On its website, the Benedictine community of Christ the King Priory, in Schuyler, Nebraska, refers to their St. Benedict Center as “an oasis of peace open to visitors of all faiths.” Thanks to the generosity of Allen and Vivian Hager, this invitation “to all” makes the retreat center the perfect home for The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition.
The following conversation between representatives from Saint John’s University and the monks at Christ the King Priory tells the story of The Saint John’s Bible’s journey to the Center and the celebration of its arrival. Following the discussion, Mr. Hager shares his thoughts on why this gift has such meaning for his family.
SJU: Were you familiar with The Saint John’s Bible prior to your initial discussions with Saint John’s regarding the Heritage Edition?
CKP: Yes. Several of us had seen the first exhibit of selected pages at the Joselyn Art Museum in Omaha in 2006 and were very impressed by the art and the calligraphy. Br. Tobias saw the beautiful exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.
SJU: Describe your feelings when you were informed that Allen & Vivian Hager had decided to gift a Heritage Edition to the St. Benedict Center.
CKP: We were elated. When Allen first visited our campus and we explained how we would display the Heritage Edition and make use of it at the center, he listened quietly but made no indication of his feelings. He showed interest and seemed pleased that it would be on public display and accessible to all. Then when he and Vivian offered Heritage Edition Number 150—to help celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the statehood of Nebraska—we accepted it with great gratitude and joy.
SJU: Why do you feel the retreat center is the ideal venue/steward for one of the 299 sets of the Heritage Edition?
CKP: First, the retreat center is a Benedictine environment and that corresponds to the environment in which The Saint John’s Bible was conceived.
Secondly, the Heritage Edition provides us with a tool for having retreatants and others become more exposed to the Word of God. The illuminations can help draw people into the text itself. We have already begun using the volumes on retreats. The excellent Seeing the Word Program Manual, as well as the CD and the brochures that come with it, have proven to be an enormous help.
Thirdly, relative to other settings for the Heritage Edition in the Archdiocese of Omaha, the St. Benedict Center adds a different dimension, one that provides a more in-depth permanent display that is accompanied by other environmental aids.
SJU: Describe how you envision the Heritage Edition being used at the retreat center.
CKP: The many overnight and daytime guests at St. Benedict Center will benefit greatly from all the exhibits. They will learn about the making of The Saint John’s Bible and be inspired to practice lectio divina and visio divina with the text and the illuminations of the Bible.
SJU: The display of the Heritage Edition and other Saint John’s Bible-related visuals is excellent. Can you share your thinking in giving it such a prominent space in the St. Benedict Center?
CKP: The space was natural for the display of the Bible. We wanted to make sure it was truly sacred while also being hospitable enough so that visitors can linger. We presented these ideas to several design firms and chose Split Rock Studios from St. Paul, Minnesota because their plan for telling the story of The Saint John’s Bible truly honored this Bible’s fidelity to the great illuminated Bibles of the past. It also did an excellent job highlighting those times when computer technology was used. Perhaps even more importantly, Split Rock Studios developed a great concept for a prayer area, in which real formation through the Word of God can take place. The company exceeded our expectations with the implementation of our vision, with the design, the fabrication and the installation of the exhibit.
SJU: Please tell us more about the October 11 blessing ceremony.
CKP: The first part took place in the chapel during Mass. That Sunday’s Scripture reading fit very well for the occasion. Fr. Joel carried the Gospels and Acts volume in the entrance procession and proclaimed the Gospel from it. The other six volumes were lined up in front of the altar. After the homily, a blessing prayer with the incensing of each volume followed. At the end of Mass, the volumes were brought in procession to their new home and placed in the cases. Among the carriers—all friends of the retreat house and monastery—various faith traditions were represented. This was a sign that the monastery and retreat house have a strong ecumenical connection.
Having Fr. Michael Patella, OSB, of Saint John’s Abbey and Chair of The Saint John’s Bible Committee on Illumination and Text, as the celebrant drew a connection between the original commissioning community and Christ the King Priory very nicely. A day of reflection was offered in conjunction with the blessing and installation. The donors of the volumes were present as was a representative of the design and installation company.
The total exhibit consists of three parts, one of which, pertaining to Benedictine life, is in the foyer of the priory. The other parts explore the history of the Missionary Benedictines and our worldwide ministries. Mike Smith, former director of the Nebraska Historical Society and good friend of the monastery, guided us throughout the design process.
SJU: Do you have other thoughts on the presence of the Bible in your Center?
CKP: Since the illuminations and calligraphic text are works of art, we hope to attract local artists to the Center. Also, the presence of the Bible opens new possibilities for a strong focus on Scripture within the Center.
Hearing and seeing, living and proclaiming God’s Word is a topic that connects our three exhibits. As a monastic community we are very grateful for the good cooperation during the whole design process with Saint John’s Abbey, especially with Brad Neary, Tim Ternes and Fr. Michael Patella, and our co-workers, particularly those who helped with construction and installation.
Allen Hager’s Reflection on the Gift
“The intersection of faith and art has always interested Vivian and me. Vivian grew up in another religious tradition, and during her first visit to Europe—especially in Italy—she was awakened with wonder at the Church, the stories from the Holy Bible and how they inspired such amazing art throughout history. We see The Saint John’s Bible as a continuation of that long tradition.
The St. Benedict Center’s culture of inspiring a closer relationship with God in an atmosphere of peace and hospitality was certainly important. What better setting to use the beauty of The Saint John’s Bible? Also, the impressive number of annual visitors, the lovely setting and humble, supportive nature of the Benedictine community just added to our feeling this was a wonderful place to house a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible.
Vivian and I feel strongly that this gift will inspire even more people to visit the Center, which makes us humbled and joyful at being a part of this effort!”