Profiling a Principal: Stewart reflects on time at SLUH, how Grad at Grad has impacted his life as he looks forward to becoming principal

The Graduate at Graduation, a document that details the formation process at St. Louis U. High, includes five pillars of Christian life that Jr. Billikens are expected to exemplify by the time they graduate. These pillars— Open to Growth; Intellectually Competent; Religious; Loving; and Committed to Doing Justice—have driven many SLUH students toward success after graduating. For Fr. Matt Stewart, SJ ’98, who has been chosen as the next principal of SLUH, these virtues were instilled in him as a high school student and propelled him to where he is now.

“I had experiences around all five of those pillars that shaped me into the person I am, and I have this school to thank for it,” said Stewart.

Open To Growth

As a SLUH student, Stewart remembers feeling rather ordinary. The academic rigor of SLUH was not a challenge for him, but he did not feel like he was the best.

“I would say that I was very much a regular kid,” he said. “In my mind, I was not a standout in any kind of way. I was not dumb, but I was not the smartest kid in the class.”

Stewart credits his teachers for helping him test his limits. When he had doubts about whether he could handle a challenge, academic or otherwise, he remembers his teachers always reassuring him that he could handle it. His teachers helped cultivate his openness to growth, leading him to learn more about himself as a person.

“Whether it was math, science or English, Fine Arts, my teachers really encouraged me to develop and grow into a contributing member of society who is caring for others and sensitive to myself and to really know who I am,” said Stewart.

Stewart’s care towards others is reflected in his tenure as a Jesuit priest. Still, the tough decisions he will have to make as principal will test his ability to balance his care for others with his obligation to the betterment of the school.

“I will have to make decisions that will disappoint people that I respect, admire, and love,” he said. “But I have to balance what’s best for the school, what's best for the individuals, and, most importantly, the students and your families.”

Intellectually Competent

“To be a thinking person, one should have competence, compassion, and conscience,” said Stewart. “If we’re just conscientious and just compassionate, that’s okay. But the Jesuit way of doing it is competent also.”

Alongside devoting himself to God and to others in the Society of Jesus, Stewart has accrued an impressive slate of college degrees, including a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Boston College; a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from the University of Denver; an M.A. in Philosophical Resources from Fordham University; and an M.A. in Theology from Saint Louis University with highest distinction.

Stewart has never studied education, but he has spent much of his adult life as a teacher.

“I don’t have a formal training in education, but I’ve been a teacher for 20 years at the middle school, high school, college, and graduate level,” said Stewart. “I’ve taught the gamut.”

Stewart plans to add to his robust college education with coursework in curriculum development and educational law before becoming principal.

Aside from his own accolades, Stewart acknowledges the intellectual diversity at SLUH. He sees the various areas of expertise of students and faculty to be one of the school’s greatest strengths.

“I think of it like a mosaic,” he said. “There are little tesserae that make up a mosaic. Right now, in my job here, I have a pretty good picture of this image we’re creating. But I think as principal, you fill in those tesserae to be able to see the school in all of its richness.”


Another skill that Stewart credits SLUH for instilling in him is spiritual awareness and reflection. On a senior year retreat, he felt a certain closeness to God, which he now identifies as consolation.

“I remember praying and feeling this overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility, and just the sense that it was going to be okay,” said Stewart. “I didn’t have any answers, it was just this overwhelming spiritual awareness. That helped awaken in me some spiritual reflexes and impulses and praying in a deep way.”

The Society of Jesus helped Stewart to identify God in his everyday life. As he enters into a leadership position in the school, he wants to keep the mundane encounters of God central to the SLUH experience.

“I want you guys, freshmen to seniors, to encounter the living God here,” he said. “What that means for me is finding God in all things—in Prep News, in theology, in physics, in band—in everything that we do here. The more rigorous and the more the more engaged we are with the world, the more we encounter the living God.”

Stewart sees Jesus as the apogee of leadership, and looks to him as an example for how to be a better Jesuit leader.

“The leader, bar none, is Jesus,” he said. “He is a person who lives out of his identity, who knows who he is and embraces it, calls all people to be better, asks no one to do anything he himself wouldn't do, and sacrifices himself for the good of others. I’m not him, but I want to be.”

Stewart raises the chalice during the Mass of the Immaculate Conception in December 2022. photo | Isaiah Hinkebein


Like many Jr. Billikens, Stewart made meaningful friendships in high school that he maintains today. Among many other gifts, SLUH taught him how to better show love.

“I think it was a place where I learned how to be a friend,” said Stewart. “And I learned how not to be a friend. But the friendships have persisted. That sense of community, which we call brotherhood, is something that stands out to me.”

Returning to SLUH as a faculty member, Stewart has made more friendships with teachers and administrators. One such administrator, former President Dave Laughlin, made a significant impact on Stewart. 

“He was able to balance care for the individual with care for the institution,” said Stewart. “Even when he called you out on something or encouraged you to be better, it was always because it benefited the institution.”

Following the example of Laughlin and other Jesuit administrators, Stewart is ready to take into account love for the individual and love for the institution at SLUH as principal.

“I think everybody knows how much I love this place and the people here,” he said. “There’s no sense of, ‘who’s the new guy?’”

Among his many goals for the principal position, Stewart hopes to bring people together. He believes love can help the community grow stronger.

“I think people post-pandemic feel a little disconnected,” said Stewart. “I think just normal human questions of, ‘do I matter?’ The great resignation of people leaving their jobs, it’s a human thing that’s happened post-pandemic. And I know that as a person, I’m pretty good at bringing people together around a common thing and energizing and being excited and supportive and kind.”

Committed to Doing Justice

Stewart also approaches being principal from a lens of justice. At SLUH, he believes, school is more than just education: it is a mission to form well-rounded young men. He sees formation at SLUH to be a holistic process.

“Parents are entrusting us to help raise their kids, and that’s a tremendous amount of trust that parents have in us, they’re willing to pay for it. It’s not just, ‘hey, can you watch my kid while I'm at work?’ This is, ‘Can you impart this Jesuit mission to my son that we believe in,’” said Stewart.

As principal, Stewart hopes to amplify the skills of others in the school. He believes his role as a leader in the school will be to support others in any way he can.

“Each of us is given a little corner of the world to explore and engage with and know, and I will be able to see all those little pieces of our school in much sharper relief and resolution. It’s humbling that I’ve been chosen to lead this place.”

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