New Director Named
For Immediate Release
16 June 2014
Jesuits of the Missouri Province
Office of the Provincial
The Rev. Douglas Marcouiller
4511 W. Pine Blvd.
St. Louis, Mo. 63108-2191
Cheryl Wittenauer 314-361-7765, ext. 128
Marketing Professional Tapped for Jesuit Retreat Center
A former marketing executive has been named the first lay director of White House Retreat, a Jesuit retreat house south of St. Louis on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.
William “Bill” Schmitt, a St. Louis-area native, will take over as director on June 23. He succeeds Fr. Jim Burshek who also served as a White House retreat and spiritual director. Burshek has been reassigned as superior of the community of fellow Jesuits who teach at St. Louis University High School and De Smet Jesuit High School.
Schmitt was with Anheuser-Busch in marketing, sales and management for 31 years and was brand promotion manager on the team that launched Budweiser’s flagship light beer, Bud Light, in 1982. His last assignment was managing an internal television station that beamed a weekly show on best practices and company information for AB employees and distributors.
He took a voluntary retirement at the end of 2008, the year AB was acquired by InBev, and launched, as founder, owner and president, Golden Eye Productions, which produced business communication and public relations videos. He’s no longer in video production; Golden Eye remains an LLC for a real estate and rental property business that his wife runs. Three of their four sons work for Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Schmitt, a former Vietnam-era Marine air traffic controller, was one of 70 applicants and four finalists for the White House director job, said Charles Meyer, chairman of the board at White House Retreat, who led the search committee’s work. The committee of four board members, three Jesuits and a White House “friend” made its recommendation to Missouri Provincial Douglas Marcouiller on Wednesday, June 11. Marcouiller announced the appointment today (Monday, June 16, 2014).
"Schmitt's accomplished background in business management, coupled with his personal spiritual journey as a retreatant, uniquely qualify him to continue the successful track record of leadership at White House," Meyer said.
Schmitt, who was introduced to White House Retreat in the late 1960s while attending the old Mercy High School in the St. Louis suburb of University City, has made an annual retreat there for the last 25 years, calling it a “wonderful way to touch base with my higher power.”
White House, which bills itself as a place to “Unplug & Recharge,” has been offering three-day “preached retreats” throughout the year on its 80-acre campus on the river since 1922. White House, where retreats are based on what’s known as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits’ 16th-century founder, welcomes people of all faiths who are 18 and older.
“I am delighted to welcome Bill Schmitt to the leadership team at White House Retreat,” Marcouiller said. “Together with the five Jesuits who will continue on the White House staff, Bill will work hard to sustain and strengthen the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, sharing the gifts that he himself has received during 25 years of White House retreats.”
Originally for men only, White House in 1980 began welcoming women, although men still make up the majority of retreatants. White House was the first Jesuit retreat house to offer retreats specifically for those in recovery from addiction. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson made three retreats at White House prior to his death in 1971.
In 2014, White House is offering 58 retreats, four days of prayer, four Ignatian Spirituality lectures, and five retreats for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and local Jesuit high schools. The 58 annual retreats include nine for women and one that is co-ed, as well as four recovery retreats, including one open to men and women. It operates at 90 percent capacity.
A White House retreat is a legacy experience, with many men attending because their fathers did. But in recent years, it’s been a challenge to attract younger retreatants, Burshek said in an interview last year. He hired Joe Parisi as director of marketing and development in November 2012, and since then, White House has attracted some younger retreatants through social media and other marketing efforts. Parisi said outreach to that demographic continues to be a top priority.
Schmitt said he’d bring his own enthusiasm and passion for the White House retreat, as well as a career’s worth of experience in marketing and sales, to reach out to men of all ages as well as minorities. He said young people who were exposed to White House while in high school “don’t know how to get back,” but “they yearn for spiritual activity, they’re always searching for a spiritual workout.”
“As long as they are exposed to White House, and we’re advertising in the right media, we’ll get people coming in,” he said.
“It takes everything I’ve learned in my life up to this point, mixed together with my passion for Christ and God and commitment to retreats. When I was in the Marine Corps, I was the guy who carried the flag at the head of the platoon. At AB, I was as passionately involved in selling (product) as anyone. After 25 years of going on retreats, I’m passionately committed to them. I hope to take it to the next level. It’s a dream job.”
Schmitt said he’s found that a lot of men who make the three-day retreat are hungering for a way to apply the good energy they’ve rediscovered while on retreat. “We have lawyers, carpenters and pipefitters,” he said. “We could help build houses and write resumes,” as volunteers in the various Jesuit ministries. “It could be a team approach and a wonderful opportunity to serve our communities.”
He holds an executive MBA from University of California-Riverside and a bachelor’s degree in public relations journalism from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
Schmitt is not the first layperson to be appointed director of a Jesuit retreat house. Tim Murphy has been director of the Jesuits’ Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, La., since 2007. Collaboration between Jesuits and lay friends and partners who share Jesuit values is not unusual. Laity are considered part of the extended Jesuit family, and together they reach out to a diverse world.
Schmitt will be commissioned for his new work at a ceremony July 23 at SLUH’s Si Commons (4970 Oakland Ave.). The ceremony will take place at 7:30 p.m., prior to a talk by Jesuit priest and scholar John Padberg for the Ignatian Spirituality Lecture Series.