Newly instituted award honors non-alum benefactors

The Sacred Heart Award, a new award meant to recognize members of the SLUH community who, while not alums, have dedicated their lives to the mission of SLUH, was introduced at Tuesday’s annual Mass of the Holy Spirit. The award is intended to be of the same esteem as the Backer award, but meant for those in the SLUH community that are not alums. 

The inaugural award was presented to two members of the SLUH community during the Mass of the Holy Spirit: long-time SLUH Latin teacher (and current Greek teacher) Mary Lee McConaghy and long-time friend of SLUH John Vatterott were bestowed this honor. 

McConaghy has been teaching at SLUH for over 40 years. At one point, she was the only female teacher in the building. Since her tenure began, McConaghy has been dedicated to helping her students learn Latin by bringing life and joy to her classes. 

Throughout her time teaching, McConaghy has revolutionized how Latin was taught and started and coached the Latin Club for a number of years. In 2009, McConaghy retired from full-time teaching but continued to teach one section of Greek, a position that she retains to this day, 

               “Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers anyone could ever have,” said McConaghy. “I feel so grateful that I have been able to follow that career. SLUH is such a wonderful place, and to have the outstanding students I have had for 42 years and continue to have, and it's just been a joy for me to be able to be here.” 

The other honoree, Vatterott, was one of 17 kids born into a large Catholic family in Wisconsin. After college, he began a career in the Missouri Department of Education. He noticed a need for stronger trade schools in the region and in response co-founded Vatterott College which he was the president of until 2003. 


Vatterott was a SLUH parent, is a current SLUH grandparent, and has served on the school’s Board of Trustees. Several years ago, he anonymously made the largest single gift the school has ever received, which has helped develop the SLUH campus. 

             “Well it's definitely a surprise, and a great honor,” said Vatterott. “It is just terrific. It's great recognition and I am truly humbled to receive this award.” 

The honorees were each presented with a hand-blown glass award, created by SLUH alum Doug Auer, ’95 who owns Third Degree Glass, that loosely resembles the shape of the Sacred Heart. The awards are colored in SLUH blue and etched into the glass is the symbol for the Jesuits, a heart that loosely resembles the symbol of the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and a fleur-de-lis.  

“All of that symbolism is meaningful,” said Carruthers. “What we are trying to do is infuse meaning into this award. We are not trying to not duplicate the Backer Award but create an award that has a parallel level of gravitas for those that are not alumni but have done incredible work for the mission of  SLUH.”

Going forward, the administration hopes to make the presentation of this award a yearly tradition to honor esteemed and deserving members of the community who would otherwise not be recognized.

“We have the Backer award to honor alumni who have gone off and done incredible things,” said SLUH President Alan Carruthers.  “There are many people who are not alumni, but have done equally impressive things. And so, this is an attempt to capture the spirit of the Backer award and honor other great friends of SLUH.” 

Named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the award is a nod to St. Rose Phillipene Duschene’s Sisters of the Sacred Heart. When the Jesuits first arrived in St. Louis, it was the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who provided much needed help and assistance to the Jesuit community. 

 “They (the awardees) are not alumni which allows us to honor a lot of the great women who have done so many things for this community,” said Carruthers. “(Sacred Heart awardees) demonstrate what it means to be a man or woman for and with others.”

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