For the 15 years he spent teaching at Loyola University in Chicago, Fr. Lawrence Biondi enjoyed being able to provide knowledge about a particular subject to a select group of students, but he jumped at the opportunity to make a bigger impact when he took on the role of president at Saint Louis University (SLU) in 1987. “I look at my administration as taking a stone and throwing it in a pond of water,” Biondi says. “The ripples of that effect can touch a wide variety of people, not only the students, but faculty, parents and the neighborhoods that surround us.”
For the past 25 years, Biondi’s efforts have rippled across the St. Louis area as he has led the transformation of SLU into a highly regarded modern university. To achieve those goals, the 73-year-old Chicago native has stayed true to a certain work philosophy. “I have focused on working closely in hand with three entities: education, civic government and the business community. When you have leaders in those areas working together for a common purpose, that’s a solid formula for community improvement.”
Biondi is especially proud of the revolution of SLU as an urban school. “It shows that you can indeed have a university in the heart of a city.” Hand-in-hand with the growth of SLU has been the renewal of the neighborhoods around it. Midtown and Grand Center are becoming vibrant areas with new businesses and restaurants. With the opening of Chaifetz Arena and about 5,500 students living in the area, that’s bringing life into the neighborhoods,” he explains.
The reputation of SLU also has grown significantly with Biondi at its helm. With recognition as a leading center for medical research, the No. 1 school in the country for health law according to U.S. News & World Report, and the only Jesuit university in the world with a school of public health among its many distinctions, SLU has raised the bar for “the quality of the academic programs and the quality and depth of the research being conducted here,” he notes.
Along with the academics, Biondi has helped to stress the importance of service to SLU students and faculty. During his time, the university has established programs like Casa de Salud for undocumented workers, the Health Resource Center through the medical school, and Campus Kitchen, which repurposes unused food for the needy. “We had more than 1 million volunteer service hours by our students, faculty and staff this past year,” Biondi says. “We want to encourage the students to give back to the community and get them in the habit of thinking about other people.”
As the CEO of a large university, the demands on Biondi’s time are great, but he finds ways to stay connected with the students, and you can often find him at Billiken basketball games. He credits his Jesuit faith for keeping him motivated and focused. “I try to spend some time each morning reflecting on the coming day, and in the evening, I examine my behavior—What mistakes did I make? What did I do right?”
Biondi also enjoys visiting local galleries and museums, indulging in his new hobby of duck hunting, or simply taking walks through campus with his golden retriever, Iggy (short for Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits). “He’s the worst watch dog ever—he likes to lick anybody who comes up to us.”
While Biondi’s accomplishments at SLU are many, he would rather focus on the future. “I want to see what else can be improved for this city, for our students, and for our faculty.” He looks forward to the opening of a globalization center that will allow students and professors to communicate with each other all over the world. “It’s important for us to keep up with modern technology and what instantaneous communication can do for our international education programs.”
Biondi has his hands full, but he is eager to continue as president of SLU well into the future, hoping to help celebrate the university’s 200th anniversary in 2018. “My vision of my legacy is for SLU to be the finest Catholic university in the United States. It’s certainly a possibility.”