Aquinas Institute will honor five members of the St. Louis metropolitan community with honorary doctorate degrees at Commencement on Friday, May 6.
Amrit and Amy Gill will receive doctors of civic letters, honoris causa. They are real estate developers whose love for historic properties has led to the restoration of buildings and neighborhoods that had become victims of neglect.
Amrit Gill was born in Jalandhar, India, and came to St. Louis in 1988 to pursue an MBA at Washington University. Amy Gill was born in Kentucky and moved to St. Louis in 1977 as a high school student.
The two met at Washington University and married in 1990. When Amy Gill learned that a building where she once lived had gone into bankruptcy, the couple tackled their first real estate development job. They bought the three-family flat in University City on the courthouse steps.
In 1995, they formed A & A Contracting, Inc. Today, they provide jobs for more than 100 people who design, build and manage their properties.
The Gills now own and operate more than 700 apartment units in the city. In one neighborhood, they have purchased dilapidated drug houses to restore and resell.
Much of their work is visible from the front steps of Aquinas Institute. The Gills bought the Coronado Hotel on Lindell Boulevard in 2001 and invested $40 million in its redevelopment. This 1920s building had been vacant for more than a decade and seemed headed toward ruin. Today, it houses 165 apartment units, a restaurant, banquet facility, café, and space for offices and shops.
Also nearby is Lindell Towers, which the Gills bought when they bought the Coronado. They invested $30 million to upgrade the two-building complex, which is a popular place for university students and faculty to live.
Ronald Henderson will receive a doctor of civic letters, honoris causa. He is the United States marshal for the eastern district of Missouri and a former chief of police for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Henderson is a St. Louis native. He served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970 and is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
He began his law enforcement career in St. Louis in 1970. He moved through the ranks to become the department’s 31st chief of police. During his tenure, he coordinated a multi-agency security detail for the 1999 visit of Pope John Paul II and directed security for the celebration following the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl victory in 2000. President George W. Bush appointed Henderson as a U.S. marshal in 2002.
He also is an active volunteer in the church and community. Henderson is treasurer on the board of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and has served on the board of the St. Charles Lwanga Center, which promotes spiritual formation and leadership development within the African-American Catholic community.
He is a member of St. Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist Church, where he is an usher, parish council member, president of the men’s club and honorary chair of a fundraising for a youth scholarship program.
George J. Henry will receive a doctor of humanities, honoris causa. He is superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He oversees Catholic preschool programs, parish schools of religion, elementary and secondary schools and adult religious education.
His first job in 1965 was teaching at Sacred Heart School in Crystal City, where he was a pupil in the 1950s. He went on to become principal at Sacred Heart in 1970, which gave him the distinction of being the first layperson appointed principal of an elementary school in the archdiocese. He was principal at one more elementary school before being named associate superintendent of Catholic elementary schools. In 1995, he became the first lay superintendent for the archdiocese.
He is a member of the Public Policy and Catholic Schools Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He also is past chairman of the Federal Assistance Advisory Committee for the USCCB. He has served on the Missouri Catholic Conference as chairman of the education department, chairman of the government committee and member of the public policy committee. Among his board memberships are the Today and Tomorrow Foundation and Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School.
He belongs to Christ Prince of Peace Church in Ballwin.
Sr. Janet McCann, ASC, will receive a doctor of humanities, honoris causa. She is principal of Sr. Thea Bowman Catholic School in East St. Louis. Most children who attend Thea Bowman School live below the poverty line and come from a family with only one parent present.
One of the foundresses of Sr. McCann’s order – the Adorers of the Blood of Christ – had a great passion for going to places where beauty and order were absent, and Sr. McCann said she brings that passion to her work as well.
“That is where I feel I can most make a difference,” she said. “I feel like children in these schools deserve exceptional educational opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.”
Sr. McCann grew up in Cahokia, Illinois, and entered religious life as a college sophomore. She taught in schools in Illinois and one in Memphis, Tenn., before becoming principal at Holy Trinity Catholic School in St. Louis in 1997. She joined Sr. Thea Bowman School this academic year.
Sr. McCann is a member of the “Bad Habits,” a trio of nuns who play guitar and sing for church and civic groups. The women also entertain at correctional facilities for Easter and Christmas.