co-moderator of Sisyphus, the school’s literary magazine. Last year he was honored with the Jesuit Schools Network Award for Teachers.
“My favorite part of working at SLUH is the people I work with – my students and colleagues,” says Kovarik. “I love reading and writing, and at SLUH I can use my gifts in those areas in collaboration with insightful, passionate young people and thoughtful, creative adults.”
The University of Chicago has administered the Outstanding Educator Award program for more than 30 years and commends the schools that “foster and support such outstanding individuals.”