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How an Idea Became a Masterpiece: The Whalens’ Contributions to The Saint John’s Bible

When undergoing a project of the magnitude of The Saint John’s Bible, momentum is created by those individuals whose passion, intellectual fortitude and generosity come together to create firm action. On the 25th anniversary of the commissioning of the work, we celebrate Dan Whalen, who has been a staunch advocate of the project since its inception in 1998.

Posted November 19, 2023 in Religious Institutions
Dan Whalen (second from right) enjoys a lecture given by expert on medieval manuscripts Christopher de Hamel at Sarum College during The 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour.

The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program is celebrating 25 years since Saint John’s Abbey and University commissioned Donald Jackson, world-renowned calligrapher and scribe to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to serve as Artistic Director over the creation of The Saint John’s Bible. The anniversary has been marked with a joyous celebration of the project at Saint John’s, several placements of Heritage Editions in institutions across the world, and, finally, by the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour, in which the Heritage Program led a pilgrimage to England to gift two Heritage Editions and an Apostles Edition to Sarum College, Canterbury Cathedral, and Lambeth Palace, respectively.  

The anniversary’s fanfare would not be complete (or possible!) without honoring one of the greatest supporters of The Saint John’s Bible — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and former Interim President of Saint John’s University, Dan Whalen.  

Career in Government and Business 

Whalen’s ties to Saint John’s University date back to the 1960s, when he attended Saint John’s Preparatory School. By 1970, Whalen had completed an undergraduate degree in government from Saint John’s University. After spending time as a policy analyst with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, serving as a management consultant in Washington, D.C., working as the director of health planning for the State of New York, and serving as a health policy analyst for Governor Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Whalen earned an MBA as well as an MA in food research from Stanford University.  

After earning degrees from Stanford University, Whalen gained significant experience in the business world, serving as vice president of operations of Cellular One in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.   

He also founded or co-founded five telecommunication industry companies, served as principal investor and executive chairman of the startup teleconferencing company Vello, Inc., and served as executive vice president and member of the board of directors of Tetra Tech — an engineering consultancy company based in Pasadena, California. As of 2023, Whalen is a partner, advisor, and Board member of HTEC Group, Inc. He also is a dedicated philanthropist and advisor. 

Whalen’s involvement in The Saint John’s Bible project began 25 years ago, on the very day that the project was authorized by the Board of Regents of Saint John’s University. As a member of the Board, when the motion to approve the project was introduced, Whalen raised his hand proudly and said, “Aye.” He is the only member of the Board who was there at the project’s inception who still sits on the Board today.  

That was only the beginning of Whalen’s relationship with the project. Over the years, Whalen would become deeply entwined with the project in every sense of the word – spiritually, financially, and intellectually.  

Before The Saint John’s Bible was The Saint John’s Bible 

In the early stages of what would become The Saint John’s Bible, Whalen helped facilitate the forward motion of the project by providing business, sales and marketing direction. Due to the momentum of idea generation and theological insights, many additions and changes were made to illuminations and the overall project. Around the same time, Donald Jackson became increasingly involved in fundraising and marketing efforts for the project.  

In 2007, the increased scale of illuminations and time spent on promotion of the project grew to a point that necessitated the renegotiation of the contract between Saint John’s University and Donald Jackson. For a moment, this tremendous project reached a standstill. That is, until Whalen stepped in.  

Using his business savvy and keen diplomacy, Whalen worked alongside Br. Dietrich Reinhart (who was then President of Saint John’s University), Fr. Columba Stewart OSB, Board Member Tom Joyce, and Hill Manuscript Museum & Library (HMML) Board Member Tom Barrett to reach an outcome that would work well for all parties involved.  

Photo: The entire Dedication Tour group poses for a photo at Salisbury Cathedral in front of a Heritage Edition. Dan Whalen is pictured to the left of the Bishop of Salisbury, the Most Reverend Stephen Lake.
Photo: The entire Dedication Tour group poses for a photo at Salisbury Cathedral in front of a Heritage Edition. Dan Whalen is pictured to the left of the Bishop of Salisbury, the Most Reverend Stephen Lake.

After Whalen had convened the respective parties and mediated the appropriate conversations, work on the project resumed. “It was a collaborative effort among those people to craft a solution that met the needs of the Hill Manuscript Museum & Library, the University, and the creative team,” said Whalen.  

When the time came to produce 299 Heritage Editions of The Saint John’s Bible, then referred to simply as high-quality facsimiles of the project, Whalen once again provided critical support for the endeavor. Not only was Whalen a strong advocate for the inclusion of Donald Jackson in directing the Heritage Edition, he also created safeguards to protect the University from incurring any potential loss.  

