50 Years of Teaching ‘Global’ Billikens: SLU-Madrid Looks Forward as it Celebrates
Half a Century
In Spain, Billikens from more than 50 countries are following in the footsteps of
St. Ignatius of Loyola, both literally and educationally at Saint Louis University’s
As SLU-Madrid celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, supporting students as they
pursue truth and develop as men and women for others is very much on the minds of
the Madrid campus’s faculty and staff.
“Jesuit education has always been global,” Paul Vita, Ph.D., director and academic
dean of SLU-Madrid explained, “not rooted to a specific country or place. And part
of ‘setting the world on fire’ can mean discovering it by going to and living in another
SLU-Madrid was among the first American universities to open a permanent campus in
Europe. Raymond Sullivant, S.J., launched SLU’s study abroad program in Madrid in
1967. At that time, Spain was a country rich in traditions but not considered a major
tourist destination for Americans. Students who enrolled in the new Madrid program
remained abroad for a full year, immersed in language courses and living in colegio mayores with Spanish students. The young Americans, however, were witnessing a country undergo
a transition from dictatorship to democracy as the rule of General Francisco Franco
began to come to an end.
“Alums of SLU-Madrid share countless stories of Father Sullivant,” Vita said. “He
was strict, but compassionate, energetic and fiercely committed to student learning.
He fined students when they slipped into English and warned them to keep away from
political protests. It must have been an incredible experience to be in Spain during
the 1970s and the alumni I’ve met tell me that their year in Spain was not only their
best in college, but the best year of their lives.”
Five decades later, SLU-Madrid continues to provide students with life-changing experiences.
The campus is close to where Sullivant originally opened it in the residential neighborhood
of Metropolitano. However, it’s no longer housed in a few rented classrooms. Over
the past two decades, the University purchased three buildings and expanded. Its facilities
now include more than 20 state-of-the-art classrooms, a library, art and music studios,
computer, nursing and science labs and a cafeteria. Over 100 professors serve on its
faculty, offering courses that range from aviation science to Islam.
Madrid’s vibrant city scene is a key attraction as is the possibility of completing
an American undergraduate degree in Europe.
“SLU-Madrid also extends SLU’s Jesuit values and liberal arts programs to students
who would not have the resources or even the legal right to step into the U.S,” Vita
said. “It’s also an extraordinary option for U.S. students, completing a full SLU
degree overseas.” The University’s long history of excellence and Jesuit rigor in
education, Vita noted that Sullivant’s vision for a permanent European campus was
novel in his day. That novelty is still fresh 50 years later, he said.
SLU-Madrid is also unique among Spain’s universities, Vita explained, because of its
liberal arts model of education.
“European universities are undergoing changes that align them to the U.S. liberal
arts model of education,” Vita pointed out. “However, many of their programs lack
the flexibility that is one of the hallmarks of a U.S. liberal arts degree, where
a student has the option to change a major, pick up a second or third minor, or take
electives in disciplines outside of their area of study.” Like their colleagues in
St. Louis, SLU-Madrid’s faculty share in the responsibility of making sure that students
are held to a high level of academic rigor. They also share in the responsibility
of providing students with the distinctly “SLU” educational experience.
The SLU-Madrid community’s commitment to SLU’s Jesuit mission and values also make
the campus a standout. Being a global Billiken, as SLU-Madrid teaches, means stepping
out from behind the tourist map and into the lives and issues impacting others. Both
degree-seeking and visiting students have opportunities to serve Madrid’s local community,
by offering free English classes in the Community ESL Program; volunteering at local
hospitals; and soup kitchens and feeding and getting to know the homeless through
the program BocaTalk.
To commemorate its 50th anniversary, SLU-Madrid hosted a special celebration for alumni
in June 2017. University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., and Frances Pestello,
Ph.D., were on hand for the party along with SLU alumni from each of the Madrid campus’s
five decades. A delegation from SLU-Madrid joined their St. Louis-based SLU community
at the University’s bicentennial kick off Mass under the Arch on Saturday, Sept. 24,
2017. A larger anniversary celebration in Madrid, is planned for March 7, 2018,
that will include a special Mass, an academic ceremony awarding distinguished Spaniards
honorary degrees and campus-wide celebration.
Saint Louis University is a world-class Catholic, Jesuit institution educating nearly
13,000 students on two dynamic, urban campuses - in St. Louis, Missouri, and Madrid,
Spain. Founded in 1818, the University will soon celebrate its bicentennial.
With a legacy of innovative academics and research, compassionate health care and
faithful service, Saint Louis University attracts a diverse community of scholars
who push intellectual boundaries in pursuit of creative, meaningful ways to impact
the world, striving to serve a higher purpose and seek a greater good.