A delegation of religious and education officials from the Central American country of Belize arrives in St. Louis Monday for a meeting of the minds with Saint Louis University faculty.
The purpose of the conference is to determine ways that SLU students and faculty can provide training and support for St. Martin’s de Porres, a Jesuit parish and grade school in Belize City.
Loyola Academy Founding Principal Tom Nolan has been volunteering at St. Martin’s for about two years. Now retired, he and a handful of other volunteers started a counseling center at the school, which is located in a poor neighborhood that sees more than its share of violent crime.
“Belize has the third highest homicide rate in the world, and Belize City has a disproportionate number of homicides, and the south side is where a great deal of the violent crime occurs, so it’s a community that has a lot of stresses,” said Nolan.
In May, a group from Saint Louis University traveled to Belize and visited St. Martin’s. Now St. Martin’s teachers and administrators are visiting St. Louis, along with Belizean education officials, Catholic leaders and staff of St. Johns College, a Jesuit high school and junior college located in a more affluent part of Belize City.
According to Father Christopher Collins, the goal of the four-day summit is to deepen relationships between Jesuit Institutions in St. Louis and Belize. As the director of SLU’s catholic studies program, Collins helped plan the summit.
“I think the relationships are the most important thing, and then from there, nail down some of these educational initiatives,” said Collins. “Those are the most immediate and promising.”
Preliminary plans to offer online SLU courses to St. Martin’s staff are already in place, as is a trip to Belize next summer for SLU education students to take a practicum.
But other ideas also include fostering economic development through the business school, and providing health care through the nursing and medical school.
Whatever plans are developed will involve a give and take between Belize and St. Louis, said Nolan.
“This is not a doing for kind of project,” said Nolan. “I think it’s a doing with sort of project. We all – North Americans, Central Americans, we all stand to benefit from this type of endeavor.”
There are educational opportunities on both sides, said Nolan, as well as the chance to learn about different cultures.
Collins said the eventual goal is to use St. Martins as a model for other schools in Belize. He also sees the project as an opportunity to strengthen existing SLU outreaches in St. Louis.
“My hope is that if we can get some coordination on our effort in Belize, with this regard and build up our relationships there, it will also help our imagination in the way we might be able to engage our own neighbors in St. Louis, particularly in North St. Louis,” said Collins. “There are a lot of good things happening, but they’re kind of a lot of individual things, so we’re hoping that we can do a better job internally at Saint Louis U. to coordinate our efforts and our outreach with our neighbors in the city.”
The public is also invited to attend the summit. The full agenda can be found on the Saint Louis University website.