His proximity and faith to the project allowed Whalen to offer important insights and creative opinions on the material with which the Heritage Editions would be bound. Whalen was a strong advocate for the high-quality leather materials that was chosen. In 2010, Whalen stepped in once again by supporting a revised sales and marketing plan.  

As the years went on, Whalen has shown his support through generous financial contributions to the project that supported the high standard of quality that the project’s creators envisioned. His kind philanthropy was not only integral to the project’s process and completion – but ensured the placement of three Heritage Editions of The Saint John’s Bible at three locations dear to his heart: Mount Saint Benedict Monastery in Crookston (the home of Whalen’s older sister Anita Whalen); St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, England; and Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California (where Whalen currently resides with his wife, Katharine Whalen).  

“It was a big job. I so admire the people that created this project and especially Donald Jackson for his extraordinary management and leadership capability,” said Whalen. “I also credit the vision and passion of two monks who made it happen, Fr. Eric Hollas and Br. Dietrich Reinhart, among others.” 

To this day, Whalen is deeply involved in the creative future of the project. He is currently underwriting the work of Tim Ternes, Director of The Saint John’s Bible and HMML Programming, and Donald Jackson to determine how the original manuscript of The Saint John’s Bible will be bound. 

Drawing Meaning from the Page; Crafting it with Human Hands 

When working on a project of this magnitude, the subject arises in family conversations. Whalen didn’t realize how those conversations hit home with some of his family members – until one day, when his younger son Michael, then a sophomore in high school, stayed home ill. To his surprise, Whalen received a call from home in the middle of the workday. He picked up the phone. 

“It was my son. He said, ‘Dad, I have a question for you. Who is Yahweh?’ And I said, ‘Oh, well, Yahweh is a name for God. Why do you ask?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve been reading the Bible and I see this name a lot. I’m not sure what it means.’ I said, ‘Okay. Oh, so do you have a school project?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, no. I know that you’re really involved with The Saint John’s Bible, so I just started reading the Bible. I wanted to know more.’ That was one of the strongest instigators of my passion for this project,” said Whalen. “It got my son interested.” 

Even so, Whalen admits that he didn’t comprehend the full significance of the project until 2005, when the Minneapolis Institute of Art had a special exhibit on The Saint John’s Bible 

“I saw how this project deepened one’s involvement through the millennia with the search for truth…the search for understanding. How did we get here? Why are we here? How are we connected to a life force that’s larger than us that some people call Yahweh, some people call Allah, some people call God? The Saint John’s Bible is a human manifestation of that connection,” said Whalen. “These are questions and traditions that go back thousands of years.”  

The Saint John’s Bible was done by hand — by people — so it is also flawed in places just as people are flawed. You can see the noticeable attention to correct, to redeem oneself in the volume. That is the journey that we are on,” said Whalen. “We fall and then we get up and we fall again and we get up again. We just hope that it all works out and we don’t hurt too many people along the way.” 

The First Quarter Century of Many 

That mystery– the persistent power of the project to ignite the spiritual imagination and to make one’s heart skip a beat – is what propelled Whalen’s involvement in the project since it was nothing more than a mere idea. It is what will propel the project for the next 1,000 years.  

A 25th anniversary, is, in the scheme of things, just a drop in the ocean of the project’s future. Even so, these years have been imbued with such infinite love, labor, and light already that is so worthy of celebration. So, the question becomes – How is best to celebrate the first quarter century of The Saint John’s Bible 

Dan Whalen toasts at the 25th Anniversary Celebration Dinner and Pax Christi Award Ceremony with Carol Bruess in London, England.
Dan Whalen toasts at the 25th Anniversary Celebration Dinner and Pax Christi Award Ceremony with Carol Bruess in London, England.

At this, Whalen thought, who better to contact than Bishop Nicholas Holtam? Formerly the Bishop of Salisbury, this old friend of Whalen’s became a critical aid in making the connections and arrangements for the 25th Anniversary Dedication Tour to England.  

When all was said and done, three prominent institutions across England had been gifted editions of the work, including one Apostles Edition received by The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on behalf of Lambeth Palace and Library, in memory of Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II. 

“Without everyone who put their hearts into this project, it never would’ve happened. People dedicated years of their life to the project,” said Whalen. “The Saint John’s Bible is a very human artistic endeavor, and the humans that created it were honored in the most special way during this tour, and it was so great to be a part of it and to see that.” 

Dan and Katharine Whalen own one Prophets Edition set of The Saint John’s Bible. Once the set is officially bound, it will live at the couple’s home in Oakland, California, for all of their guests, family members, and dear friends to experience whenever they please. 

The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition: Celebrating 25 Years of The Saint John’s Bible 

To read more stories similar to this one, visit the Heritage Edition blog 

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