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St. Mary’s University Uses The Saint John’s Bible as Shorthand for Its Mission

Six years into ownership, leadership finds new ways to integrate the Word into university life

Posted June 20, 2019 in Education
The Saint John's Bible at St. Mary's University

In its sixth year as an owner of the Heritage Edition, St. Mary’s University has found plenty of mileage in its pages – and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Dr. Bob O’Connor, St. Mary’s Director of The Saint John’s Bible and University Ombudsman, characterizes the Bible’s appearances across campus (and across the nation) as venues for him to share the artistic and spiritual perspectives offered by The Saint John’s Bible (a natural fit, given his theological background). Depending on the context – of which there are plenty – the content of his presentation might focus on anything from calligraphy (as it did before the San Antonio Calligraphy Guild) to a more topical or thematic air.

O’Connor became Director of The Saint John’s Bible at St. Mary’s after a friend connected him with the Heritage Edition project in 2012. On the way back from Collegeville, O’Connor says, he “filled half a notebook” with imaginings of the Heritage Edition on the San Antonio campus. After O’Connor pitched those ideas to Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., the newly inducted president of St. Mary’s, he asked O’Connor to lead a committee to explore acquisition options. It wasn’t long before John and Susan Morrison, philanthropists and longtime friends of Mengler, donated seven volumes to St. Mary’s.

The Saint John's Bible at St Mary's University - Bob O'Connor
Students Kenna Ledford and Luke Villafranca explore The Saint John’s Bible with Dr. Bob O’Connor. (Image courtesy of St. Mary’s University)

Support from university leadership has been a constant since acquisition and is an aspect of St. Mary’s commitment that O’Connor highlights as essential to the success of the program. “The president and I are totally in sync with how to use The Saint John’s Bible – that is, sharing it as widely as possible,” O’Connor says.

Setting Up the Story for Maximum Impact

Presentations of The Saint John’s Bible from St. Mary’s have occurred in Texas, Arizona, Missouri and more, to audiences and congregations of numerous faith traditions. Future presentations are planned, including an upcoming trip to Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Indiana. Its geographic reach is matched by its conceptual reach; O’Connor says the Bible and his presentation have been requested and adapted to numerous classes and contexts over the years, like a graphic novel class where The Saint John’s Bible is used as an example of graphical presentation of text; environmental studies examining how energy is portrayed in The Saint John’s Bible; and a logistical look at the project management characteristics seen in the larger The Saint John’s Bible project.

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Wherever the Bible and O’Connor’s expertise are requested, he maintains a general rule about presenting it: don’t open it until after setting up the story.

“If I open [the Heritage Edition] prior to that, the audience has no context to understand what they’re looking at,” O’Connor says. Even without context, they’re often still transfixed by the art, but when he’s able to set up the whole story of The Saint John’s Bible – the making, its mission and the team that made it happen – he notices a markedly different reaction. “It’s always ‘wow,’” O’Connor says. “It’s reverence. I’ve had people stay for an hour or more after the presentation ends.” Another one of O’Connor’s rules: “I stay until people run out of questions.”

Six Years Down, Many to Go

A lecture series and scholarship-funding art sale focused on The Saint John’s Bible were among the popular programming events that used the Heritage Edition at their core. When not being seen by audiences in different parts of campus or the country, two volumes of The Saint John’s Bible reside in public view on the St. Mary’s campus: one in the Blume Library and one in the administration building – both well-trafficked areas – and O’Connor writes new didactics as pages are turned weekly.

These are perhaps the places where The Saint John’s Bible has the biggest impact at St. Mary’s University. O’Connor says that university tours make a point to show it to prospective students, faculty and staff. Placed there, in a niche directly below the university’s mission statement, The Saint John’s Bible serves as a sort of shorthand for the university’s goals. “They always make sure to go by that display of The Saint John’s Bible to show a prospective candidate what we do here.”